Students grapple with a Yerb-shaped void


Annalisa Madonia

Photo Illustration: The Yerba Mate shortage on campus has been met with differing levels of concern from those who are troubled by it and those who are indifferent.

As midterms hit and workloads ramped up the week before spring break, UVM students found themselves deprived of their favorite stimulant.  

UVM was informed that Guayakí, one of the main retailers of yerba mate, sold their distribution rights to another company and would stop delivering the drink Feb. 24, according to a flier posted on an empty Guayakí fridge in the Davis Center’s Marketplace. 

As a result, there is a Yerb shortage on campus.

Yerba mate is a traditional South American drink derived from the leaves of the indigenous yerba mate plant, according to a Nov. 20, 2020 Marquis article. Guayakí is a beverage company that sells canned, carbonated and energy shots of yerba mate. 

Guayakí Yerba Mate has a cult following on campus, as featured on the UVM Yerb Patrol Instagram page. Students carry it in the back pocket of their jeans, drink it in the shower and use the cans to decorate dorm walls.

Others are indifferent towards the drink or consider it overrated.

Some students, like first-year Abigail Kortering, are troubled by the current lack of Yerbs on campus.

“I went to Target and stocked up on Yerbs to put in my fridge,” Kortering said. “I doomsday-prepped my Yerbs so hard that I had a dream about the apocalypse.”

When it comes to a quick caffeine fix, Kortering said she favors Yerbs over coffee, as the number of coffee varieties offered can be overwhelming.

“Yerb is simple—I know what flavor I want, I can go to the Marché, grab my Yerb and go, and I’m back in the dorm within three minutes,” Kortering said. 

Kortering said she became dependent on Yerbs to fuel her through her mid-morning dance class. 

“College gave me a caffeine dependency, and then [they] took away the caffeine,” Kortering said.

First-year Emma MacLaren said she has been drinking Celsius, a type of energy drink, and coffee to supplement her need for caffeine.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘woah, a Yerb would be so great right now,’ because it’s not as much caffeine as a Celsius, but has more caffeine than coffee,” MacLaren said. 

A 15.5 ounce can of Guayakí Yerba Mate has 150 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of coffee typically contains 95-140 milligrams of caffeine, according to a Feb. 11 Coffee Affection article

If the Yerba Mate shortage continues, MacLaren’s long-term plan is to continue drinking Celsius and coffee.

“Not even water,” she said. “I hope we get our Yerbs, man.”

Others, including first-year Erik Bakken, are unaffected by the shortage.

“It’s just Yerb at the end of the day,” Bakken said. “It doesn’t really matter that much.”

Bakken gets a Yerb from Cat Pause about once or twice a week if he needs extra caffeine, he said.

“I haven’t really noticed an absence of it in my life,” he said. “I also drink water, or maybe the occasional soda pop.”

Despite his indifference towards the shortage, Bakken takes an analytical attitude towards its causes and wonders if it could have been prevented altogether.

“I find it kind of funny how they didn’t foresee this happening,” he said. “Or [maybe] there was some poor communication involved.”

Ben Leach, a supervisor at Cat Pause, discussed the reason for the shortage of Yerbs on campus. In 2021, Cat Pause was the fourth best-selling Guayakí Yerba Mate retailer in the country, according to a Dec. 14, 2021 Instagram post.

“Guayakí sold their rights to distribution on the East Coast to Baker Distributing, who does Polar [Seltzer] and AriZona,” Leach said. “They’re just a little bit behind on getting the product to Baker.”

On-campus locations owned by Sodexo, the campus food service management company, are experiencing the shortages, Leach said. This includes the Marché, the Marketplace and Redstone Market. 

Locations that are not owned by Sodexo, including Cat Pause, are still selling Yerbs and have more backstocked.

“I know we’re expected to hopefully get a delivery [the week of March 12] if everything goes according to plan,” Leach said. “The rest of the University, I’m not sure about.”

Only Sodexo-owned locations are impacted because Sodexo still needs to set up accounts with Baker, while Cat Pause already has an account with Baker, Leach said.

Katie Vidaillet, Guayakí’s director of communications, recognized that the lapse in product availability has impacted students.

“We can assure you UVM remains a priority and we are working as quickly as possible to get the UVM campus the Guayakí products they know and love,” Vidaillet stated in a March 3 email.

The unavailability of Yerba Mate at certain campus spots means some students might just have to be willing to travel farther for a Yerb. Otherwise, they can rely on coffee or other energy drinks to get the caffeine they need.