Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is a plant that only grows in South America (Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil).
Drinking mate with friends from a hollow gourd through a metal straw, refilling and passing it to the next person after finishing the few mouthfuls of beverage, is a common social practice, almost a ritual, in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil among people of all ages. Indeed, mate is an infusion closely related to tradition and sharing.
Despite its strong South American roots, the infusion is spreading across the globe, with several beverages incorporating yerba mate (including various energy drinks), allowing people in distant countries to enjoy this excellent product that contains many beneficial bioactives, including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and caffeine, among others.
Improving a tradition
“In Mate & Co we love yerba mate,” Marcela de Loredo, Martin Vijnovsky and Jimena Blasco tell FoodNavigator-LATAM. “That’s why we wanted to improve this habit, adding different flavors to the traditional yerba, designing natural blends and enriching the product.
“We developed blends with many ingredients, which do not have a bitter or strong flavor, something some people (especially foreigners) used to reject, and we have a great reception amongst them.”
About their experience, they said: “When we started investigating to set up the project, we realized that the world had started appreciating mate. So, up to a point it is something really local, but lots of countries are discovering it. And although it is not something established as tea, for example, it is an interesting way to go”.
From conception to product launch
It took de Loredo, Vijnovsky and Blasco two years to investigate the market, train themselves, and so on until they found the product they were searching for, they said.
“Launching the product took us again a lot of time, precisely because yerba mate is such a traditional product; the consumers had to accept this new proposal,” they said. “Once we decided the idea, it took us almost two years to develop the right product, searching for the right ingredients to mix with the yerba and achieve the blends. Finally, in Christmas 2015 we launched our first blend and it was a success.” Indeed, the final product they achieved is visually very pretty and is sold in a very attractive 240 grs cans.
“We look after every detail: the cans, the labels, and the content of course, which is directly related to the raw material used for the production.” All inputs come from organic farms, they added. “The yerba mate is free of agrochemicals and produced very carefully by responsible producers, something crucial since this affects directly the taste of the final product,” they said.
“Our first sales were a success, our clients loved our blends,” said de Loredo, Vijnovsky and Blasco. Today, the products can be purchased online, which accounts for almost 15% of sales, and in 140 gourmet markets in the city of Buenos Aires and main cities in the rest of Argentina.
The company offers seven different blends, all based on organic yerba mate (OYM): Mate Chai (organic yerba mate, ginger, spices, cinnamon, and pink pepper), Spicy Chai (OYM, ground ginger, clove, ground cardamom, cinnamon, and pink ground pepper), Menta (OYM, peppermint, Egyptian mint, and herbs), Lemon Detox (OYM, lemongrass, and hibiscus), Spicy Choco (OYM, ginger, and cocoa husk), Flower Power (OYM, Verbena, Lavender, and flowers), and Amore (OYM, strawberries, rhubarb, and roses).
The best-selling product is Mate Chai, they said. Other best seller blends are Menta and Lemon Detox.
“We are constantly thinking about new products, not only new blends but also products that complement the moment to take mate,” they explained. These include products like a ceramic hollow gourd with a special metal straw and a lovely bag to carry the kit.
“Although we have fluid contact with our very demanding clients through social media, we love attending the ferias, because this is the place where we meet them, talk to them and listen to their experiences. We love the human contact and meeting with our clients again and again,” they said. Most of our clients are women between 20 and 40 years old, but we have also lots of men and older people.
Future expansion plans
The company is not just focused on the Argentinian market, but already has products available at an Argentinian restaurant in New York, Miami and online. Products are also available in Montevideo, Uruguay, and in the exclusive beach resort of Punta del Este.
“Since we know that yerba is highly appreciated in other countries, we are studying how to expand in the short term, not only in Latin America (Chile and Paraguay), but also in the US and in the European market,” they said. “We have no reasons to think mate can’t be the future tea; we are working on it.”
And their advice to other entrepreneurs?
“Our advice is that you join other people with your same interests, work every day, believe in your ideas, love your project,” they said, but noted that they were lucky to meet very generous people who helped them a lot with good advice. “So we try to do the same. We believe in encouraging people, especially the young.
“But it´s important to understand how hard it is to be an entrepreneur in Argentina, a country where it is so difficult to avoid the bureaucracy and with lack of financing among other difficulties,” they said.
Soccer helping to drive the spread of yerba mate
With the World Cup in full swing in Russia, there is a lot of attention on players like Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, both of whom are known to enjoy yerba mate.
Argentinian players have also helped spread yerba mate in a country with a deep love of tea: England.
A recent article in British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, discussed how players at Tottenham Hotspur are embracing the beverage. The paper quotes midfielder Eric Dier saying: “At Tottenham quite a lot of the players have started drinking it. I am a bit addicted to it now.
“With Tottenham, we have a lot of Argentinians so I started drinking it with them and now the English players are trying to pretend to be South Americans”.