The future has bubbles
One way is to wait and see if any food or beverage executives dismiss the idea and say it’s just a fad that won’t endure. That’s often the point at which you can be sure it’s on its way to becoming a lasting trend and a big success.
Another way is to wait and see if it becomes a success in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city.
Measured on these two tough tests, bubble tea is on the way up.
Debuting in Taiwan in the 1980s, bubble tea recipes usually contain a base of tea (black, red or white) mixed with fruit or milk. Most bubble teas come with the addition of small chewy tapioca balls, often referred to as “pearls”.
There are many variants of the drinks, and many ingredients added. Many recipes are purely dairy or dairy-and-fruit based.
Delicious and satisfying, bubble tea has been described as “like a quirky snack and drink in one”.
The bubble tea phenomenon spread throughout Asia to New Zealand and Australia, then North America, before recently landing in Europe, in France and the UK.
My eldest daughter – who, like her sister, is a fan of bubble tea – found this bubble tea outlet in Glasgow, with a healthy line of people waiting to be served.
In common with every other major city, Glasgow has a high percentage of food explorer consumers: well-educated, higher-income people and their families, willing to experiment with cool new products and willing to pay a premium price for things that are interesting and (a bit) healthy.
Mooboo – the store in Glasgow – is part of a Taiwanese chain that’s quietly building a presence in the UK. And there are many other bubble tea chains – from Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong – that are also expanding in the UK and introducing young people to the bubble tea habit.
Often what turns a fad into a trend is when companies choose to do exactly this – invest in creating a market that didn’t previously exist.
When something develops as a café or restaurant food or other food-on-the-go habit it can then develop into a supermarket product. That’s where bubble tea, we predict, is going next.
Bubble tea is no more strange or weird that any of the other successful ideas of the last 30 years which have originated in Asia, such as: energy drinks, probiotic dairy products, plant milks (like soy and coconut), sushi – and in fact dozens of “regular foods” from noodles to curry, which now form an everyday part of the diet in metropolitan centres in the West.
Older consumers might not adopt bubble tea, but teens and twenty-somethings will and – even if it’s only as an occasional indulgence – they will take the habit with them into adulthood. On such slow, steady evolution are new markets created.
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