Popping with flavor: Imbibe shares boba beverage trends, tastes to keep an eye on

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	Swanya Charoonwatana
Image Credit: Getty Images - Swanya Charoonwatana

Related tags beverage trends Bubble tea flavor trends

As consumers look for sweet flavors and tantalizing textures, many are turning to bubble teas (boba) for a unique sensory experience, creating an opportunity to innovate around flavor in the RTD space and beyond, Laura Harper, marketing associate at beverage development and flavor company Imbibe, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Boba tea innovation and growth will continue with the proliferation of RTD, new flavor combinations, and an expansion of its experiential component, whether finding new uses for boba pearls, replicating the boba experience in new food and beverage formats, or using boba as socializing activity.​”  

Will sugar be an obstacle for boba beverages?

Fueled by the proliferation of boba tea cafes and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, the boba market is set for growth in the coming years, Harper claimed. The global boba market was estimated to be worth $3.27bn in 2022 and expected to reach $6.14 billion by 2032, growing at a 6.5% CAGR between 2023 and 2032, according to Precedence Research​.

Consumers are looking for a "superior sensory experience,​" with boba providing a "more textually interesting​" component to beverage, Harper said. Additionally, boba teas can deliver "some benefits consumers seek from food and beverage products, which in this case would be antioxidants, namely polyphenols, inherent to tea,​" she added.

While the overall boba market is set for growth, “some consumers who are concerned about excessive sugar, sweeteners, preservatives, and colors may have limited need for bubble tea or boba consumption in general, as they’re not inherently nutritious,​” Harper said.

Imbibe has expanded its taste modulation and sweetener portfolio in order to address the formulation challenges of “highly sweet product categories, whether it be milk teas, traditional lattes, CSDs or other beverage categories,​” she added.

The flavors set to make a splash

Popular boba flavors include Asian-inspired flavors like Thai milk tea (black tea with variations of sweet spices), Hong Kong milk tea with condensed or evaporated milk, and tiger milk with brown sugar syrup for "tiger-like striations,​" Harper said. Other flavors like black sesame, taro, ube, red or mung bean, matcha, coffee, chocolate, and vanilla bean also are popular, Harper said.

Fruity boba flavors are another popular category and include apple, avocado, banana, coconut, grape, honeydew, peach, plum, lemon, lychee, kiwi, mango, passionfruit, and strawberry flavors, Harper said. This boba sub-segment was valued at $3.63bn in 2021 and is expected to reach $6.67bn by 2029, growing at a 7.90% CAGR, according to Data Bridge Market Research​.

Additionally, boba beverages have seen “an uptick in the combination of vegetal notes, fruits, and botanicals in beverage, which can also be attributed to global influence and the better-for-you trend,​” she added.

Boba beyond beverages

In addition to beverages, tapioca boba balls have become an emerging ingredient and flavor in snack and other RTE categories. Tapioca balls and boba flavors have appeared in several snack categories, including cookies, ice cream, hard candy, mochi, nougats, grain snacks, and even seaweed snacks, Harper noted.

Last month, Twrl Milk Tea released​ Brown Sugar Boba and Jelly Boba ready-to-eat, plant-based tapioca balls, designed to either be a topping for drinks or desserts or to be consumed as a snack. Created with konjac, Twrl's Jelly Bobas are 30 calories and contain 7g of sugar per serving.

In more traditional snack formats, inclusive food brand Unite Food released​ a bubble tea flavor of its natural snack bar last month, and Del Monte has a line of fruit cups​ with popping boba in Tropical Mixed Fruit, Peach Strawberry Lemonade, Pear Berry Pomegranate, and Sour Apple Watermelon.

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