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Baskin-Robbins Goes Beyond Ice Cream With a Cultural Classic

The global market for boba tea is expected to reach $4.3 billion by 2027.

Adoption of a product by an international fast-food company can show that what was once limited to a particular culture has made its way into the mainstream.

It happened with sriracha, beef barbacoa and, now, boba tea. Often associated with the sweet tapioca pearls at the bottom of the beverage, the tea-based drink also known as bubble tea originated in Taiwan but has quickly found a loyal fan base in many other countries. 

The global boba tea market, which was estimated at $2.4 billion in 2019, is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 7.8% to reach $4.3 billion by 2027.

Boba Tea at Baskin-Robbins?

In one more sign that big brands want in on this global craving for boba tea, Dunkin  (DNKN) - Get Free Report-owned Baskin-Robbins has decided to add it to its menus.

The Canton, Mass., chain, which for many Americans has become inextricably linked with ice cream and nostalgia, said it would be giving an "ice cream spin" to a "sweet new addition [...] inspired by Asian milk teas."

Dubbed Tiger Milk Bubble Tea, the new item will feature black tea with whole milk, brown-sugar tapioca popping bubbles and brown-sugar-syrup "tiger stripes" running down the side of the cup alongside a scoop of Baskin-Robbins' vanilla ice cream.

"Our team of flavor experts found that consumers were craving new flavors and textures from around the world, which led us to create our take on this delicious beverage inspired by Asian milk teas," Jerid Grandinetti, vice president of marketing and culinary at Baskin-Robbins, said in a statement.

A limited-edition product, the boba tea will be available at select Baskin-Robbins stores until the fall.

As a marketing matter, Baskin-Robbins is telling its customers to "seize that yay" with the tiger milk tea.

"Made to celebrate moments big and small, the new Tiger Milk Bubble Tea is full of sweet surprises," the chain said in announcing the bubble tea.

The menus of popular fast-food chains can vary greatly between different countries. Flavors like the McDonald's  (MCD) - Get Free Report Cilantro Sundae in China or the Baci Perugina McFlurry in Italy are tailored to local tastes and would be less likely to become hits in the U.S. 

Even as these items often go viral on the internet, most chains won't bother trying to try to bring to the American market something that was a hit in another country.

As seen with boba tea, a certain dam in popularity needs to break before products associated with a specific culture enter the mainstream. 

In Hong Kong, McDonald's has long had a milk tea drink on its menus. But in the U.S., the Del Taco chain was one of the first fast food chains to add boba tea to its menus with a Tex-Mex twist. Instead of tapioca, it featured Purple Pear Lemonade Poppers and Purple Pear Sprite  (KO) - Get Free Report Poppers.

At the end of 2021, Starbucks  (SBUX) - Get Free Report was also testing out an "Iced Chai Tea Latte with Coffee Pearls" although the drink ultimately did not become a permanent item on its menu. 

To date, the most popular places for boba tea are still the chains that specialize in it. In the U.S., the biggest boba tea chains are brands like Chatime and Coco Fresh Tea & Juice.