Where’s the boba? How the increase in online shopping led to a nationwide shortage
AUSTIN (KXAN) – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many industries, from toilet paper to movie theaters. The latest victim of the pandemic is the fluffy tapioca pearls known as boba.
Boba is used for bubble tea, which originated in Taiwan, where the pearls are usually shipped from. But now shipping delays due to increased demand for items from Asia have led to a nationwide boba shortage that could last until the summer.
“It’s like my morning coffee,” said Kobee Lara, an avid boba tea lover. “I usually have Vietnamese coffee with boba. But, you know, just because I like the mellowness of it. But, you know, it’s definitely something that some people have for their coffee lovers. Some people have their tea lovers. I am one of the boba lovers. So this is something that really gave me combinations of my day.
Bubble tea stores in Austin are feeling the effects of the shortage. Charlie Oh, owner of 101 by Tea Haus, said the shortage came at an unfortunate time. Trying to recover from the loss of business due to the pandemic, the tea shop had just started a 10-week promotion on boba tea when it heard about the shortage.
“We started hearing about the boba shortage a few weeks ago, so that’s when we started working with our supplier and other suppliers to try and get our hands on so many boba as possible, ”Oh said.
Despite the challenges, 101 by Tea Haus continues to serve bubble tea, mostly by online order now.
“As we and other boba stores experience the shortage, people will realize that it’s not just a national problem, it’s an international problem,” Oh said. “I think people will be more receptive to the other creations we offer to replace boba.”
The shortage is due to people staying at home during the pandemic. Raymond Robertson, Ph.D., is the director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, & Public Policy at the Bush School at Texas A&M University. Robertson explained how an increase in online shopping led to too much demand for products from Asia. Shipping docks have become overcrowded.
“Part of the problem that occurs with imports, especially from Taiwan, was an increase in demand,” Robertson said. “The problem is, there just aren’t enough people to unload all the ships, so it’s created all kinds of supply disruptions.”
Boba is not the only product in short supply. Robertson said another shortage is in computer chips used in mechanical devices such as cars.
“We think the market will be able to fix this, but it will take some time as we have to keep reallocating,” Robertson said. “The problem is, every time we have a disruption in one market it spills over and affects all kinds of other markets.”
One way the market will solve the problem is to increase shipping costs.
In the meantime, boba lovers may have to settle for other drinks.
“I hope they can figure it out, because I’m sure I’m not the only boba lover in the world, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people are counting on him for a successful day,” said Lara.
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