Boba Guys’ Instagram account earlier this month shared a video Warning of a possible industry-wide Boba store: “Some Boba stores are already closed. Others will go out in the next few weeks, ”Bob Chen, co-founder of Boba Guys, said in the video. Naturally, news the upcoming “Boba Pocalypse” went viral. The possibility of shortage made it difficult for some of the smaller Los Angeles tea shops to stock up on Boba, with bigger brands and chains buying up everything they could.
Entrepreneurs panicking to buy Boba after the news hit even resulted in Tea Zone, the largest Boba importer and distributor in the US, temporarily running out of inventory. However, Eater has confirmed that Tea Zone’s Boba supply has been replenished and that the so-called shortage may only affect some parts of the east coast.
As Eater reported last week, many stores in LA Boba have never had a shortage. The Southern California owner of YiFang, who only wanted to be identified as Wen, says its stores have remained untouched. “The reason some local Boba stores are running out of Boba balls is because they are being supplied by local manufacturers,” he says. “The news of the shortage also led to panic buying and limits being imposed. Our boba balls and tea supplies were not affected. They always arrived at our YiFang franchise in Asia two months after our order. ”
The temporary shortage affected some larger distributors like Tea Zone, whose coveted A2000 Boba, a class with more Q texture and coveted chewability both outside and inside, had run out. However, the company still had much of its lower-priced A1000 line. At the time, many shopkeepers told Eater they weren’t worried – until the news of the lack of viruses resulted in limits being imposed. A few days later, Tea Zone’s A1000 was even sold out. The company addressed the brief shortcoming in a letter to customers and made some changes to its supply chain so that inventory is not used up again.
Alan Yu, owner of the Tea Zone, says that as economies across the country opened with the easing of pandemic restrictions, thousands of restaurants and shops opened their doors simultaneously, causing many of the company’s packaging and Boba products to sell out. Although importers like Tea Zone tend to have lower inventory levels in Ril and May due to the approaching midsummer season, the past few weeks have been particularly difficult with the reopening.
Most of the world’s boba comes from Taiwan, but the tioca starch, from the cassava plant it was made from, is grown in Thailand. Taiwan had a record drought this year that slightly delayed its production schedule, and companies in the U.S. making their own boba struggled to get tioca starch within the required timeframe, further delaying their ability to make boba.
In addition to the sudden influx of orders, many Tea Zone shipping containers were delayed at the warehouse’s rail terminal on the east coast. Although Boba drinks are very popular on the West Coast, there are more Boba stores in the Midwest and East Coast. “With higher volumes in the Midwest and East Coast, California had to relocate our shipments to the Midwest in February to help with inventory,” said Yu.
It usually took 35 days for Lollicup containers to be shipped from California to Texas, the location of the Tea Zone warehouse that is distributed to the Midwest and East Coast, before news of an impending shortage spread. Since last fall, international shipping from Asia has slowed significantly due to the COVID-19 policy and the strikes in the port. Shipping delays from China have also been hampered as the Ever Given cargo ship blocked the Suez Canal for eight days in March and the wildcard snowstorm in Texas that month also briefly disrupted the supply chain.
Add to this the backlog of massive container ships that, according to the Marine Exchange, are stuck in southern California outside the ports of Los Angeles. The unprecedented demand for goods from Asia and the record-breaking volume of freight in all ports resulted in an increase in shipping costs from $ 2,000 to $ 7,000 per container on the west coast and from $ 3,500 to $ 13,000 on the east coast. That means the price for a case of Boba has gone from about $ 4 to $ 13.
At the beginning of the year there were a few Southern California Boba entrepreneurs Posting that their supplies are stuck in suspension for months, waiting to be unloaded at the ports. Yu and Phillip Sanfield, director of media relations for the Port of Los Angeles, agree that this bottleneck is no longer the case. Sanfield said a few months ago that the port has had problems with congestion with around 40 ships waiting, but that number has now dropped to around 20 average waiting time It is now less than eight days for ships entering the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“In addition to the eight days at anchor that some ships encounter, additional time was required to move containers from terminals and warehouses. So it would not be correct to say that the Boba Balls have been sitting out of ports for months.” Says Sanfield. He adds that the vaccinations of thousands of waterfront workers in the ports are encouraging and play a role in the supply chain improvements he has seen over the past few weeks.
While California may not experience major delays, Yu expects New Jersey and New York to experience some bottlenecks in the coming months as the number of container ships declines 50 percent of their area comes from Asia to the east coast. Last week, the carriers reduced the number of ships sent due to rising shipping costs. This is likely to leave little product for sale to some importers in New York and New Jersey. Since shipping from Asia to New York and New Jersey typically takes around 45 days, east coast importers must have 45 days inventory. The effect could be felt there until the end of May or the beginning of June.
As of Monday April 25, Tea Zone says most of its inventory is back in stock. Yu confirms that he received 3,300 cases from Boba this week, with 4,000 to 5,000 cases currently coming to California each week. Each case contains enough servings for approx. 240 drinks. “Not only are we back right now, but we’re back in bulk too,” says Yu.
A number of other local Boba chains claimed they were well stocked with Boba following the viral news of the shortage. Gongchas Instagram Account reassured followers in a mail last week that all of its California stores had adequate supplies. Tastea told Eater LA that its Taiwan factory, which makes the brand’s signature green boba balls, will not be affected. Meet freshA chain of Taiwanese dessert shops with six locations in Los Angeles and stores in 16 US states was also unaffected. “We have our own factories, suppliers and warehouses in Taiwan that make our sweet potato balls [and] Taro balls and our Boba supply chain are prepared for short-term delays, ”said Chingyi Fu, General Manager of Meet Fresh.
Jeremy Godsil, who owns three Percolate Tea locations in LA and one in Boise, Idaho, caught wind of the alleged shortage and filled himself with Boba. Although his freshly brewed Boba drinks don’t use Tea Zone Boba, he was able to replenish inventory last week when his maker was away. He’s had enough boba for a while and is confident in his maker. Godsil says he does not see the delay as a defect.
Vicky Wang, owner of Twinkle Brown Sugar, with locations in Little Tokyo, Huntington Park, and Cerritos, was nervous when the number of purchases was limited to one go. “Fortunately, we have been able to work with dealers and suppliers so we still have Boba in stores,” she says.
For any East Coast businesses that didn’t stock up in bulk, if there was a shortage, stores could always get products from West Coast businesses like Tea Zone shipped from their Texas warehouse. “We are ready when this east coast supply becomes scarce,” says Yu. Regarding stores in Los Angeles that may be low on Boba right now or that are still concerned about future inventory levels, Yu said many of his dealers have already picked up Boba to ship to their local stores. It should be there just in time for National Bubble Tea Day on April 30th.