Villanueva: The milk tea phenomenon


I HAVE always liked the wintermelon flavor of milk tea since 2010. Back then, there was only one milk tea stand within the area of the main gate of SLU. Now, milk tea stands have sprung up all over the city like mushrooms after a thunderstorm. Even during the lockdown, milk tea was included in the list of food (and drinks) for delivery.

I also have friends who like milk tea but they only like the pearls, just like me. It got me thinking, why do people like milk tea but only just for the pearls?

My first assumption is that there is a Bandwagon effect. There is a high demand for milk tea because it has become a craze or fad lately. That is the reason why there are so many milk tea shops that opened up just to address this high demand.

The downside for a bandwagon is that after its peak time, the demand slowly dies down.

I remember this happening with Shawarma several years back. Many restaurants started serving Shawarma and even during the Panagbenga’s Session Road in bloom, there was a flood of Shawarma stalls all over.

Now, there are only a few restaurants serving Shawarma and these are even cuisine restaurants, and noteworthy to mention, that one restaurant along Session Road serving Filipino food, with the Shawarma stand at the corner of the Cathedral stairs.

Another example of a bandwagon is the pearl shakes. A famous brand of which starts with the letter Z. I remember back in the year 2000 when I first worked in Manila, people would queue up just to buy pearl shakes. Pearl shake stands also sprung all over the country which I could describe as the pearl shake phenomenon.

Now, I still see a kiosk in SM but other than that, those that I saw on every corner in Manila and even here in Baguio closed shop one by one.

That may be the same case for milk tea.

Another assumption that I can come up with is that there is a derived demand. I and some of my friends buy milk tea because of the pearls rather than the actual milk tea. So the demand is more on the pearls.

These pearls have a distinctive taste, unlike the local sago. It is chewy and soft at the same time. It is sweet but not that sweet. Basta, sabsabali. I can’t explain.

It is really difficult to buy those kinds of pearls in retail or if there are those that are sold in retail, they are relatively expensive. The next best option is to buy milk tea with pearls, and if one likes them so much, they may opt to add more pearls, paying more though.

However, come to think of it, the pearls used by Zagu are the same pearls used in milk teas. I think that there is only one implication for this.

Milk tea will encounter the same fate at the pearl shakes. So, while it is still a craze, those who opened milk tea shops should strike while the iron is hot. In the near future, the craze may die down and they may close their shops.

If there is one thing that I see as a positive thing is that there may be a resurgence of the pearls used for another beverage or another dish perhaps.

I don’t discount the fact that there may be others who really like the milk tea, not only the pearls. But guess what, there are cheaper alternatives for milk teas.

There is a multinational company that manufactures all the different flowers of powdered milk tea, and one sachet only costs about P20. This is enough to make the 22oz. milk tea. If one consumes milk tea on a daily basis, then this is one way for them to cut costs.

The truth is, these milk teas are already much cheaper now, unlike back in 2010. It was really expensive then which was about P120 to 150 for the smallest size, unlike now that P70 on the average is the cheapest. It is still expensive though. It may still go down. So, milk tea lovers, rejoice.

For those who invested on a milk tea stand, make the most out of it. Study what the market is telling you. Either you innovate so you can compete better or divest out already because selling price may go lower with the continued decrease in demand.

In the meantime, milk tea pa more!


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