Starbucks is releasing boba-like ‘Pearls’ and not everyone is happy about it

Starbucks is releasing boba-like ‘Pearls’ and not everyone is happy about itStarbucks is releasing boba-like ‘Pearls’ and not everyone is happy about it
via @ariannakaila_, @chimmminnie / TikTok
Starbucks is adding a twist to its summer menu with “Pearls” — apparently its own version of boba — but some have already made up their minds against it.
Key points:
  • CEO Laxman Narasimhan broke the news at a recent earnings call, describing “Pearls” as Starbucks’ “first texture innovation.”
  • By calling its latest offering “Pearls,” the company appears to distinguish itself from traditional Asian-origin boba.
  • Some social media users have accused the coffee giant of cultural appropriation.
The details:
  • “Pearls,” according to Narasimhan, is “the first of more texture-based innovations” customers can expect from the coffee chain in the coming years.
  • Ahead of the announcement, some Starbucks baristas previewed the making of the supposed new drinks on TikTok. One used raspberry-flavored “popping pearls.”
  • The introduction of “Pearls” follows Starbucks’ broader strategy to enhance its drink lineup. The company is also set to release a zero-to-low calorie energy beverage, additional sugar-free customizations and more plant-based options.
  • “Pearls” taps into the popularity of boba tea, which traces its origins to Taiwan and is now largely considered an Asian cultural drink. Starbucks has experimented with similar concepts in several Asian markets and U.S. stores, calling them “coffee spheres” or “coffee popping pearls.”
  • Slated for launch next week, “Pearls” also comes as Starbucks pushes to streamline its product development cycle, which currently stands at 12 to 18 months.
  • The news has sparked mixed reactions. While some expressed excitement, others accused the company of cultural appropriation and questioned the new product’s timing for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
  • “Starbucks serving boba is cultural appropriation,” one X user wrote. “One more reason to not go there folks.”
  • Another commented, “Starbucks announcing adding boba to their menu in the beginning of AAPI month feels so insensitive…”
  • Eater also described “Pearls” as a “renaming” of boba, claiming that the move “erases the history of boba drinks”:

“By renaming them ‘pearls,’ Starbucks avoids a direct association with boba tea culture, and thus, Asian culture at large. And intentional or not — like all brands, a renaming is likely just a way for it to sound new and creative — it erases the history of boba drinks, positioning Starbucks as an innovator when it’s really a follower.”

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