Yerba Mate: Uruguayan Gatorade, but does it have a niche in the U.S. market?

My research on yerba mate in Buenos Aires continues to take many interesting twists. Talking with people here in the city about the ways in which the drink and its tradition are marketed to tourists and foreigners has provided some great insight. Whenever mate and tourism come up in the same sentence, many immediately mention the yerba mate bars which opened up in the last several years. These are places, designed specifically for tourists, where people go to share a mate. Many tend to emphasize the fact that Uruguayans drink more than Argentines, a great example being how the world cup team brought 150 kg (330 lb) of crude yerba mate with them to South Africa. Some players were even shown before the game carrying their thermoses. I am not really sure if it is ideal to have mate when you are going to be running for 90+ minutes, but it seemed to work for them as they advanced all they way to the semifinals. Maybe if the Argentines had drank more mate before their game, along with playing defense, they would not have been totally humbled by Germany in their quaterfinals match.

Still, of the nearly 270,000 tons of Argentine produced yerba mate sold annually, 230,000 of this total is consumed by the internal market. It seems to me then that, in a country of about 40 million, a lot of mate is being consumed. Uruguayans certainly do consume the most mate annually, about 8 kg per-capita. But the troubled Argentine yerba mate industry, plagued by overproduction since its inception, was not aided by the neoliberal reforms which took place in the 1990s under President Carlos Menem. For this reason, the marketing of yerba mate and its associated instruments to tourists and foreigners is very intriguing. Everyone knows how quickly some little-known berry (acai from Brazil) or herb becomes trendy in the United States, if it is said to be a natural system cleanser which coincidentally facilitates weight loss. So, it doesn’t surprise me to hear mate, whenever mentioned in association to U.S. and European markets, being described as an antioxidant. Who knows if this strategy will work, and Whole Foods will start selling mate for $10 a bag to celebrities and anyone else looking for something less painful than cayenne pepper lemonade. I think it is an interesting topic to take up in my paper.
Ashley Roseberry, MA Candidate, CLACS

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