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Limited-service restaurants leverage the boba trend

Popular pearls inspire creativity in limited-service beverage programs

Exciting and differentiated beverages at quick-serve restaurants are set to explode as restaurants reopen and consumers seek out new taste experiences. Few beverages are poised to benefit from this trend as much as boba. Its popularity can be traced back to a tea shop called Chun Shui Tang in Taichung, Taiwan. From there, boba made a mercurial rise, from East to West.

Bubble tea, a $2B market, is a reflection of boba’s widespread appeal. Tasty, sugary, squishy bubbles float in this traditional drink. When prepared with tea, milk and tapioca-influenced boba balls, bubble tea is not only an explosion of flavor, but also a visual experience. One can see the different elements of the drink, a deconstructed” food experience consumers are after. After months of pandemic lockdown and social distance, many consumers have been constructing and deconstructing their own food and drinks at home, and are eager to continue the trend when dining out.

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Del Taco has demonstrated repeated creativity and initiative in the boba trend. Last summer, the Sprite Popper manifested an opportunistic take on the bubble tea trend. Instead of tea, the drink base was a soda, and cherry-flavored boba replaced traditional boba.

This year, Del Taco has offered the Lemonade Popper for a limited time. Building on the concept of the Sprite Popper, it combines Minute Maid ZeroSugar Lemonade and round bursts of blueberry or peach flavored popping pearls, served over ice. Drawing on the creaminess of traditional bubble tea with milk, the Del Taco Mini Shake Popper, also introduced this spring, combines the QSR’s premium vanilla shake with bursts of blueberry or peach popping pearls.

The exciting influence of boba on American quick-serve eateries isn’t a given for the near-term. Shortages in the United States of tapioca due to a lack of labor may upend the supply well into the middle of summer, according to NPR. But boba is here to stay, according to the Culinary Edge, powered by the influence of Asian-American culture, pop culture and Instagram.

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The original bubble tea is a multi-billion dollar market already. With the innovation of suppliers and large restaurant chains, boba will take new forms and provide momentum for drinks in both the indulgent and health-centric categories. Restaurant chains will benefit by including boba in their drink innovation during the pandemic recovery and beyond.

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