Market expansion for caffeine-containing products: Italian and Argentinian Yerba Mate consumer behavior and health perceptions

Expansion of the market for products containing caffeine

Italian and Argentinian Yerba Mate consumer behavior and health perception

The content on the website comes from  the National Library of Medicine and has been translated into Polish.

Link to source –


Mate is the most consumed drink in South America. There is interest in expanding yerba mate sales to old and new markets by promoting its health and energizing properties. The study aims to investigate Argentinian and Italian purchasing and consumption behavior and perceptions of yerba mate. The exploration includes the views of stakeholders in the agri-food chain and consumer habits, perceptions, and knowledge about yerba mate in relation to other caffeine-containing products positioned on the market. Data collection includes qualitative methods, such as interviews with stakeholders in the agri-food chain, i.e. producers, processors, consumers, and quantitative consumer research. Data collection was conducted in Argentina and Italy. The results show that in Argentina the consumption of yerba mate is based on habits and traditions, while in Italy yerba mate is mostly unknown. Consumers drink yerba mate in Argentina and other caffeinated drinks in Italy for socialization and as a source of energy. Consumers have little awareness of the antioxidant properties of yerba mate. Yerba mate provides the energy of drinking coffee and the taste and pleasure of drinking tea. The key challenge for Italian consumers when drinking yerba mate is the longer time it takes to drink yerba mate compared to regular espresso. Italians perceive it as an energizing or relaxing drink, with a consumption experience similar to tea and infusions. There is a need to update the yerba mate commercialization strategy in Italy. Consumers have little awareness of the antioxidant properties of yerba mate. Yerba mate provides the energy of drinking coffee and the taste and pleasure of drinking tea. The key challenge for Italian consumers when drinking yerba mate is the longer time it takes to drink yerba mate compared to regular espresso. Italians perceive it as an energizing or relaxing drink, with a consumption experience similar to tea and infusions. There is a need to update the commercialization strategy of yerba mate in Italy. Consumers have little awareness of the antioxidant properties of yerba mate. Yerba mate provides the energy of drinking coffee and the taste and pleasure of drinking tea. The key challenge for Italian consumers when drinking yerba mate is the longer time it takes to drink yerba mate compared to regular espresso. Italians perceive it as an energizing or relaxing drink, with a consumption experience similar to tea and infusions. There is a need to update the commercialization strategy of yerba mate in Italy.

Keywords:  mate, tea, caffeine, health, consumer, market, stakeholder, food neophobia scale Go to:

1. Introduction

Mate is the most consumed drink in South America. This is the name of the yerba mate infusion, which literally means “mate grass”, even though it is made from crushed, dried and roasted leaves of the  Ilex paraguariensis shrub  [  1  ]. Yerba mate is known under various names, such as Paraguayan tea, Brazilian tea, chimarrao, Misiones or Argentinian Green Gold tea. The plant grows in the northern part of Argentina, in the south of Paraguay and Brazil, and in Uruguay [  2  ]. Mate has been drunk in South American countries for centuries.

Currently, Argentina is the world’s leading producer of mate (54% green leaves), followed by Brazil (40%) and Paraguay (6%) [  3  ,  4  ]. Since 2009, yerba mate production has steadily increased, with the exception of 2017, when harvests decreased by -16% in response to overproduction in the previous year. Yerba mate sales have increased over time, going from 253 million kg in 2016 to 262 million kg in 2018. The popularity of yerba mate in Argentina is evidenced by its inclusion in the basic food basket list [  4  ,  5  ]. The latest market sales value of yerba mate is USD 1,339 million, and it is expected to reach USD 1,650 million by 2025 [  6 ]. In 2020, only 14% of all yerba mate processed in Argentina was exported [  6  ]. The rest was consumed domestically [  7  ,  8  ]. The main export direction of yerba mate is Syria, which absorbs 79% of exports, followed by Chile (16%), Libya (3%) and the United States of America (2%) [  3  ,  4  ].

Mate consumers drink it every day, several times a day. Consumption habits are similar in all population groups in South American countries, regardless of the social or economic class of consumers. There may be differences in how consumers drink it. In Argentina, consumers prefer it hot and drink it through a straw, while in Paraguay it is usually consumed cold. Argentines tend to add sugar to soften the characteristic bitter taste of yerba mate. Consumers drink mate throughout the day and in a variety of contexts. People drink mate alone while studying or working, but very often they drink it in a social context. Mate consumption is a cultural and historical tradition and an important form of social interaction. Therefore, the health properties of yerba mate are not a key factor influencing consumption.

In South America, the yerba mate market is at a mature stage and market expansion opportunities are limited [  9  ]. Therefore, there is a need to expand the yerba mate market also beyond the borders of this continent [  9  ]. The Argentine National Yerba Mate Institute launched a strategic plan for sustainable yerba mate production in 2014, aimed at expanding its market position in South America and increasing the awareness of yerba mate consumers in Europe. The strategic plan aims to improve awareness of the health properties of yerba mate, change perceptions as a “traditional” drink in South America, drive the growing interest in healthy drinks and foods in Europe, and capitalize on the cultural and culinary heritage of tea and infusion drinking in India [ 10 , 11 , 12 ].

In recent years, an increase in interest in healthy drinks is slowly spreading mate around the world. Recent studies have shown a high content of polyphenols, antioxidant properties, a wealth of vitamins B  1  , B  6  and C and energizing properties. Yerba mate may also act as a weight management ingredient, increase mental energy, improve mood, benefit the cardiovascular system, have anti-inflammatory effects, and alleviate allergy symptoms. The health properties of yerba mate have helped it gain popularity in North America. According to Drink Insight Network, yerba mate will grow in the European health drinks sector over the next five years [  12 ]. Consumers value mate as a tea. There is an increasingly positive trend towards the use of mate tea in ready-to-drink (RTD) teas, energy drinks, carbonated soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages. Market data confirms that gluten-free and organic products are the most popular health claims in new yerba mate drinks around the world over the last four years. Therefore, mate processors are interested in examining yerba mate claims and understanding consumer attitudes toward yerba mate, which is new, especially among health-oriented and uninformed consumers. This would allow them to differentiate their yerba mate products [  13  ].

Three other emerging phenomena demonstrate the potential of yerba mate on the global market. Firstly, yerba mate has become an emoji, and since December 2019 it can be used in electronic messages on social media such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Secondly, the words yerba mate have seen increasing interest in Google search trends. In 2019, it was Googled twice as often as in 2004, mainly in South American countries and increasingly in Europe. Thirdly, the image of yerba mate is promoted by celebrities, depicted with a mate gourd in their hands.

Given the interest in expanding yerba mate sales in old and new markets and new research findings regarding the nutritional and health properties of yerba mate, there is a need to better understand consumer perceptions of yerba mate and its market position in these markets. The research therefore focuses on Argentina, a country where consumers are familiar with yerba mate, and Italy, a country with a long tradition of drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee. Taking into account the identified research gaps, the objectives of the research questions are as follows:

  • –exploring the opinions of agri-food chain stakeholders on the mate market position, market expansion, prices and opinions on consumer habits and perception of mate;
  • –studying the purchasing and consumption behavior of Argentinian and Italian consumers of yerba mate, with particular emphasis on consumer habits, perceptions and knowledge about yerba mate, including the consumption of yerba mate in relation to other caffeine-containing products;
  • –understand consumers’ perception of yerba mate in terms of health.

This study covers various sections. First, the agronomic features of yerba mate, producing countries, consumption habits and markets are described. The second part presents a literature review on factors influencing yerba mate purchasing behavior, perceived benefits related to consumption and awareness of the caffeine content in yerba mate. The third section explains the methodological framework of the study, providing an approach to primary and secondary data collection and data analysis. The fourth part presents results indicating the behavior and perception of Argentine and Italian consumers. The fifth part discusses the current research results against the background of available literature. Finally, the study provides conclusive observations and some market management implications.

Go to:

2. Production, processing and types of Yerba Mate products

2.1. Yerba Mate production and processing

Yerba mate is a pseudoedible plant belonging to the order Frangulineas and the family Aquifoliaceas ( Figure 1 ). The plant can live for more than a century, but vegetative growth lasts about 25–30 years. The shape of the leaves depends on the species and ranges from 3 to 20 cm. Misiones, an Argentine region bordering Paraguay and Brazil, provides the best location for  Ilex paraguariensis to grow. As a tropical and subtropical plant, it needs high temperatures (annual average 20-23°C) and high humidity. The ideal soil for yerba mate is acidic, clay-sandy soil, rich in potassium and iron, such as in northern Argentina [  14  ].

 Figure 1

Mate plants and plantations (author’s photo).

Processing yerba mate is crucial to obtaining the product’s organoleptic properties. The processing imparts flavor, dries the product and makes it homogeneous and suitable for commercialization [  14  ]. Processing is the biological degradation of vegetative tissue with severe dehydration caused by smoke and wood burning [  15  ]. Processing involves hand-picking the leaves, followed by roasting (sapecado), drying (secado, barbacuà, carijò), crushing (canchado, despalado), and depositing (estacionamiento) [  15  ] ( Figure 2 ).

 Figure 2

Yerba mate processing stages.

2.2. Key stakeholders of Yerba Mate

The National Yerba Mate Institute (INYM) is the institution that regulates and promotes the yerba mate value chain. It was established in 2002. INYM aims to support yerba mate stakeholders in monitoring the yerba mate market. INYM develops the pricing policy for fresh and processed leaves, formulates the Plan Estratégico de la Yerba Mate (PEYM) and manages the Argentine yerba mate website [  3  ,  4  ]. As part of the promotion of yerba mate, INYM supports participation in two important food fairs. The first one is MATEAR, entirely dedicated to yerba mate, taking place in Buenos Aires. The second one is Anuga Expo, taking place in Cologne, Germany.

The latest INYM data confirms the fact that in November 2019, there were 12,285 operators in the yerba mate sector, of which 95% were located in Misiones and 3.5% in Corrientes. The vast majority (93%) of participants in the yerba mate agri-food chain are yerba mate producers. There are 311 processing companies. The yerba mate production system is highly polarized, with 11 companies or cooperatives producing and selling 79% of all yerba mate crops.

In 2018, the leading company was Establecimiento Las Marias SA (Gobernador Virasoro, Corrientes, Argentina). Its various brands (Taragüí, Unión, La Merced, Mañanita, Caá Porá) have a 20% market share. It is followed by Cooperativa Agrícola de la Colonia Liebig Ltda (Corrientes, Colonia Liebig, Argentina) (12%), which commercializes the Playadito, Yemaypé and Mbareté brands. Market supporters include Establecimiento Diez Hermanos (Apostoles, Misiones, Argentina) and Molinos Río de la Plata (Apostoles, CABA Misiones, Argentina) (9% market share each), La Cachuera S.A. (Apóstoles, Misiones, Argentina) (8% market share in market) and Santa Ana Establishment (Santa Ana, Misiones, Argentina) (6% market share).

2.3. Yerba Mate Composition, types and ritual preparation

The types of yerba mate formats available for purchase in South America are several ( Figure 3 ). First, different products have different properties based on the combination of three ingredients: powder (polvo), the size of the chopped leaves (hoja), and sticks (palo). The number of sticks affects the bitterness, durability and intensity of the yerba mate infusion [  16  ,  17  ].

 Figure 3

Infusion of yerba mate, cocido and terere (author’s photo).

Secondly, yerba mate formats are different. Mate can be drunk as dried leaves in a traditional mate container or in “cocido” mate tea bags [  16  ]. Traditional mate preparation uses a mate gourd, a filter pipe, yerba mate and hot water. Mate cocido is much easier to drink. It is the same as traditional yerba mate, but placed in tea bags ready for brewing. Cocido has the same nutritional properties as traditional mate, but in smaller amounts. Although mate is traditionally a hot drink, there is growing interest in cold mate in the “terere” form, especially in Paraguay and during hot seasons. Terere can be prepared with cold water and ice, with fresh juice or by adding herbs to the water. Terere has a lower polyphenol content than hot mate, but higher than mate cocido [ 18  ,  19  ]. For a sweeter drink, consumers add sweetened water or juice to the terere. To increase children’s appreciation, mate tea cocido and classic are often mixed with hot milk (80°), coconut, cinnamon or honey.

Thirdly, the availability of yerba mate in combination with other herbs, e.g. mint, is increasing. This product is called “yerba compuesta” and is a mixture for consumers who do not appreciate the taste of mate, but want to benefit from its benefits [  20  ]. Finally, an increasingly important aspect of yerba mate products is organic certification. It adds lasting value to the product [  17  ].

Go to:

3. Behavior related to the consumption of yerba mate: the healthiest drink of the gods

3.1. Yerba Mate consumer behavior

In ancient times, there was a historical connection between yerba mate and the indigenous people, who called it “the drink of the gods”. Yerba mate “conquered the conquerors” during the colonization period, as well as the Jesuit missionaries, thus contributing to its perpetuation over time.

Nowadays, the consumption of yerba mate is deeply rooted in some countries. In Argentina, it was chosen as the most representative product of the country (38%), even before asado meat (37%) [  21  ]. However, few studies have examined the reasons for purchasing and consuming mate. Recent findings confirm the thesis that in Argentina, 74% of people drink it out of habit, 64% because of its taste, 27% because it keeps company and helps in social contacts, and 20% because of its health properties [  22  ]. Research data confirms the fact that 70% of Argentines drink mate every day and 80% at least once a month. The habit is more common among women (84%) than men (75%) [  22 ]. The most frequently purchased yerba mate packaging size is half a kilogram (53.7%) and one kilogram (40.74%). Other sizes (two kilograms and a quarter kilogram [  21  ]) are also available on the market.

The key aspect of drinking yerba mate is its sociability. Preparing and drinking yerba mate is a ritual that should be shared with other people. According to the ritual, when two or more people share mate, they can share the same straw, and one becomes the cebador, or brewer, performing the ritual and pouring mate tea for the companion.

The spread of yerba mate varies from country to country. In Syria, mate became popular after Syrian immigration to Argentina in the 19th century [  3  ,  4  ]. Currently, in Syria, as well as in Chile and Uruguay, drinking mate is a tradition, while in other countries, such as Spain, its consumption occurs mainly among Argentine communities [  23  ].

3.2. Benefits of consuming Yerba Mate

Previous studies have examined the chemical and biological benefits of mate, mainly comparing yerba mate, tea and coffee. The results confirm the thesis that coffee has better antioxidant properties than tea and mate [  24  ,  25  ]. Other studies confirm the fact that mate is a hot drink with the highest antioxidant properties, thanks to the high content of quercetin [  26  ,  27  ].

The different findings regarding the levels of antioxidant properties are due to the different origins and types of yerba mate studied [  28  ]. Uruguayan and Brazilian mate has a stronger antioxidant effect than Argentinian mate [  29  ].

Other studies have further emphasized the benefits of yerba mate. Mate is effective in the fight against obesity [  30  ,  31  ], prevents heart attacks [  32  ], helps avoid the complications of chronic diabetes thanks to its anti-glycation effect [  33  ], stimulates the nervous system [  34  ] and contributes to intestinal propulsion [  26  ,  31  ,  35  ] Thus, yerba mate is a pleasant drink with medicinal properties [  36  ].

There are controversial studies on the link between mate consumption and the risk of developing cancer. Some studies suggest that mate may have carcinogenic effects [  37  ], while others support the idea that mate may prevent this thanks to its antioxidant properties [  38  ,  39  ].

Finally, in 2014,  Ilex paraguariensis  was genetically studied, opening the way to the development of molecular markers, gene mapping, analysis of genetic diversity and selective breeding in yerba mate [  40  ]. Only in 2020 did academic research define a lexicon describing the color, aroma, and taste of mate [  41  ]. A mutually agreed standardization of sensory profile attributes provides the basis for a useful reference for all stakeholders in the agri-food chain.

3.3. Consumers and caffeine content in Yerba Mate

Consumers often appreciate the effects of caffeine on stimulating the body and mind and mental alertness [  41  ]. Yerba mate contains caffeine (sometimes incorrectly called “mateine”). Caffeine consumption in Argentina is estimated at approximately 288 mg per day per adult [  42  ], and mate, a very popular drink, may be the main source of caffeine [  43  ]. Caffeine is an alkaloid (xanthine) responsible for its physiological stimulating effect on the central nervous system. There is increasing public and scientific interest in the health benefits of habitual consumption of caffeinated beverages. The latest results support the thesis that consumption of up to 300-400 mg of caffeine daily by healthy adults is not associated with any adverse effects [  25  , 41 ].

Estimating the caffeine content in yerba mate is not easy ( Figure 4 ). Studies have been conducted that have analyzed the chemical composition of mate, with comparisons to other caffeinated drinks. Nevertheless, the results regarding the amount of caffeine in mate were controversial, probably for a number of reasons. First of all, the differences in caffeine content result from the percentage of elements in yerba mate. Because the caffeine content in the leaves is higher than in the woody parts, yerba mate with sticks has a lower caffeine level than yerba mate without sticks. Wooden chopsticks reduce the effect of hot water, which removes caffeine. Secondly, the level of caffeine in mate powder depends on the origin of the mate. The powder from the sticks will have a lower caffeine factor than that from processing the leaves. Third, the difference between caffeine levels across studies is due to different infusion preparation techniques ( Table 1 ).

 Figure 4

Mate caffeine content.

Table 1

Literature on data collection tools.

Data collectionEditionAuthor’s
Argentine focus group
Argentine questionnaires
Reason for consumption[21,22,44,45]
Argentine focus group
Argentine questionnaires
Shopping habits[5,18,44,46,47,48,49]
Argentine focus group
Argentine questionnaires
Italian focus group
Italian questionnaires
Caffeine levels[26,29,42,43,50,51]
Argentine focus group
Argentine questionnaires
Italian focus group
Italian questionnaires
Health properties[27,28,29,30,34,35,36,37,52,53,54,55,56,57]
Italian focus group
Italian questionnaires
Acceptance in new countries[18,52,58]
Italian focus group
Italian questionnaires
Food Neophobia Scale[59,60]

Open in a separate window

Research confirms that the alertness effect of mate due to the caffeine content is lower than that obtained from coffee and similar to that of tea. The energy from a coffee drink is more intense but shorter-lasting; while mate has a prolonged effect with no harsh peaks.

Go to:

4. Materials and methods

To capture the characteristics of yerba mate consumption, production and commercialization, the methodological framework includes secondary and primary data on agronomic, commercialization and consumption aspects.

Secondary data includes a literature review to inform data collection. The literature review aimed to explore the characteristics of agricultural products and the perspectives of agri-food chain stakeholders regarding yerba mate. The basic work of examining data involves three phases, described below.

4.1. Data collection

The primary data collection phase included three stages: (i) interviews with stakeholders in the agri-food chain and observations of the yerba mate market; (ii) focus group interviews with consumers; (iii) consumer survey ( Figure 5 ). Step (i) was carried out in Argentina and steps (ii) and iii) were carried out in Argentina and Italy. Data collection was conducted from September 2019 to June 2020 in Argentina and from January 2020 to November 2020 in Italy. Data collection was based on a detailed literature review conducted to determine the content of focus groups and survey interviews ( Table 1 ).

 Figure 5

Stages of the primary data collection phase.

4.1.1. Interviews with stakeholders in the agri-food chain and site visits

Qualitative data collection through interviews with agri-food chain stakeholders and site visits was carried out in Argentina and Italy. Its aim was to investigate the opinions of agri-food chain stakeholders on the mate market position, market expansion, prices and opinions on consumer habits and perception of mate. To capture stakeholders’ understanding of the mate market and the functioning of the agri-food chain, interviews focused on the agronomic, processing and marketing aspects of yerba mate. In particular, in Argentina, interviews focused on the agronomic aspects of yerba mate and the characteristics of the agri-food chain, with particular emphasis on the organization of the yerba mate supply chain and commercialization. In Italy, agri-food chain analysis focused on in-person and online visits to sales outlets, including large retailers and herbal shops.

Data collection included visits to yerba mate plantations, plant nurseries, yerba mate processing cooperatives and commercial entities dealing with yerba mate. In particular, the researchers visited Misiones, the Argentine region with the highest mate production in the world. Yerba mate plantations and nurseries as well as two yerba mate processing centers were made available to those interested. The first yerba mate plantation was Yemarì, a natural organic yerba mate cultivation, the second was Cooperativa Liebig. With its 121 collaborators, it is the largest yerba mate cooperative in Argentina. Cooperativa Liebig products are mainly sold under the Playadito brand, which is the most consumed mate brand at a global level. Cooperativa Liebig also has its own processing center for drying and seasoning leaves and packaging the final product. 49  ]. Finally, during the yerba mate fair “Matear”, several yerba mate stakeholders were interviewed, such as entrepreneurs, farmers and craftsmen producing gourds, bombillas and mate bags. Matear hosted several large mate companies, such as Cruz de Malta and Playadito, and many small local producers (  Appendix A  ). Interviews were conducted with 25 stakeholders from the yerba mate agri-food chain.

4.1.2. Focus group

The focus groups (FG) were intended to collect information on consumer perception of yerba mate and to collect survey data. There are studies on Argentinian purchasing and consumption behavior of yerba mate, but there are no studies on the perception of yerba mate by Italian consumers. Thus, the GF aimed to consolidate information from available studies and create a basis for the analysis of the Italian GF ( Figure 6 ).

 Figure 6

Structure and content of the FG dataset.

FG interview structure

The structure of the FG interview includes five sections ( Figure 7 ). The content varied depending on the level of knowledge of yerba mate among consumers in both countries. Argentine FGs include perceptions of yerba mate, yerba mate purchase and consumption habits, alternative yerba mate drinks, consumer knowledge and perceptions of yerba mate’s health benefits, and yerba mate market positioning. The Italian FG included purchase and consumption habits of caffeinated beverages to obtain knowledge and experience with yerba mate, examination of yerba mate as a possible alternative to other caffeinated beverages, consumer knowledge and perception of the health benefits of yerba mate, and Positioning in the yerba mate market.

 Figure 7

Structure and content of questionnaire data collection.

The implementation of the FG included a brief introduction to the focus group structure, schedule, and purpose. The moderator introduced himself, followed by each participant providing personal information regarding age, interests and profession. The discussion was stimulated using sticky notes, colors and word associations.

The Argentine FG investigated the motives for drinking yerba mate, types of yerba mate drinking style (e.g. mate, terere or cocido), place and time of yerba mate consumption, authenticity, taste determined by the culinary tradition, food associated with it and possible alternatives to yerba mate, places purchase of yerba mate and motivating factors, brand loyalty, tendency to innovate/experiment with yerba mate (e.g. flavored), organic, fair trade, places of consumption (e.g. mate bars or cafes). Then the host introduced the topic of alternative yerba mate drinks. The aim is to understand the substitutes for yerba mate in the minds of consumers and the conditions, times and places in which other drinks are an alternative to yerba mate. Similarly, Italian consumers presented their habits regarding caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea, chocolate, and yerba mate. They discussed their consumption styles, place, time, favorite taste, consumption occasions, organic and fair trade features. The exchange of views moved towards examining whether and how yerba mate might fit into the consumption of caffeinated beverages.

Then, FG from both countries examined consumers’ knowledge about the health properties of yerba mate. To obtain feedback, Post-  it® sticky notes  with the proven properties of yerba mate were shown and participants were asked to associate them with mate.

Finally, Argentine and Italian consumers were asked about the position of yerba mate in the market and their willingness to pay a higher price for the health-promoting yerba mate. In particular, in Argentina, consumers shared how to sell yerba mate in a country where it is not known. In Italy, consumers expressed their opinions on how they would position yerba mate in the market. Argentinian and Italian consumers expressed their opinion on what type of value proposition, the content of the marketing communication plan, focus on the proposed properties of yerba mate, and finally whether they would propose yerba mate as an ethnic product or as a breakfast drink, similar to coffee.

Implementation of the FG interview

In both countries, 12 consumers participated in the study. FG participants were gathered using the snowball method and divided into two groups depending on age. People under 18 years of age were excluded from the study. In Argentina, FG inclusion criteria included individuals drinking yerba mate at least four times a week and consumers purchasing yerba mate in person, in order to have a homogeneous group of informed yerba mate consumers. In Argentina, the two age groups were consumers over and under 30 years old, and in Italy, consumers were over and under 25 years old. Moreover, each group presented heterogeneity in terms of gender, social class and nationality of the participants in accordance with the non-discriminatory selection criterion.

The discussions were audio-recorded with the written consent of the participants. In Argentina, FG was conducted in person. As a reward, the FG was offered refreshments such as cookies and bakery items, an anonymous partner, and a terere to share. In Italy, FG had to be conducted online due to COVID restrictions.

4.1.3. Questionnaire

The consumer survey was conducted in Argentina and Italy. The structure of the survey is based on the results of the literature review and FG results. These two structures mirror each other, including questions designed to capture different consumer perceptions and experiences of yerba mate in the two countries ( Figure 7 ).

Study structure
  • TheArgentyna

The structure of the questionnaire included various sections. The first part of the Argentine consumer survey aimed to understand consumers’ perceptions of their partner. This was to understand whether it was perceived as a tea, infusion or energy drink. The second part contains a filter question that allows you to divide respondents into those who drink mate or not. Mate consumers respond in  section 3  , while respondents who do not drink mate skip to  section 4 . The third part focused on the motives and habits of purchasing and consuming yerba mate (e.g. consumption of strong, smoked, ecological, with/without steam, flavored; points of sale; price; promotions; fair-trade; organic; health benefits; brand). The fourth part aimed to obtain information about yerba mate substitutes, the time of consumption during the day and the place of consumption. The fifth part examined the perception of the health benefits of yerba mate among experienced consumers, such as Argentines. The last part collected information about the socio-demographic profiles of the respondents.

  • TheWłochy

The Italian consumer survey aimed to investigate Italian consumers’ knowledge and perception of yerba mate and to understand how yerba mate may fit into current Italian consumption of caffeinated beverages. The first part aimed to collect information on purchasing and consumption habits and factors influencing caffeinated beverages (e.g. frequency of consumption; type of beverage; time and place of consumption; taste; points of sale; price; promotion). The second part examined the knowledge and interest of consumers in yerba mate, presenting preliminary information about its properties, advantages and versatility. The third part examined consumers’ willingness to try yerba mate. Positively disposed consumers answer what their purchasing and consumption behaviors are or would be, as well as their perceived market position towards yerba mate. Consumers were asked about the type of shopping point, consumption style, price range, physical shelf of the retailer, etc.

Finally, consumers were tested for the scale of food neophobia. This scale allows us to understand the extent to which consumers are generally reluctant to food innovations. Food neophobia is a trait that may prevent consumers from trying unfamiliar foods and measures people’s willingness to try new foods or drinks [  59  ]. Food neophobia is assessed using the Food Neophobia Scale (FNS), which is a widely validated 10-item set of questions (  Appendix B  ). The last section included respondents’ socioeconomic information.

The surveys contained closed questions. Responses adopted a 5-point Likert scale, with scale end values ​​anchored from 1 “nothing” to 5 “a lot.” When a different scale is adopted, this is specified in the tables presented in the Results section.

Survey implementation

Data collection in both countries was conducted online. Questionnaires were distributed via an auto-generated QR code survey and an anonymous link via the Qualtrics survey program.

There were 150 Argentine respondents. In Argentina, the distribution of printed QR code surveys was carried out at metro stations, university buildings and shops. They were distributed in the departments of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Misiones. Additionally, an anonymous link was distributed via social media and chat. There were 150 respondents from Italy and all of them consented to the processing of their data. In Italy. distribution of the printed QR code and anonymous link was only available online due to COVID movement restrictions implemented at the time.

At the beginning, the questionnaire asked for consent to analyze the data and explained the purpose of the research. The time needed to complete the questionnaire was approximately 6–7 minutes. There was no reward.

4.2. Data analysis

Data analysis differed between qualitative and quantitative data. Stakeholder interviews and focus group data were analyzed with thematic content analysis. The issues were grouped based on the results of the main literature review and in preparation for the quantitative analysis. Thematic data analysis allowed for direct comparison of the four focus groups. As a result, the analysis identified key themes and conceptual combinations focusing on broad themes, following the structure included in the thematic discussion project [  61  ,  62 ]. The information was analyzed to find similarities between interviewed stakeholders’ opinions about the research issues. Therefore, a comprehensive review of qualitative data was undertaken to define the big picture. Interview information was prioritized based on research questions to filter data volume and sources [  62  ,  63  ,  64  ,  65  ]. Survey data were analyzed with frequencies, means, and standard deviations. Chi-square and Anova analyzes were performed to test the significance of FNS. Consumers’ FNS scores were calculated according to the literature (  Appendix B  ).

4.3. Survey sample

The research survey sample includes approximately 300 consumers, evenly distributed between Argentina and Italy ( Table 2 ). In both countries there were more men (61% in Argentina and 57% in Italy) than women (39% in Argentina and 43% in Italy). The Argentine sample includes a larger number of students compared to Italy, where there were more working people. The average age was over 30. The Argentine sample also included consumers from South American countries who were familiar with consuming yerba mate.

Table 2

Socio-economic characteristics of respondents.

 Socio-economic characteristicsArgentina %Italy %
Living spaceMain geographical area85.5 (Argentina)87.9 (Northern Italy)
Other areas14.5
(Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia)
(Centre, South Italy)

Open in a separate window Go to:

5. Results

5.1. Yerba Mate stakeholder view

Argentine stakeholders are aware of how consumers perceive yerba mate and support its perception as the most loved drink in the country. Consumers of every social class drink and share in the same way. They believe that yerba mate is more than just the energy and flavor it gives. They believe in the social purpose of yerba mate. They believe that offering a partner is a way to start a conversation and welcome the other person in a very personal ritual.

Yerba mate stakeholders are aware that to expand their sales it is necessary to enter new markets such as Europe, but they expressed a need to better understand how to approach foreign markets where yerba mate is not known. The results of the stakeholder interviews support the view that different stakeholders have different perspectives on the yerba mate expansion strategy and the role that key stakeholders can play in supporting market expansion.

The research results support the thesis that the yerba mate market expansion strategy can be approached in various ways. First, large and small companies approach the market differently. The interlocutors shared the opinion that large companies guarantee competitive prices, and small producers focus their production on traditional yerba mate with premium and innovative features. They believe that both price and quality differentiation strategies, i.e. sustainable, organic, naturally grown and fair trade products, can be appreciated in Europe. Secondly, interested parties believe that yerba mate can be sold abroad with innovation in mind. It could be sold as a healthy and superfood and in new blended mate formulas. They can attract new consumers and familiarize them with the taste of yerba mate. Some stakeholders believe that yerba mate could succeed as a healthier alternative to coffee. Thirdly, yerba mate sales and export managers interviewed during the fair usually focus on the organoleptic properties of yerba mate. They invest in unique flavors obtained through special blends, special traditional mate and high-quality infusions. National stakeholders such as INYM are pursuing possible new uses for yerba mate as mate-based beverages such as energy drinks.

Stakeholder interviews explored INYM’s perceived contribution to supporting the market and regulation of yerba mate, promoting its consumption and protecting farmers and workers in the agri-food chain. Stakeholders stressed the importance of INYM in the establishment of the “Corresponsabilidad Gremial” tax. This tax is included in the fixed price of fresh or dried yerba mate leaves. Its aim is to cover the costs of employee insurance, and respondents believe that it contributes to supporting a sustainable agri-food chain and the development of market relations.

Playadito’s stakeholder interlocutors supported the importance of the company’s organization for market development. The cooperative’s activities include agricultural production of yerba mate, nurseries, transformation centers, storage, and final packaging. The cooperative analyzes the market and invests in innovation at all levels of the chain, including mechanical pruning, new agronomic techniques and product quality and standardization. According to the interlocutors, they ensure good product quality and market stability, valued by buyers and necessary for market development. For example, the plants grown in their nurseries come from certified seeds. All members of the cooperative have the same plants to ensure uniform quality of the final product.

The importance of plants and agronomic aspects in supporting market expansion was confirmed by other interviewees. The Instituto Nacional de Tecnologìa Agropecuaria (INTA) manages the first and only center for certified  Ilex paraguariensis seeds. INTA has various reproductive centers throughout Argentina, but the one dedicated to yerba mate is the Cerro Azul (Misiones) experimental station. The seeds produced there are sold to various nurseries. The advantage of certified seeds is the high efficiency of explants and shortening the production start time, with reliable raw material results and, consequently, the final production of yerba mate.

The overarching perspective of the results of the stakeholder interviews confirms that the production and market of yerba mate is strengthening in two directions: ecologically oriented production, in the tradition of yerbales combined with Nature; a production-oriented cooperative investing in innovation, mainly aiming to guarantee good quality and high yields. Both models may be suitable for the European market. The former may look for consumers who are focused on the sustainable development of food products and who respect the traditions of the country of origin. The second can support the delivery of a good quality, healthy and, if possible, price-oriented product to the European consumer market.

Yerba mate is sold on the Italian market in various formats and sales points. In supermarkets, traditional yerba mate is available in ½ kilogram packages. Retailers tend to sell only one brand of yerba mate, which may vary from retailer to retailer. For example, a large high-level retailer sells the Taragüí brand from Establecimiento Las Marias, while another medium and large retailer only carries the Amanda brand from La Cachuera SA. Both brands are among the top five yerba mate market operators. Yerba mate packaged in Argentina and sold in Europe will, in accordance with European law, have a sticker with a nutritional table. In Italy, yerba mate is also often sold in herbal shops, sometimes in a smaller format or loose, depending on the weight desired by consumers.

5.2. Focus group

FG provided information on consumer perceptions and customs related to yerba mate in Argentina and Italy.

  • TheArgentyna

Factors influencing the purchase and consumption of yerba mate by Argentinian consumers include habit, energy source, companionship and socialization methods. Mate is part of the tradition and identity of Argentine consumers. It is part of their folklore and ritual deeply rooted in their culture, characterized by many ways of perceiving products.

“Mate is much more than just one thing: habits, personal experiences, energy”

This quote shows how consumers perceive mate as a drink that is deeply rooted in the minds of Argentine consumers. Argentine consumers associate yerba mate with the green color and nature. They believe that there is a connection between yerba mate and nature. As consumers noted:

“I often say ‘let’s drink a green’ to invite friends to join me for mate”

Moreover, mate means sharing the drinking experience because it is a social moment to talk and be in a good mood:

“Yerba mate keeps me company and I believe that means sharing.”

Similar quotes frequently appeared during FG discussions and highlight how the social aspect of mate is closely linked to this drink.

Yerba mate is their usual morning and breakfast drink, although Argentines drink mate while doing various activities, such as studying, working or eating and talking

“It is common to drink mate while doing other activities.”

Consumers pay attention to the quality of the mate drink, which is related to the quality and preparation of the mate leaves.

“I want to make good mate, and the temperature and the gourd can make the difference.”

Finally, there are further differences between younger and older consumers. Younger consumers pay attention to the organoleptic properties of yerba mate, which should be tasty and fresh if drunk as terere. They appreciate it as a source of energy and a way to socialize. Younger generations are positively disposed to alternative types of mate, i.e. with sugar, coffee and terere. The consumption behavior of older participants results from habit. Some of them started drinking mate very young, in the milk version. As for younger generations, another reason for drinking mate is to socialize. Moreover, consumers agree that hot mate is real mate. The older generation appreciates the traditional bitter taste and smoky aroma and is interested in premium and organic yerba mate. Moreover, older consumers associate mate with traveling.

Argentine consumers agree that mate can be replaced, apart from the socialization effect. The most suitable substitute product is coffee. Both drinks provide energy and have a stimulating effect thanks to the caffeine content, but users perceive a different type of energy. Coffee provides immediate and stronger stimulation for a limited time, while yerba mate provides a constant energy boost for a longer period of time. Another drink substitute is tea. Mate and tea are similar in terms of consumption style and taste, and consumers did not mention aspects related to caffeine and energy. Consumers can replace mate with coffee for breakfast and at work, and with tea in the afternoon or better when they feel bad.

Younger and older consumers have different knowledge and perception of the health-promoting properties of yerba mate. Young participants are more aware of the health-promoting properties of yerba mate. In particular, they recognize the antioxidant and diuretic properties of mate and may further motivate its consumption. Older consumers are interested in the influence of yerba mate on the human body, but they were generally not aware of it. They emphasized that excessive consumption of yerba mate causes stomach acidification. Finally, a benefit greatly appreciated by both groups is the feeling of a “full belly”. They admit that drinking sugar-free can help with your diet.

Consumers have different views on how to promote yerba mate in a new country. Older consumers believe that mate should be positioned as an ethnic food or as an infusion, similar to green tea, to motivate new consumers to try it, especially if it is presented as a healthy tea. Younger consumers propose commercializing yerba mate like coffee and advertising it as a cheaper and healthy alternative.

  • TheWłochy

The selection criteria for Italian participants included consumers of coffee, tea, infusions and energy drinks. First, consumers drink coffee because it gives them energy, especially in the morning as it is a “fundamental start to the day.” Consumers drink coffee for its taste and aroma, as well as out of habit. Drinking coffee also has a socialization aspect, especially at work. Consumers of tea and infusions are guided by taste and perceived healthiness. Consumers use energy drinks for energy, in the evening and at night, and also because they do not contain alcohol. Additionally, younger consumers drink coffee for its caffeine content, and tea and infusions should taste delightful. Older consumers are interested in the durability of food products. Moreover, they appreciate that coffee is energizing and quick to drink,

Due to the limited knowledge of consumers, yerba mate was presented to the participants, explaining its properties and how to consume it. The researcher showed a traditional mate container with a straw, mate tea bags and a ½ kg package of yerba mate. He explained the production process, the origin of the infusion and its benefits. So he asked to what extent participants would replace their usual drinks with yerba mate. There was a rather positive inclination towards yerba mate, with certain conditions.

First, coffee consumers would drink mate to reduce coffee consumption throughout the day, but not for breakfast. Drinking coffee is a permanent habit:

“Eating habits matter, and sometimes it’s not what you drink, but what you’re used to.”

Secondly, Italian consumers value the taste of food and appreciate the taste of coffee. So they should like the taste of mate:

“Taste is the key! It’s not so much about the price or anything, what really matters is that the yerba mate has to be good.”

Third, consumers were attracted by the traditional gourd, but convenience of consumption prevailed. For example, a glass bottle of yerba mate and cold mate in a thermal bottle would be nice. Tea consumers drank mate from a tea bag. They would be motivated by the health benefits of yerba mate. Energy drink consumers were attracted to the sugar-free properties. Consumers generally agreed that they might be interested in drinking mate the traditional way. However, they believe that the time needed to drink it may be a barrier to becoming a coffee substitute.

“I’m curious about mate and I like the philosophy and lifestyle behind this drink. However, mate does not seem functional and fit into my life because it is not easy and quick to drink.”

“I would appreciate a quick mate drink, similar to an Italian espresso.”

“To some extent, mate is mysterious and I like that”

Consumers provided many insights into the positioning of yerba mate in the Italian market. Consumers support the view that yerba mate can serve two purposes, i.e. younger and older consumers. The first group includes consumers under the age of 35–40 who value the traditional ritual of consuming yerba mate. They may be sensitive to the boom that footballers and celebrities have created around yerba mate. Younger consumers may appreciate mate for its energetic properties. The second group would be consumers over 40 years of age who value the health benefits of yerba mate, drunk in the form of sachets, which is easier to consume and contains less caffeine. Overall, Italian consumers can appreciate sustainable yerba mate. In addition,

In terms of sales outlets, respondents agreed on having a variety of places to buy or consume mate. Cafes, tea houses and bars offering ready-to-drink mate are perceived positively. Young people may appreciate the more traditional way of drinking with a gourd, while older people may prefer “easy and quick”. Suggested retail outlets are herbal stores offering mate at high prices and retail stores offering better prices. Consumers suggest that the best product format is half-kilogram, placed on the shelf near teas and infusions, sold as a healthy alternative to coffee. In this case, mate tea should be cheaper than coffee and similar to tea. There is a consensus that mate can also be marketed as an energy drink.

To sum up, in Argentina the consumption of mate results from habit and tradition, in Italy it is already known. Younger generations are more inclined compared to older generations, as well as health-oriented consumers. Drinking yerba mate and other caffeinated beverages is driven by socialization and energy-seeking experiences. These are factors that vary between generations. Currently, health benefits are not crucial to drinking yerba mate. Consumers are generally limited in their awareness of its antioxidant properties, but the health benefits may represent an important value proposition for traditional and new yerba mate consumers. Yerba mate meets the energy demand from coffee as well as the taste and pleasure of drinking tea. Mate can be a healthy alternative to coffee, tea and infusions, while still providing a hip and energetic experience.

5.3. Survey results

5.3.1. Argentina

Argentine consumers mainly perceive mate as an infusion (39.7%) or tea (30.5%). Few consider it an energy drink (13.5%) and a ritual (6.4%). The main factors influencing mate consumption are habit (33.0%), socialization (24.4%) and taste (22.6%). Mate is consumed to a limited extent as a source of energy (11.7%) and for health reasons (3.9%).

Yerba mate is drunk regularly, as approximately half of the respondents (44.5%) consume it every day. It is consumed for breakfast (40.0%), during afternoon breaks (49.4%), and rarely at night due to the caffeine content. It is often consumed at home (39.1%), and at work (18.5%), rarely outside the home. This finding confirms the growing success of the mate thermos and backpack market. It is not drunk while practicing sports because it is not considered an energy drink. The favorite way to consume is traditional hot mate (71.2%), cold terere (27.3%) and cocido in bags (9.3%). The favorite type of terere is with juice (47.5%), with cold water (32.5%) and with herbal flavors (20.0%).

Consumers most often buy mate in supermarkets (75.3%), and their favorite formats are half-kilogram (50.8%) and kilogram (35.3%) packaging. Favorite types are mild with intense flavor (“suave”) (26.6%) and with sticks (“con palo”) (18.6%). Organic mate (10.0%) and smoked flavor (8.0%) are other important characteristics of mate. Consumers are not interested in consuming innovative yerba mate drink recipes. Most of them have not tried any alternative uses (69.2%), and only a small part (19.2%) is positive about innovative mate-based products. The most valued alternative uses of yerba mate are as ingredients in beverages and food recipes (10.0%).

The key factor encouraging people to buy yerba mate is the taste (4.53) ( Digit 8 ). Other important elements are brand (3.5), promotion (3.48), mix and intensity (3.43), price (3.14). Fair trade, ecological, health and seasonal have limited importance. Given the importance of economic attributes, consumers value hedonistic aspects rather than sustainability elements.

 The number 8

Factors motivating the purchase of yerba mate.

Taste is the key element to drinking or not drinking mate. More than half of consumers do not like its taste. A minority of non-mate drinkers believe that sharing a straw is unhygienic (16.7%) and prefer other drinks (16.7%). About one third of consumers have no substitute for yerba mate (31.9%), or rather drink coffee (30.7%), tea (15.1%) and infusions (12.7%). Energy drinks are not a good alternative to yerba mate.

Coffee is a credible alternative to mate in the morning (76.6%), at home (39.2%), to some extent at work (26.6%) and in cafes (22.8%). Tea is a possible substitute for mate in the afternoon (46.7%), mainly at home (67.9%). Infusions can replace yerba mate (86.4%), especially at night (59.3%). The results regarding the perception of the health benefits of yerba mate support the idea that about one third of consumers believe that yerba mate has no health benefits (36%). Some find it energizing (41.3%), helpful in losing weight (20.7%), rich in antioxidants (17.3%) and diuretic (10.4%).

5.3.2. Italy

Italian Coffee, Tea, Infusion Consumption and Yerba Mate

Italian consumers drink a variety of caffeinated beverages, including coffee (41.3%), tea (33.5%), infusions (19.8%) and energy drinks (4.1%). The factors influencing coffee consumption are taste (54%), habit (42%), energizing effect (33.3%) and awakening effect (25.3%). According to coffee consumer behavior, users drink it once (25.2%), twice (42.9%) and three times a day (17.7%). Coffee consumption points are mainly at home (36.7%), at work (24.2%) and in bars/cafes (21.4%). Coffee consumers are eager to try a brew with energetic properties, such as yerba mate.

Tea consumers drink this drink because of its taste (40.3%), relaxation (26.6%) and habit (14.8%). Consumers appreciate the health properties of tea (10.7%) and its energizing effect (7.8%). Italian tea consumers are not focused on innovation. They value classic flavored teas (39.5%) and green teas (22.0%). Possible alternatives are black tea (14.5%) and iced tea (10.5% lemon, 11.0% peach). The frequency of drinking tea is occasional (59.8%) and once a day (36.1%). It is most often drunk at home (74.2%), less often at work (14.5%) or in cafes (8.0%). The vast majority of tea drinkers (85.1%) are willing to try yerba mate, especially if it has health-promoting properties.

The group of infusion consumers is homogeneous to a limited extent. Consumers drink infusions for relaxation (37.3%), for taste (31.8%), they attach importance to health (17.3%), habit (7.3%) and energy (5.5%). Herbal teas were most frequently consumed (61.7%), including chamomile tea (30.9%). Consumption of the infusion is occasional (73.2%), and for a minority of consumers (19.6%) it is consumed daily. Tea infusions are most often consumed at home (73.6%) and at work (18.1%). Infusion consumers are willing to try an infusion with potential health benefits, such as yerba mate (92.3%).

The results confirm that consumers drink coffee, tea and infusion differently. Different behaviors influence how they approach yerba mate and to what extent yerba mate can replace their favorite drink. Confirming the FG results, the survey results confirm that yerba mate provides the energy of coffee and the consumption experience of teas and infusions. First, coffee drinkers may appreciate yerba mate if it is marketed as a stimulant, and tea and infusion drinkers will appreciate yerba mate’s health claims. Consumers of teas and infusions may easily associate the health-promoting properties of yerba mate with herbal teas and chamomile. Secondly, the experience of consuming tea and infusions, characterized by medium to long duration and the use of large amounts of water, is similar to the style of consuming yerba mate. In Italy,

Perception of yerba mate by Italian consumers

The research provides conclusions about Italian consumers’ perception of the properties and ways of consuming yerba mate ( Table 3 ). About 66% of respondents had heard of yerba mate. The vast majority of consumers are willing to try or drink again because they appreciate them (85.9%, of which 32.8% have already tried them). The results confirm that 25% of consumers who do not drink caffeinated beverages drink yerba mate. All energy drink consumers are interested in yerba mate. A small minority of coffee drinkers (8%) and tea drinkers (5%) would not try yerba mate.

Table 3

Italian consumers’ perception of the properties and ways of consuming yerba mate.

External file containing image, illustration, etc. Object name is ijerph-18-08117-i001.jpg

Open in a separate window

Note: Integer answers are based on multiple choice questions; when there are no integer values, answers are based on multiple choice questions.

Consumers who did not know yerba mate received a short explanation about yerba mate. Consumers interested in yerba mate expressed their favorite consumption experiences. Consumers are attracted to traditional gourd mate and straw, both hot (42.1%) and cold (11.8%). Consumers also value yerba mate in bags (26.7%) and are interested in a sugar-free, healthy energy drink based on yerba mate (10.9%) or capsules for coffee machines (7.7%).

Consumers have a positive attitude towards yerba mate and under certain conditions they would replace their regular drink with yerba mate. They should like the taste (42.6%), it should be easy and quick to drink (15.5%), and it should have health properties (13.2%). Respondents willing to try yerba mate are not very willing to replace their usual drink with yerba mate in the early morning (20.0%) or after lunch (14.7%), while they would prefer it in the middle of the morning (29.3%) or better after south (35.8%). The appropriate place of consumption is home (64.2%), and sometimes work (27.7%). Consumers expect to purchase yerba mate in various market channels, i.e. supermarkets (54.0%), herbal stores (38.0%), the Internet (32.7%), specialist stores (23.3%) and bars /ready-to-drink cafes (12.7%). %). When sold in supermarkets, consumers looked for yerba mate in the tea and infusion aisles (81.1%), near coffee (11.1%), energy drinks (4.4%), and among health drinks (3.3%). . None of the respondents would look for it among ethnic dishes. This is particularly interesting because in Italy it is now placed on shelves as an ethnic food.

Finally, the research results confirm that there is a limited relationship between the values ​​of the food neophobia scale and the willingness to try yerba mate ( Table 4 ). Older consumers are more neophobic (88.1%, FNS mean 1.88) compared to younger consumers (80.8%, FNS mean 1.81). ANOVA values ​​are statistically representative. The results confirm that there is no significant difference between younger and older consumers. FNS values ​​the cross-analysis with the willingness to try yerba mate.

Table 4

The scale of food neophobia of Italian consumers and the willingness to try yerba mate.

FNS values ​​in younger and older consumers 
 Younger % Older %   
Low FNS values19.2 11.9   
High FNS values80.8 88.1   
Total100.0 100.0   
 ValueDev. standardValueDev. standard  
Anova on FNS average values ​​of younger and older consumers 
 Sum of squaresdfRoot mean squareFTo talk. 
Between groups0.81.00.754.9530.028*
Within groups22.7149.00.15   
FNS values ​​and willingness to try Yerba Mate
 Yes, I would try
No, I wouldn’t try
Yes, I would try
No, I wouldn’t try
Low FNS values221021132014
High FNS values789079878086
Chi-square values0.338  0.421  

Open in a separate window

* Significant  p-value below 0.05.

There is a general positive interest in yerba mate. It can gain market share from drinks consumed in the morning and afternoon. This also applies to coffee, as long as the quick consumption of Italian coffee is ensured. The current commercialization strategy for yerba mate in Italy does not seem to be in line with the expectations of Italian consumers. They don’t see it as an ethnic dish. It is considered an energizing or relaxing and healthy drink, which is why it can be found close to tea and infusions.

Go to:

6. Discussion

The research study provides an innovative exploratory perspective to understand how to increase yerba mate sales in old and new markets. It provides a comprehensive and introductory look at actors in the agri-food chain, from producers to consumers, on approaches to the production, management and marketing of yerba mate. Previous studies have, to a limited extent, analyzed the yerba mate sector from the perspective of economic market expansion, including stakeholders, i.e. small and large producers, domestic entities, retail and consumers [  6  ,  19  ,  21  ]. Other studies have focused on the agronomic and sensory aspects of yerba mate [  14  ,  15  ,  17  ,  41 ]. The analysis of the economic strategies of entities in the yerba mate agri-food chain as well as the purchasing and consumption behavior and habits of consumers allows us to understand what are possible market expansion strategies in old and new yerba mate consuming countries. Moreover, the research provides preliminary information on the possibility of appreciating the nutritional properties of yerba mate as an element of competitive advantage on the Argentine and European markets.

6.1. Stakeholders of the Yerba Mate agri-food chain

Current research results confirm that there are different levels of knowledge and different visions on how to expand the sale of yerba mate in new markets. These results are confirmed by available national and international marketing management research [  9  ,  10  ,  13  ]. Various actors, i.e. small and large producers, retailers, economic, agronomic and yerba mate management institutions, agree on the need to expand sales on the domestic yerba mate market [  8  ,  9  ,  11 ]. The results confirm that strategic approaches to implementing market expansion lack an adequate understanding of the market potential of yerba mate in Argentina and the market structure in countries with limited knowledge of yerba mate. These findings confirm previous studies [  8  ,  9  ,  11  ].

The opinions of the interlocutors confirm that there are no common strategic guidelines supporting the expansion of yerba mate on domestic and new markets [  5  ,  6  ,  7  ,  9  ]. This leads to different approaches by stakeholders in the agri-food chain, mainly related to the dimensions of producers. The results confirm that small agricultural yerba mate producers tend to re-evaluate old family traditions and the nature-friendly yerba mate production process. As indicated in previous studies [  66  ], this concerns their limited ecological awareness and knowledge. As confirmed by previous research, small agricultural producers are to a limited extent market-oriented and believe that rejuvenating old production methods may be positively received by the market [ 3  ,  9  ]. Big mate manufacturers strive to improve production efficiency. They would like to produce three times more than currently. To further explain previous research studies [  13  ,  15  ,  66  ], the current research confirms that the low production capacity is mainly due to two reasons. Firstly, most of the yerbal plants (  Ilex paraguariensis plantations  ) are not in good condition. Smaller producers in particular suffer from low plant densities and inefficient management. Secondly, old yerbals are often held as a financial asset rather than a source of income.

The results confirm the special interest of stakeholders in the prospect of internationalizing the sale of yerba mate [  7  ,  9  ,  11  ]. They confirm the usefulness of research that allows for a better understanding of the needs and desires of new consumers [  17  ]. Current research shows that stakeholders can take advantage of the nutritional properties and health benefits of yerba mate. These are promising attributes that characterize the innovative positioning of yerba mate on the market [  67  ].

Argentine stakeholders need support in interpreting and approaching foreign markets. In particular, these research results show a discrepancy between yerba mate commercialization strategies in Italy and consumer perceptions. Yerba mate could be positioned on the market of tea, infusions and healthy drinks, rather than on the market of caffeinated drinks [  48  ,  67  ].

6.2. Purchasing and consumption behavior of yerba mate consumers

The results confirm that yerba mate consumption in Argentina is a national dietary tradition resulting from taste, habit and socialization [  21  ,  38  ,  46  ]. Awareness of the health benefits of yerba mate is limited, even though its health benefits have been the starting point for yerba consumption in past centuries [  21  ,  22  ,  23  ,  24  ,  25  ,  26  ,  27  ,  28  ,  29  ,  30  ,  31  ,  32  ,  33  ,  34  ,  36  ,  46 ]. As previous studies have highlighted, women drink mate tea more often than men. They are more interested in organic certification than fair trade [  20  ,  67  ,  68  ]. Women appreciate the taste of mate tea, and men are interested in the energy effects, especially if they are under 40 years old [  22  ]. However, interest and knowledge about the health properties of yerba mate is generally limited. This confirms the ability of national stakeholders to promote a comprehensive perception of the partner. The results confirm that it is not easy to replace yerba mate with other drinks if possible. For young consumers, the most promising drinks may be coffee for men and tea and infusions for women. Older consumers would choose tea [  69 ].

The results confirm that mate tea is not common in Italy, even though a minority of consumers, mainly young people and women, have tried it. Its current marketing is inconsistent with consumer expectations. It has the potential to be a substitute for coffee due to its energetic properties and tea and infusions due to the style of consumption. There are four main aspects arising from this. First, consumers do not expect to find mate in the ethnic food retailer sections where it is currently sold. A different shelf and market positioning could improve perceptions of yerba mate, as Italian consumers tend to associate ethnic foods with unpleasant or risky products. Second, coffee-oriented consumers have a limited preference for mate tea unless coffee consumption is driven by energy rather than taste. Tea and infusion-oriented consumers are more inclined towards mate tea. 70  ]. Third, as confirmed by other studies, the food neophobia results support the idea that younger consumers are more inclined to new products than older consumers [  71  ]. Fourth, the current price ranges for yerba mate are perceived as too high, especially to attract new consumers. Higher prices may be acceptable when purchasing yerba mate in herbal stores.

6.3. Implications for management

The research results provide a set of evidence-based management implications, mainly focusing on the expansion of yerba mate in the Italian market. These depend on the trading point. First, retailers should determine new shelf placement. Mate tea should not be placed among ethnic dishes, but rather among teas and infusions. Secondly, mate tea should be sold in bags to suit the consumption style familiar to consumers. Third, retailers should offer more yerba mate brands, a wider price range and new formats to allow consumers choice and different purchasing power. Retailers may begin commercializing new mate formats such as mate capsules, mate-based decaffeinated beverages, decafs, chewing gums, and smoothies [  72  ,  73 ]. ] Fourth, herbal shops can offer yerba mate at lower prices, provide higher levels of service and advice such as tasting sessions, and include yerba mate kits and accessories in their portfolio to provide a realistic mate experience. Additionally, herbalists may offer personalized mate blends, as with teas, to convey the full mate experience. Finally, in addition to traditional uses, companies can further expand the use of yerba mate in a range of food products, such as the production of beer, soft drinks, cosmetics, confectionery and functional cheeses, as well as in other non-traditional applications [  74  ]. .

Go to:

7. Conclusions

Yerba mate has the potential to become a beverage on the global market. The current study presents a perspective on the management of the yerba mate agri-food chain, including agronomic and processing perspectives and sales and purchasing strategies. The research provides information on the market expansion of yerba mate, appreciating the experience from countries with a long tradition of producing and consuming yerba mate, as well as the perceptions and attitudes of new potential markets towards the new drink.

The research shows that there is a need to adapt the experience of drinking yerba mate to the expectations of consumers from new countries. Stakeholders and consumers are positive about the possibility of expanding the yerba mate market, both in countries already consuming yerba mate and in countries with little knowledge of this drink. The study confirms that there is limited repeatability of yerba mate consumption style in new countries. This confirms that the valorization of the nutritional properties of yerba mate is an opportunity for both markets. The health properties of yerba mate have the potential to become a new attribute appreciated by nutrition and health-oriented markets such as Europe, and by countries that have valued yerba mate for its socializing and energetic properties.

Yerba mate belongs to the category of drinks containing caffeine. Caffeine intake limits are covered by dietary guidelines around the world, which aim to set upper limits for caffeine intake to avoid risks. The value of this work lies in confirming initial observations about the potential of yerba mate as a tea harmonizing energy and health effects. New market positioning and market expansion require innovative practices involving a number of actors in the yerba mate agri-food chain in agronomic and economic research to obtain high-quality raw material and effective production and management strategies.

Limitations and further research

The current study is a preliminary exploration of the market expansion of a product that is a centuries-old beverage in one country and a fairly new beverage in another country. Food market interest and scientific research on yerba mate have increased in recent years. Rapidly growing interest can make research results quickly become outdated. The preliminary nature of the study is mainly due to the balanced but limited sample size across countries. Thus, future research can arise from and further develop from the current study. First, they can study a statistically representative sample. Second, given the importance of taste, they can develop a sensory testing protocol. Finally, they can examine the positioning of yerba mate among health drinks,

The content on the website comes from  the National Library of Medicine and has been translated into Polish.

Link to source –