The tea, which only grows in the Cederberg mountains in the Western Cape, has been in a trademark battle with international firms for some time. In 2004, an American firm registered Rooibos as a brand name, prompting the first of a number of conflicts concerning the tea’s exportation and legal protection of the name.
In 2013, the South Africa Rooibos Council had to swiftly prevent French company Compagnie de Trucy from trying to trademark the Rooibos name in France.
(WATCH VIDEO: Rooibos still fights for rights)
“It has been a long-running issue and it is important. The fact really reared its head 20 years ago when a company in America trademarked Rooibos, and we had a big fight to prove that the mark actually belonged to South Africa, and of late of course the issue in Europe and the whole process in getting to a geographical indicator,” Martin Bergh, managing director of Rooibos Limited, told CNBC Africa.
Rooibos Limited is a privatised company that processes and markets Rooibos worldwide. It is also the world’s largest producer of Rooibos.
“The Rooibos industry is structured in layers: there’s the farmer and then there’s the processor, and then they’re the brand owners, so Rooibos in itself is not a brand,” Bergh explained.
“Rooibos is the name for the commodity. We as an industry will do promotion on a generic level, the brand [will be] doing it on a different level. There’s a separation between the two.”
Other products that also enjoy geographical indicator status include Champagne and Port wine.
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Bergh added that the industry produces roughly 15,000 tonnes, or 16 million kilograms, with 400 cups of tea in every kilogram.
South Africa also exports between 6,000 tonnes and 7,000 tonnes of the tea, with the rest being consumed in South Africa and Southern Africa. Revenue, according to Bergh, is around half a billion rand at retail level.
“Because Rooibos is such a strong brand in itself, people want to use it. Very few people want to use the name ‘black tea’. In the Rooibos instance, people want to call themselves [a certain name fused together with the name] ‘Rooibos’, and then they want to brand the name ‘Rooibos’ as well,” said Bergh.
“There’s no problem calling your product [a name in conjunction with ‘Rooibos’], as long as you have a disclaimer against the word ‘Rooibos’, and now with the geographic indicator certification, the product in there actually complies with the certification rules, and is in fact Rooibos.”