SAN FRANCISCO — Boba, the chewy tapioca pearls traditionally served in bubble tea, is popping up in a variety of applications, including parfaits, pastries and pizzas shared on social media.
“We think bobas are the new sprinkles,” said Olivia Chen, co-founder and chief marketing officer Twrl Milk Tea.
The San Francisco-based brand of canned plant-based lattes, is rolling out boba toppings. Two options, packaged in single-serve packets, include brown sugar boba that may be prepared in the microwave or on the stovetop in less than a minute, and jelly boba, a lower-calorie alternative made with konjac, which is translucent and ready to eat, with a slight lychee flavor, Ms. Chen said.
“Not all bobas are the same,” Ms. Chen said. “We tested a lot. It took us a year to really find the right co-packer to work with to bring this to market.”
The brand’s core product line, a plant-based twist on the popular Taiwanese beverage, debuted two years ago and is sold online and in specialty markets, universities and corporate offices across the country, Ms. Chen said. The ready-to-drink organic lattes contain organic tea sourced from China and Japan, plus pea milk and a touch of organic blue agave syrup. The beverages are infused with nitrogen, which adds a foamy texture. Flavors include original black milk tea, supreme jasmine milk tea and hojicha roasted green milk tea. An additional offering is set to join the lineup this May.
Pauline Ang, co-founder and chief executive officer, several years ago began experimenting in her home kitchen to develop the formulations, testing more than 20 dairy alternatives prior to landing on the pea-based milk, a sustainable option with a neutral taste, according to the company.
Ms. Chen, a longtime marketing executive with previous stints at Estee Lauder and Clinique, said the addition of packaged boba expands the brand’s presence in retail stores.
“Our strategy is helping us build more brand awareness and capturing a little bit of that boba culture,” she said.
Gen Z is credited for fueling a recent boba boom in the United States. The global bubble tea market is forecast to reach $4.4 billion in 2027, according to Allie Market Research. In recent years, mainstream restaurant chains including Dunkin’ and Sonic Drive-In have tapped into the trend, featuring beverages with “bursting” or “popping bubbles.” Several packaged foods brands, including Del Monte Foods and BobaBam, have brought boba to grocery shelves, too.“For us, we really wanted to give our customer base something they could trust that is part of who we are,” Ms. Chen said. “I’m Taiwanese American. Pauline is Chinese American. We know what we want in a boba, in plant-based milk tea or in milk tea in general.”
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