China bubble tea firm debuts after $650 mn IPO caps labour of love

Nayuki said it will use cash from the share sale to embark on a massive expansion drive
Nayuki said it will use cash from the share sale to embark on a massive expansion drive

HONG KONG – Chinese bubble tea chain Nayuki edged down on its Hong Kong market debut Wednesday after raising more than US$650 million in an IPO that marked the culmination of a literal labour of love for the co-owners who created the firm on a blind date.

The company joins a handful of bubble tea outlets to go public in recent years as the beverage — which comes loaded with milk, sugar and tapioca pearls — storms out from its Asian fanbase to gain a global following.

It also makes it the latest Chinese business to list in Hong Kong, even as a series of tepid performances by new companies spark concerns about the city’s IPO market.

Targeting well-heeled young consumers, the 550-store chain opened its first outlet in the southern metropolis of Shenzhen in 2015.

Entrepreneur Peng Xin reportedly pitched her business idea to Zhao Lin — a professional in the food industry — over a blind date two years earlier.

Within months, the pair married and became business partners.

“After we met, I enthusiastically told him about my entrepreneurial dream for two to three hours and asked, ‘Mr Zhao, what do you think of my idea?’,” Peng said, according to Chinese news site Jiemian in 2018.

“He said, ‘I think your idea is very good. If you want to get it off the ground more quickly, you could go out with me and we could start a business together’.

“Half a year later we got married and a year after, we opened Nayuki.”

Their brand prides itself on innovative drinks, fresh ingredients and a cool cafe decor to set it apart in China’s crowded bubble tea environment.

Shares in the firm fell to HK$18.86 from their listing price of HK$19.80.

The company had sold 257.3 million shares, raising US$656 million and valuing it at US4.38 billion, according to Bloomberg News.

The company plans to use cash from the IPO to open 650 more stores this year and next.

But it clocked up losses of 203 million yuan (US$31.4 million) last year as it embarked on an aggressive expansion drive, though revenue grew 22 percent.

The rapid scale-up has drawn comparisons to embattled chain Luckin Coffee — which burned through millions of dollars to challenge dominant US titan Starbucks, before facing a raft of scandals.

However, research firm China Insights Industry Consultancy estimates the country’s appetite for freshly made tea drinks will rocket threefold to US$53.2 billion by 2025, said Nayuki in its prospectus.

“I drink bubble tea a lot if I’m especially stressed, consuming eight to 10 cups a week,” said one student at a Beijing store.

Another consumer in her 20s surnamed Li told AFP: “I try to control myself, but I end up coming about once or twice a week.”

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