Increasing demand for Asian-style tea with tapioca pearls is driving a significant investment in New Zealand from global bubble tea company Gong Cha. The company is to add another three stores to its Kiwi operations and lift its team from 30 staff to 50 next year.
Gong Cha has more than 1500 stores around the world. It’s owned in New Zealand by the ST Group, which also manages other retail brands such as Malaysian restaurant chain Papparich and the newly-launched Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart. It turns over $8 million in sales.
Marcus Teh, Gong Cha’s New Zealand manager, says bubble tea has been well-received in New Zealand and is growing at around 20 percent per year. In addition to Gong Cha’s existing stores at Auckland’s Lorne St, Queen St and Broadway in Newmarket, a new store will open at Auckland mega-mall Sylvia Park this month.
“The opening of Gong Cha in Sylvia Park signals our expansion and ability to meet the demand from a wider demographic wanting to purchase the products. Already popular with Asian communities, we now have a growing demand with other parts of the Kiwi market,” he says.
Pop-up stores are planned for the South Island next year.
When the Taiwanese product was first introduced into New Zealand, Teh says, it appealed to “a great deal of Uni students” from both Asian and Kiwi backgrounds. Now, bubble tea’s demographic has expanded - Gong Cha stores see families with children, businesspeople, and especially tourists.
“The brand itself is so international,” Teh says.
He believes visitors from the US, Canada and Australia, where Gong Cha stores are common, appreciate a slice of familiarity in New Zealand. The Queen St store sees a lot of this kind of business.
Teh says bubble tea is also tapping into the growing trend for health-related products: “A lot of people are changing from drinking coffee to tea.”
He says Gong Cha specifically caters to the needs of customers wishing to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet, while also leveraging the popularity of customisable products with its very flexible offering.
Customers can choose from an extensive menu of drinks, then pick which of 10 toppings they would prefer to be added. These range from items like basil seeds to pudding jelly. The customer can then adjust the sugar and ice level in their drink – the “little sugar” option represents a 70 percent reduction in added sugar.
“Obviously, everyone’s going for healthy things,” Teh says.