Joekels Tea Factory. Photo: Lauren Rawlins

Nompumelelo Magwaza

KwaZulu-Natal tea blending and packing company Joekels plans to enter markets outside of South Africa as the demand for tea grows.

Joekels, which packs and blends 95 percent of the private label rooibos and black tea for retailers such as Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Boxer and Spar, has installed machinery worth R30 million in order to double its capacity.

Currently the company, which owns brands including Laager Rooibos, Tea Time, Teeco Tea and Southhalls Rooibos, produces about 1.8 billion teabags annually.

“With the new investment in the business we can produce close to 3 billion teabags in a year,” Joe Swart, one of the company’s co-owners, said on Friday.

He said that the business planned to tap into African markets and export tea to the rest of the continent.

“The upgrade in our factory will be used as a springboard to the rest of Africa,” he said.

In 2006 the company, jointly owned by Swart and Jonathan Kelsey, partnered with the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of tea, Tata Global Beverages. The partnership assisted the Indian company to further grow their worldwide market share and expand into Africa.

Swart said tea was second only to water as the most drunk beverage in the world “and because it is cheap, the demand continues to grow”.

He observed that there had been an upward trend in demand for rooibos tea while demand for black tea had remained stable for a long time.

Swart believed that the coffee market was far from overtaking the tea market as tea had become a necessity while coffee was merely a “nice to have” beverage. He further believed that many African people still drank tea because of the cost factor.

Currently the company exports about 15 percent of its tea to southern African countries including Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola.

By the same token, Joekels imports tea leaves from countries in the region including Zimbabwe and Malawi. Rooibos tea leaves are grown locally in the Western Cape.

South African rooibos growers, tea blenders and the Department of Trade and Industry are involved in a process of having “rooibos” demarcated as a geographic indicator (GI) and registering the name as a South African trademark.

This comes after a French company applied to register exclusive rooibos trademarks in that country. Obtaining GI protection would be recognition that rooibos is a unique product of South Africa.

Swart said that, as a result of the machinery upgrade at Joekels, the company’s annual turnover had increased to about R230 million.

Since the expansion of the factory Joekels has grown its capacity by 80 percent to 20 226kg of tea a day, which is equivalent to 8.1 million cups of tea daily. Private label tea volumes have grown by 68 percent to 12 500kg a day.

Swart said the upgrade came after Joekels received a globally recognised Food Safety System Certificate 22000. He said the certificate was developed by the internationally recognised Foundation for Food Safety Certification and also the Global Food Safety Initiative.

“The rising concern over food safety worldwide, coupled with the company’s desire to be a leading tea packer in South Africa that cares about the safety of its consumers, motivated us to better manage our food safety campaign.”

The certificate would attract other retailers to pack their private label tea with Joekels, he added.