Bubblology opened its first café last April in Soho, and began serving its red, white or green flavoured teas (a recipient of plaudits from the Taiwanese ambassador to the UK) which come with special straws allowing customers to suck up their trademark chewy tapioca ‘boba’ balls.
Founder and director Assad Khan told BeverageDaily.com: “I had eight years in investment banking, and working in New York I discovered what bubble tea was about. It’s been around for 30 years as a drink but most people don’t realise that.”
Clear gap in market
There were over 10,000 bubble tea shops in Taiwan alone, tens of thousands across Asia, a couple of thousand in Canada and 100 in Berlin, Germany, so the market opportunity was there, Khan said.
“Everyone was drinking it in New York, and I loved the product so much that I knew immediately that there was a gap in the market in London, since I couldn’t find the authentic product there when I visited.”
After Soho, Bubbleology opened an outlet in smart department store Harvey Nichols, will open a café in Notting Hill in a week’s time, and plans to introduce two further outlets in London in July and September.
UK outlets are corporate owned, but the firm franchises outlets abroad, and plans to open a second unit in Poland (Warsaw) in 2012, two in Prague, and others in Switzerland, Kuwait and Austria.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, because we’re closing on other deals now,” Khan said, adding that international partners liked Bubbleology’s fusion of a foreign tea concept with a truly British style.
PepsiCo told a recent Deutsche Bank conference it expected 40% of US beverage growth to come from teas over the next 10 years, so did Khan believe he was well-placed to ride the tea trend?
“Absolutely. If you look worldwide we’ve generally been a tea-consuming society. But until now teas have been really boring. Lemon tea, iced, chamomile, weird teas that are quite frankly disgusting.
“What I’m introducing – and I know this sounds really cheesy – is a ‘teavolution’, taking tea to the next stage and making it fun, sexy and vibrant. Consumers want tea with a twist that tastes good.”
So why did Khan choose to pursue a foodservice, rather than retail, route to market? “I wanted to create a three-dimensional product, give the consumer an experience and build a brand ethos. through cafés, and this was the main opportunity in London.
“It would have been easier to go through the route that you mentioned [retail]. I found it more challenging and more of an opportunity to go the way we have.”
However, Bubbleology does have a make-at-home kit (sold in Harvey Nicols) and Khan said the firm was planning to develop the concept. “It’s going to be an interest area for us later this year.”