Bubble Tea in China, Full Business Analysis

Bubble tea, also known as milk tea with tapioca pearls, has become a massive cultural phenomenon in China and golden investment opportunities.

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Why Bubble Tea has gained such popularity in China?

  1. Variety of Flavors: Bubble tea offers an extensive range of flavors, including traditional tea bases like black, green, and oolong, as well as more inventive options like taro, matcha, and fruit-flavored teas. This variety caters to a wide array of tastes and preferences.
  2. Customization Options: Consumers enjoy the ability to customize their drink to their liking, choosing the type of tea, level of sweetness, amount of ice, and types of toppings, which often include tapioca pearls, jelly, and pudding. This personalization makes the drink appealing to a broad audience.
  3. Cultural Resonance: Tea drinking is an integral part of Chinese culture, and bubble tea offers a modern twist on this tradition, making it culturally resonant while still feeling contemporary and trendy.
  4. Affordable Luxury: Bubble tea is seen as an affordable indulgence. It offers a sense of novelty and luxury at a relatively low cost, making it accessible for regular enjoyment without a significant financial burden.
  5. Social Experience: Drinking bubble tea is often a social activity. It’s common for friends and colleagues to gather and chat over bubble teas, making it a popular choice for social outings.
  6. Youth Appeal: The playful appearance and sweet taste of bubble tea appeal strongly to younger demographics. Its popularity among celebrities and influencers, particularly on social media, also boosts its appeal among the youth.
  7. Innovative Marketing: Many bubble tea brands employ creative and aggressive marketing strategies, including limited-time flavors, collaborations with popular brands, and visually appealing store designs that attract customers.
  8. Convenience: The widespread availability of bubble tea shops, including in malls, near schools and offices, and in transportation hubs, makes it easy for consumers to grab a cup on the go.
  9. Seasonal Adaptability: Bubble tea menus often adapt to different seasons, offering warm options in winter and refreshing cold teas in summer, which helps maintain consumer interest year-round.
  10. Growing Middle Class: As China’s middle class expands, more consumers are willing to spend on non-essential goods like bubble tea, driving its popularity as a symbol of modern lifestyle choices.

These factors together have propelled bubble tea from a niche product to a mainstream staple in China, embedding it deeply in the country’s contemporary food culture.

Bubble Tea: where it comes from, orgin

From its humble beginnings in 1980s Taiwan, bubble tea has evolved into a global phenomenon. This unique beverage, known for its distinctive combination of milky tea and tapioca pearls, has captured the hearts of consumers worldwide, particularly those under 40. Despite this widespread popularity, not all ventures in the bubble tea industry have been successful, as evidenced by the disappointing stock market performances of two China-based chains.

Nevertheless, the international appeal of bubble tea continues to grow, reaching from Asia to Western cities such as London and Buenos Aires. The drink’s origins in Taiwan remain a point of pride, especially as the number of bubble tea shops in China has exploded to an estimated half a million.

In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, university lecturer Lili recalls her long-standing relationship with bubble tea, which began in primary school. Similarly, Beijing office worker Tina, who also discovered boba as a child, now enjoys it several times a week, often placing group orders with friends and colleagues. Their stories reflect a broader trend that has seen China’s bubble tea market swell to an impressive 145 billion yuan (approximately $20 billion) last year.

Bubble tea in China – 2024 data statistics & prevision


Bubble Tea Franchise: A Lucrative Business Opportunity in China

In recent years, the China “passion” for bubble tea has presented a promising opportunity for entrepreneurs interested in the food and beverage industry. A bubble tea franchise offers a streamlined pathway to entering this booming market.

Understand the Chinese Market

  • Demographic Appeal: Primarily popular among younger Chinese audiences, bubble tea also attracts a broad demographic, including families and working professionals seeking a casual and trendy dining experience.
  • Market Trends: Stay updated on evolving consumer preferences, such as the shift towards organic ingredients or low-sugar options, to tailor your offerings accordingly.

Choose the Right Franchise

  • Brand Reputation: Select a franchise with a strong brand identity and positive customer perceptions. For instance, Gong Cha and Chatime are recognized for their quality and innovation, making them attractive franchise options.
  • Support System: Opt for a franchise that provides comprehensive support, including training, marketing, and supply chain assistance, to facilitate a smooth operation.

Prime Location

  • High Foot Traffic: Choose locations in urban centers, malls, near universities, or business districts where foot traffic is high. For example, a Chatime outlet in a bustling shopping mall in Shanghai attracts a steady flow of customers throughout the day.
  • Visibility: Ensure the location is easily accessible and visible to attract spontaneous walk-in customers.

Menu Innovation

  • Local Flavors: Incorporate local tastes and preferences into the menu. For example, introducing green tea flavors in East Asian markets or chai-based bubble teas in India can cater to local palates.
  • Seasonal Varieties: Offer limited-time seasonal flavors, such as pumpkin spice bubble tea in the fall or mango-flavored drinks in the summer, to keep the menu exciting and attract repeat customers.

Social Engagement

  • Social Media Engagement: Utilize platforms like Instagram and TikTok to showcase the visually appealing aspects of bubble tea. Engage with customers through contests, hashtags, and interactive content.
  • Collaborations: Partner with local influencers or businesses to expand brand reach. For instance, a collaboration between a bubble tea shop and a popular bakery could offer dessert pairings with tea.

Customer Experience

  • Efficient Service: Ensure that the service is quick and efficient to cater to the fast-paced lifestyle of urban consumers.
  • Comfortable Seating: Provide comfortable seating arrangements to encourage customers to linger and enjoy their beverages, enhancing customer satisfaction and increasing the likelihood of repeat visits.

Financial Planning

  • Cost Management: Keep a tight control on inventory and overhead costs to maximize profits. Efficient stock management can prevent wastage and reduce costs.
  • Revenue Streams: Consider additional revenue streams such as online orders, delivery, and catering services for local events to increase sales.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance

  • Franchise Agreements: Thoroughly understand the terms and conditions of the franchise agreement to avoid future conflicts.
  • Local Regulations: Comply with local health and safety regulations to ensure smooth operations and avoid legal issues.

Marketing Of Bubble Tea Brands in China

In China, the marketing landscape for bubble tea is as dynamic and innovative as the drink itself. Brands leverage a variety of platforms and strategies to engage with consumers, especially the younger demographic that predominantly consumes this trendy beverage.

Here are some key tactics and methods bubble tea brands use for marketing in China:

  1. Douyin (TikTok in China):
    • Content: Bubble tea brands create engaging and visually appealing content that showcases the aesthetic qualities of their products, such as the mixing process, customizations, and final presentation.
    • Influencer Collaborations: Collaborations with popular Douyin creators help brands tap into large and engaged audiences, spreading word-of-mouth awareness quickly.
  2. Xiaohongshu (RED):
    • Lifestyle Integration: Brands post lifestyle content that integrates bubble tea as a part of fashionable and desirable daily routines.
    • User Reviews and Recommendations: Encouraging customers to share their experiences and photos of the product on this platform, which blends social media and e-commerce elements, amplifying organic reach.
  3. Viral Marketing:
    • Challenges and Memes: Creating or sponsoring online challenges that encourage users to interact with the brand in creative ways. For instance, “bubble tea makeup” trends or bubble tea drinking challenges can generate buzz.
    • Limited Edition Flavors: Launching limited-time flavors or collaboration items that can create urgency and exclusivity, thereby driving both online discussion and in-store traffic.
  4. KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) and Influencers:
    • Partnerships: Brands frequently partner with KOLs across platforms like Weibo, Douyin, and Bilibili to leverage their influence and credibility.
    • Event Sponsorship: Hosting or sponsoring events where KOLs participate can boost visibility and brand image, particularly if these events are broadcasted online.
  5. WeChat Marketing:
    • Official Accounts: Using WeChat official accounts to push interactive content, promotions, and updates directly to followers.
    • Mini Programs: Implementing WeChat mini-programs for ordering and loyalty programs can enhance user experience and foster direct sales through the platform.
  6. Live Streaming:
    • Sales Events: Conducting live streams that feature real-time interaction with hosts who demonstrate the product, offer exclusive deals, and engage with viewers can drive immediate sales.
    • Behind-the-Scenes Content: Showing the preparation process and the freshness of ingredients can appeal to health-conscious consumers.
  7. Offline and Experiential Marketing:
    • Pop-Up Stores: Temporary, thematic pop-up stores in high-footfall locations can attract customers who are after the novelty factor and exclusive products.
    • Interactive Installations: Physical installations that customers can interact with, often integrated with digital elements for sharing on social media, can enhance physical engagement and online visibility.
  8. Cobranding

Each of these strategies plays a crucial role in building the brand’s image, driving sales, and maintaining customer engagement in the highly competitive bubble tea market in China. Brands that skillfully integrate multiple channels and continuously innovate their marketing approaches tend to see the most success.

China’s Bubble Tea Boom Creates a Dozen Billionaires

The explosion of the bubble tea market in China has not only revolutionized tea consumption across the nation but has also contributed to the rise of a new elite: the bubble tea billionaires. This phenomenon has been driven by a burgeoning middle class, shifting cultural trends, and a keen entrepreneurial spirit that has seen local brands ascend to global prominence.

The Bullble tea Market Explosion

Bubble tea, with its origins in Taiwan in the 1980s, has found a fervent following in mainland China over the past decade. Its blend of sweet, milky tea mixed with chewy tapioca pearls offers a modern twist on the traditional tea-drinking culture. The drink’s customizable nature has made it particularly popular among young people, who relish the opportunity to personalize their beverage down to the level of sweetness, temperature, and toppings.

As the market has expanded, the number of bubble tea shops has skyrocketed. Currently, it is estimated that there are over half a million bubble tea outlets across China. The market’s rapid growth has been fueled by both giant franchises and independent shops, with the top brands achieving unprecedented scale and reach.

6 milk tea Billionaires, but How?

This tea industry has not only provided vast employment opportunities but has also created significant wealth. At least six individuals have now reached billionaire status through their associations with the most successful bubble tea chains. These magnates include the founders and major stakeholders of leading brands such as HeyTea, Gong Cha, and Coco Fresh Tea & Juice. Their success stories are as diverse as their business models, ranging from premium, health-conscious offerings to more affordable, mass-market options.

For instance, the founder of HeyTea, known for inventing cheese tea—a frothy, creamy topping over tea—has seen his wealth soar as the brand has become synonymous with innovation and premium quality. Meanwhile, leaders at Coco Fresh Tea & Juice have capitalized on aggressive expansion strategies and a robust franchise model to build their fortunes.

Economic Impact of Bubble tea

The economic impact of the bubble tea boom extends beyond individual success stories. It has also significantly influenced local economies, particularly through job creation in urban and suburban areas. Moreover, the industry has spurred growth in related sectors such as dairy, sugar, and fruit production, as well as packaging and marketing industries.

Should I invest in Bubble tea franchise?

Investing in a bubble tea franchise or independent shop involves various costs and the expected returns can vary significantly depending on several factors such as location, brand, operational efficiency, and market conditions.

bubble tea, cost and return on investment in China

Below is a simplified table summarizing the typical investment costs and expected returns for starting a bubble tea business in China, (data of 2019)

Cost CategoryTypical Investment AmountDescription
Franchise Fee$15,000 – $50,000Initial fee to use the franchise’s brand and system.
Leasehold Improvements$50,000 – $200,000Costs to prepare the physical space, including renovations and decorations to meet brand standards.
Equipment$10,000 – $40,000Necessary equipment such as tea brewers, shakers, refrigerators, and POS systems.
Initial Inventory$5,000 – $15,000Starting stock of tea, milk, sugar, tapioca pearls, and other consumables.
Marketing$5,000 – $20,000Initial marketing to launch the store, including promotions, local ads, and social media campaigns.
Working Capital$20,000 – $50,000Funds to cover operating expenses before the business becomes self-sustaining.
Miscellaneous$5,000 – $10,000Additional costs such as licenses, permits, insurance, and legal fees.
Total Investment$110,000 – $385,000Sum of all costs involved in setting up the bubble tea business.

Expected Returns on Investment

The return on investment (ROI) can vary widely, but typical financial metrics for a successful bubble tea franchise or shop might look like:

Revenue DriversDetails
Average Sales per Day$500 – $2,000
Operating Days/Year360 days
Annual Revenue$180,000 – $720,000
Profit Margin15% – 25%
Annual Profit per store$27,000 – $180,000

Payback Period

Given these numbers, the payback period (the time it takes to recover the initial investment) can be calculated as follows:

  • If the initial investment is $200,000 and the annual profit is $100,000, the payback period would be approximately 1.5- 2 years.

This simplified analysis provides a general idea of the potential costs and returns involved in starting a bubble tea business.

Top 10 Bubble Tea Franchises in China

Bubble tea, a drink that originated in Taiwan, has become a staple in China’s beverage market, with franchises competing fiercely to captivate a growing customer base.

top 10 bubble tea franchises in China; each known for their unique offerings and impressive business strategies.

  1. HeyTea (喜茶) – Often credited with pioneering the “new style” cheese tea, HeyTea commands long lines and viral social media attention. This brand’s innovation keeps it at the forefront, likely turning over millions annually.
  2. CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice – A global giant from Taiwan, CoCo excels through consistent quality and wide variety. With several hundred stores in China, its turnover reflects a strong, profitable presence.
  3. Gong Cha (贡茶) – This franchise has made a comeback with a premium positioning that attracts a high-spending clientele. Gong Cha’s strategic locations in high-end shopping districts significantly boost its sales figures.
  4. Milksha (迷客夏) – Known for using natural ingredients and fresh milk, Milksha appeals to health-conscious consumers. Its commitment to quality ingredients likely translates to robust sales in urban centers.
  5. The Alley (鹿角巷) – Famous for its aesthetically pleasing and Instagram-worthy drinks, The Alley draws in the younger demographic. Its stylish branding helps maintain high turnover rates amid stiff competition.
  6. Chatime (日出茶太) – With a strong international presence, Chatime maintains popularity through classic flavors and reliable taste. This franchise’s extensive network ensures a steady and impressive revenue stream.
  7. Tea Yogi (茶颜悦色) – Positioned as a lifestyle brand, Tea Yogi captivates with its trendy and artistic store designs. This approach attracts a diverse customer base, enhancing its turnover potential.
  8. Xing Fu Tang (幸福堂) – Celebrated for its stir-fried tapioca pearls, Xing Fu Tang offers a theatrical experience that draws customers. This unique selling proposition ensures it stands out in the crowded market.
  9. Naixue’s Tea (奈雪の茶) – With a focus on premium, freshly brewed teas, Naixue’s Tea appeals to an upscale market, which allows for higher pricing and significant turnover, especially in cosmopolitan areas.
  10. Tiger Sugar (老虎堂) – Famous for its brown sugar boba milk, Tiger Sugar has created a cult following due to its unique flavor profile and eye-catching presentation. Its popularity is reflected in high sales volumes, especially among younger consumers.

China’s Bubble Tea Giants Gear Up for IPO

China’s bubble tea market is witnessing an exciting phase as two of its largest players are preparing for their initial public offerings (IPOs).

This move highlights the rapid growth and substantial economic potential within the country’s bubble tea industry, which has become a cultural phenomenon and a daily habit for millions of Chinese consumers. source

China’s leading bubble tea brands, Mixue Group and Guming Holdings, are preparing for initial public offerings (IPOs) in Hong Kong. These companies, famous for their unique and affordable beverage offerings such as passionfruit pulp or grape and cheese-flavored teas, are making this move despite the current economic uncertainty in China. According to stock exchange filings, the details of the IPO sizes were not disclosed, but reports by Reuters suggest that Mixue aims to raise between $500 million to $1 billion, while Guming targets $300 million to $500 million.

Mixue, which translates to “sweet snow like honey” and boasts over 36,000 stores worldwide, originated from a small store in Zhengzhou in 1997 under the name “Coldsnap.” It has since expanded vastly, especially noted for its low-priced menu items like ice cream, lemonade, and bubble tea. As of September 2023, Mixue led China’s fresh drinks market with an 11.2% share and $4.9 billion in sales.

On the other hand, Guming, which means “ancient tea,” started in 2010 and has grown to 9,000 stores across 200 cities, primarily targeting consumers in China’s smaller cities. Despite both companies entering the IPO market simultaneously, industry analysts see their different market positions and pricing strategies as complementary rather than directly competitive.

The move towards IPOs underlines the robust market demand for affordable luxury, like bubble tea, which continues to thrive despite broader economic challenges. This trend is supported by the fact that, even in periods of low consumer confidence, affordable treats remain appealing, indicating a potentially successful future for both Mixue and Guming in public markets.

Bubble tea health concern in China

there are growing concerns about the health implications associated with frequent consumption of bubble tea. Here are some of the primary health issues linked to this popular beverage among Chinese consumers:

1. High Sugar Content

One of the most significant health concerns with bubble tea is its high sugar content. Many bubble tea drinks are loaded with sugar, contributing to an increase in calorie intake. Regular consumption of these high-sugar beverages can lead to various health issues, such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk of heart disease.

The World Health Organization recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake, a guideline that many bubble tea variants far exceed.

2. Artificial Additives and Colorings

Bubble tea often contains artificial flavorings and colorings to enhance its taste and appearance. These additives can sometimes cause adverse reactions, including allergies and hyperactivity in some individuals.

Moreover, there is ongoing debate and research regarding the long-term health effects of certain artificial additives.

= opportunities in the healthy beverage

3. High Calorie , (Diet Tea are popular)

Aside from sugar, many bubble tea drinks are made with creamer or milk, which can significantly increase the calorie content. Some of the more decadent versions, including those topped with cream cheese or additional sweet syrups, can contain as many calories as a full meal. This can contribute to an overall excess caloric intake, leading to weight gain if not balanced with physical activity.

4. Digestive Issues

The tapioca pearls, or “boba,” which are a signature component of bubble tea, are made from tapioca starch. While they are largely harmless, they contribute little nutritional value and are high in carbs.

5. Dental Health Concerns

The combination of high sugar content and acidic flavors used in bubble tea can also be detrimental to dental health. Frequent consumption can lead to tooth decay and cavities. The stickiness of the tapioca pearls can also adhere to teeth, providing a breeding ground for bacteria if oral hygiene is not adequately maintained.

Tips to launch a franchise Business in China (from the Gentlemen Marketing Agency=

Tips from the Gentlemen Marketing Agency (GMA), which specializes in understanding and entering the Chinese market, particularly useful for launching a franchise in China:

  1. Feel the Chinese Market
    • Tip: Before entering the Chinese market, deeply understand the local consumer behavior, preferences, and regional differences. China’s market is diverse, with varying tastes and habits across different provinces. GMA experts suggest using local market research firms to gather accurate and culturally nuanced insights.
  2. Develop a Strong Digital Presence:
    • Tip: In China, digital presence is crucial due to the prevalence of online shopping and digital communication. Establish a strong online presence on platforms like WeChat and Weibo. Utilize WeChat for everything from marketing to sales to customer service, as it’s a staple in virtually every Chinese smartphone user’s daily routine.
  3. Leverage Influencers (KOLs):
    • Tip: Collaborate with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) to build trust and brand awareness. Chinese consumers often rely on KOLs for product recommendations. Identify and partner with influencers who align with your brand’s values and whose followers are your target demographic.
  4. Partner with law firm for the Regulatory :
    • Tip: China has specific laws and regulations affecting franchises, including foreign business operations and food safety standards. We advise partnering with local partner who can provide ongoing advice and ensure compliance with local laws to avoid costly penalties and operational disruptions.
  5. Focus on Local Adaptation and Innovation:
    • Tip: Tailor your products and marketing strategies to suit local tastes and preferences. For instance, if you’re opening a food franchise, consider incorporating local ingredients or dishes into the menu. For marketing, understand the cultural nuances that resonate with local consumers. Regularly introduce new and innovative products to keep the consumer interest alive.

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One Comment

  1. Hi! Have you noticed the rise of local brands in China’s food scene? Consumers are loving them for their cultural relevance and competitive prices. It’s a great time for homegrown businesses!

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