Bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea is a product from Taiwan invented in Tainan and Taichung in the early 1980s. It has become an important part of Taiwanese food culture and a flagship product. As it figures in the name, it’s a beverage based on milk tea, with tapioca balls inside (the “pearls”). Over the past decade, the bubble tea craze has also blown over to mainland China.
The bubble tea craze in China
There are many varieties of the drink and you can choose among a wide range of flavors. Thus, it is possible to add some “toppings” like tapioca, fruit jelly, pudding… and some other ingredients to make your beverage such as ice cream, oats flakes, etc. In fact, there are a lot of possibilities and also several milk tea shops in mainland China, sustaining the novelty-on-demand and the desire to drink. The basic one is the black pearl milk tea and the green tea milk (among them the Matcha is the most popular).
“Chinese now consume five times more milk tea than coffee. After the arrival of pearl milk tea to China, coffee has taken a backseat. Bubble tea consumption, in particular, continues to rise at a high rate each year. Therefore, the potential is huge” said Loob’s chief executive officer Bryan Loo. Loob Holding is Malaysia’s homegrown food and beverage player. It has signed an agreement recently with two Chinese companies to form a joint venture entity Shanghai Loob Boduo Food and beverage and plans to set up 500 Food and beverage stores in China within three years. Bryan Loo sees great potential in the venture.
You can also read our Full Guide to Exporting Milk in China
Bubble tea is taking ground both in and outside China
April 30th, Kung Fu Tea, a US-based milk tea chain has officially registered with the national day calendar to make this date the “National Bubble tea Day”, to celebrate the amazing drink that is bubble tea. Kung Fu tea aims to introduce bubble tea and its culture to consumers all around the world.
The brand also launched an event on Instagram to celebrate its 8th birthday, inviting people to take a selfie with their bubble tea and post it on the platform with #NationalBubbleTeaDay and #KungFuTea. These captions and the number of participants show the attraction of bubble tea around the world.
Why are beverages so popular?
The pearl milk tea products attract a lot of young female students, and over the years (with the young people becoming adults), this craze is also expanding among working professionals and men.
While western countries are immersed in the coffee lifestyle, Chinese people have the habit to often drink beverages before, during, or after a meal. Some like the combination of having a drink and snack in one, due to the chewy toppings inside bubble tea, and others just fond of its taste and the unlimited number of choices.
However, this doesn’t mean the coffee market is losing ground in China. As tea entrepreneur Jiang Jiadao said, new realities of modern life show that people want to pick up a quick drink or sit down somewhere with a friend in between meetings: “The popularity of Starbucks doesn’t have anything to do with changing tastes for coffee instead of tea, or more love of Western culture. I think we love the lifestyle it stands for. If we can offer a similar lifestyle and experience over tea, this would work.”
Article about the Top 10 milk tea shops in PRC here.
Xiaohongshu, a guide to Chinese consumer’s choice
The arrival of pearl milk tea in mainland China has contributed a lot to the beverage industry’s growth. It has beaten coffee as a drink in terms of popularity since it came to the mainland market in 1996: in 15 years, it has beaten what coffee in China did in 130 years.
However, bubble tea is not as simple to order as coffee. We can’t just say “a coffee please”. So there are many menus and posts about « how to compose your bubble tea » online. The most used platform is Xiaohongshu.
Xiaohongshu or little red book, is a social media platform, which provides useful content to users, including advice, feedbacks, product presentation, and information. There is a very active community on it, where people share their opinion and interact on diverse topics.
How to break through the Chinese tea market?
It’s important to be present online because Chinese people do a lot of research before tasting a new product. Also, if you are in the food industry, increasing your brand awareness is very important because consumers are more careful nowadays about what they are eating. Especially in China, where many food scandals happened in the past.
You can also read our Strategic Guide to Export Food Brands in China
Social media platforms
Chinese people rely on other’s word of mouth and the recommendation found online. A lot of shops have become very popular through the internet, across consumer’s sharing. Xiaohongshu for example, beside informing users of what, why, and how to purchase, is providing a real promotion service for brands and businesses in China. To enter and collaborate with this type of platform can increase your brand awareness in China.
GMA is specialized in digital marketing in China. We provide expertise and contacts in China to efficiently develop your project here, using the latest digital tools. Do not hesitate to leave a comment if you like also bubble tea! More seriously, if you want to enter China’s market, feel free to contact us.
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