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Cerasee in high demand as Jamaican Teas sees sales grow

Business reporter

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jamaican Teas Ltd has promised top dollar for green or dried cerasee as it seeks to plug the gap in supply of raw materials to be processed into tea bags for local and international markets.

In an advertisement to farmers recently, the tea maker called on farmers to bring in a minimum of 1,000lbs of green cerasee or 300lbs of the dried plant for use in its production process.

“The challenge with cerasee is that it is not something that's grown in orchards like ginger or cinnamon. So what you find is that farmers pull cerasee here, there and everywhere, and because of that you find that it is not as consistent,” Marketing Manager of Jamaican Teas Charles Barrett told the Jamaica Observer.

The plant, which is rich in vitamins A and C, phosphorus and iron, is commercially packaged as tea bags by Jamaican Teas under its Caribbean Dreams brand. The product is also sold by the company's competitor Perishables Jamaica Ltd, under the brand Tops.

Barrett noted that Jamaican Teas exported products account for more than 50 per cent of sales for the business. Cerasee and ginger tea bags are two of the products that have seen double-digit increase in demand since the start of the year, particularly from the United States.

But unavailability caused by the infrequency in cerasee supply has cost the company nearly 25 per cent of sales. Other issues identified by the company are fluctuations in prices for the raw material in addition to ensuring that the cerasee reaped by farmers is aligned with international standards.

“There's an issue with price because when they go around and reap whatever cerasee they can find, you might have a truck load of raw fresh material, and when the material is then dried and grounded you probably get up to a quarter of the [original] weight if that much; and the things that the farmers have to deal with in getting the cerasee to that stage compared to the yield when it is dried and grounded, it becomes a problem, so for us its leading to this inconsistency,” Barrett told the Business Observer.

The cerasee plant, scientifically known as momordica charantia, is native to Africa and the Middle East. However, it can now be found almost in all parts of the world. The yellow fruit which the plant produces, known as bitter melon or bitter gourd, can be eaten raw, and is cooked in many Chinese and Indian dishes.

In Jamaica cerasee is a very popular herb. The leaves and stem are usually boiled or drawn into a tea and taken for a number of ailments, including hypertension, diabetes, parasitic worms, abdominal pains, and purging/detoxing the body and blood.

Cerasee is also used for constipation and is sometimes given to children for fevers and colds and is used sometimes with other herbs to make a bush bath to treat skin problems like rashes and eczema.

In other cases, the fresh leaves and stem are crushed and rubbed on the skin to deal with skin problems and insect bites.

Cerasee is also used as a tea to reduce menstrual pains and to cure urinary tract infections, and in recent times has become commercialised with the tea bags found in supermarkets.

“Generally speaking, herbals are what we're seeing a growth in. The traditional black tea and others are on a decline, but people are buying more herbal products simply because of the health benefits,” Barrett said.

The company noted that there is also a great need for local ginger, both green and dried, not only to satisfy local demand but for the export market — having experienced an increae in demand of 33 per cent in the sales of the Caribbean Dreams ginger tea product. Jamaican Teas currently packages instant ginger tea as well as mixes the ginger tea with noni fruit, but says it has seen a decline in availability of ginger locally.

“We have put out the call to get more persons involved not only in the sourcing of the herb locally but in the farming process,” he said.