The Case for Boba

Posted by
Kevin Byrne on 9/9/19 7:20 AM

You’ve probably seen teenagers carrying it on the street; it’s that colorful drink with the dark beads at the bottom. This fun treat also represents a huge opportunity, as boba’s recent and projected growth make it an extremely viable product.

 

What is boba?

Also known as bubble tea, boba is most recognized for the chewy tapioca balls at the bottom of the cup. Along with tea, it commonly contains milk, toppings, and comes in a variety of flavors like matcha, strawberry, and mango.

While it's become more popular in recent years, boba was created in Taiwan in the 1980s, making it significantly older than many of its consumers.

 

Boba's growth is popping

Boba's growth story is an international one. The trending tea has grown its share of Beverage conversations on social media quickly over the last year, increasing outside the US by 167% and domestically by 47%.

 

1-BobaMentions

1.9% of US Beverage conversations in June 2019 mentioned boba, a 47% year-over-year increase.
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics - Global, Jun 2018–Jun 2019.

 

It's reasonable to expect boba's pretty, perfect for Instagram presentation makes it a flavor-of-the-month trend. However, Analytical Research Cognizance states the worldwide boba market was valued at $5.4 billion in 2018 and is expected to be worth $11 billion by the end of 2025—a 105% increase in only seven years!

Growth to this point has been assisted by a highly passionate consumer base. In June 2019, 17.7% of consumers posting about boba had also posted about it the previous month. This is a significant YoY increase that indicates the boba consumer is becoming even more hooked on those tapioca balls.

To put that in perspective, check out how customer loyalty for other Instagram-friendly guilty pleasures fares in comparison to boba:

 

2-MoMConsumerLoyalty

Nearly one in five consumers posting about boba post about it again the following month.
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics - Global, Jun 2018–Jun 2019.

 

So who is the boba consumer?

Boba is highly dependent on younger consumers. The drink skews strongly toward consumers under 30, especially with those age 18–24.

3-USBobaConsumers

In the US, 18-20 year-olds are in the 90th percentile for boba. Relative to Food & Beverage, only 10% of other topics are more talked about by this consumer cohort.
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics - US, Jun 2019, three-month rolling average.

 

Relative to other Food & Beverage topics, boba also skews heavily Hispanic and Asian. As these consumer groups become increasingly central to F&B trends, boba's stock could continue to rise.

 

Consumer perceptions of boba

In regard to the tea itself, consumers are well aware it's unhealthy. Mentions of sugar in conversations about boba have tripled in the last year, and the drink under-indexes with low sugar and isn't associated with many health-related topics.

Perceptions of boba as a guilty pleasure and its extreme popularity among younger consumers could pose a threat to more established treats like ice cream, milkshakes, and frozen yogurt. Not only are those traditional favorites less associated with being a guilty pleasure than boba, but their consumers are less loyal than boba fans.

5.3-BobavIceCream
Not only is boba's popularity growing faster than ice cream's, conversations about boba are growing quickly among ice cream consumers.
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics - Global, Jun 2018–Jun 2019.

 

In fact, we're starting to see boba consumers shift away from foods like ice cream. Over the last year, boba consumers who also posted about ice cream in the same month declined 11.3%. Meanwhile, ice cream consumers posting about boba increased 52.8% over the same period. This shift should catch the eye of ice cream makers, as boba already looks to be stealing market share.

 

The next hot summer treat?

Boba is particularly popular on hot days. In conversations in which 'hot day' is explicitly mentioned, boba has become much more popular over the past year, but other treats haven't been able to keep up:

 

4-HotDayConvos

June YoY change in how frequently these foods are mentioned in conversations that explicitly mention 'hot day.' Boba has grown significantly while the other treats have declined.
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics - Global, Jun 2018–Jun 2019.

 

While ice cream is still the go-to option for the moment, as Gen Z and young Millennials get older, boba's growing popularity among this demo means it's possible these consumers will celebrate summer by taking their family for boba instead of a scoop.

 

Takeaways

All signs point towards boba being a totally viable business opportunity in years to come. It's already a hit among the younger demographic and consumers are getting more hooked—a dream situation for brands already in the space.

Coming soon: We'll analyze current market players to see who could have the most to gain from boba's exploding popularity.

 

Topics: social data, consumer analytics, trends, food, beverages

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