Boba Fans Face Massive Tapioca Shortage in US

The U.S. is seeing a massive shortage of boba — or bubble tea — as tapioca starch shipments from overseas are delayed due to the recent shipping disaster in the Suez Canal, among other reasons.

Tommy Huang, senior sales manager at Hayward’s Leadway International Inc., one of Northern California’s largest boba suppliers, predicted tapioca pearls would become a luxury “in the next week or so” due to the shortage, according to the SF Chronicles.

 

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“This is an industry-wide shortage,” Andrew Chau and Bin Chen, owners of Boba Guys, said in a recent Instagram post. “Some boba shops are already out. Others will run out in the next few weeks. 99% of boba comes from overseas.”

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Even though Boba Guys make their tapioca balls domestically, they said they still have to rely on their starch shipment from overseas.

“Our boba is domestically-produced to ensure transparency and better sourcing (hence our premium-quality positioning) but we are still running out of starch, which comes from Thailand,” the owners said.

Thailand is the primary producer of the world’s supply of tapioca starch, the main ingredient in tapioca balls. The blockage in the Suez Canal last month disrupted the worldwide supply chain, leading up to the shortage of tapioca starch in the country, USA Today reported.

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“It’s going to take a long time to be able to say we will not have a shortage of tapioca,” Huang said, adding that supplies may start to catch up in no more than two months.

Oliver Yoon, the VP of sales and global marketing for Boba Direct, a nationwide supplier of bubble tea products based in Chicago, expects everything to clear up by the end of April at the earliest, Business Insider reported.

However, the Suez Canal and the sudden influx of shipping containers in West Coast ports are not the only reasons why there was a delay in tapioca balls and starch deliveries. Yoon said the COVID-19 pandemic also affected the importing of products in the country.

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“COVID really affected the situation with importing. No one anticipated what happened last year; it’s one of these domino effects later on in the future,” he said.

Featured Image via Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis (left),Orimi Protograph (right)

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