Current Affairs

With Gong Cha back, will LiHo survive?


As expected, Gong Cha has been warmly welcomed back by thousands of fans in Singapore.

Scenes of absolute madness were recorded as thousands flocked to SingPost the past few days to buy a cup of Gong Cha.

People queueing for the newly opened #gongcha like their life depended on it 😓 They literally were only on a few months’ hiatus, really miss them so much meh… and if u arguing that u r queueing for the $2ish discount… 🙄 #idontgetit #herdmentality (photo c/o Doris Phua)

A post shared by • Ponby’s Random Geekdom • (@ponbyling) on Dec 1, 2017 at 12:05am PST

Absolute Madness!! Gong Cha returns with a vengeance today.. Welcome back, my iced tea! #gongcha #queueing #qtilltmrw #cravings #crazy #kiasu

A post shared by TheLocalMakan (@thelocalmakan) on Nov 30, 2017 at 10:41pm PST

This cray, because has Singapore forgotten the brand that was borne out of Gong Cha’s departure?

How now, LiHo?

Why are we so desperate for Gong Cha

Gong Cha’s reemergence is a serious case of missing things only when it is gone.

It’s not as if there was a shortage of bubble tea right after Gong Cha briefly left our shores.

LiHo, touted as a revamped Gong Cha and locally conceptualised, inserted itself into the scene with outlets island-wide and tried to replicate the Gong Cha feeling.

But to the more discerning tea drinkers, the differences between Gong Cha and LiHo were too obvious.

For starters, LiHo’s menu is less innovative as it features fewer varieties of drinks.

Gong Cha’s pre-departure menu was way larger.

Here’s an example of Gong Cha’s menu pre-departure, which lists up to 83 drinks:

Do note this excludes new drinks and may not take into account any additions or subtractions that may have been made to this menu before their departure.

On the other hand, this is LiHo’s menu, excluding their newer drinks:

About 48 choices.

Aside from numbers, Gong Cha drinkers would note that key drinks, such as those from the Coffee, Matcha and Ovaltine series are not listed, along with the various special mixes Gong Cha offers.

Gong Cha also has an edge with its more fragrant teas.

Of course, both brands can’t be carbon copies of each other.

But with distinctly limited varieties of drinks, LiHo is even losing out to the smaller bubble tea brands, such as Each-a-Cup, which boasts a generous selection.

LiHo is trying

Okay, but LiHo is trying.

A homegrown brand in a saturated market trying to make its mark, right? They’re still trying to innovate and attract customers with different drinks and promos for cheaper drinks.

And if they were really that much of a flop, they wouldn’t be opening a couple of outlets in Hong Kong, right?

Even though LiHo has tried, Gong Cha’s hype as it makes a comeback to Singapore is definitely evidence that LiHo hasn’t quite plugged the gap that was left behind previously.

(Quick facts: Gong Cha, which was owned by Royal Tea Taiwan sold the entire company to Gong Cha Korea, which in turn is owned by a private equity firm Unison Capital, which is Japanese.)

And if LiHo wants to catch up, fancier drinks might help, but efforts so far have met with a so-so response.

Even more confusingly, it has recently introduced a “Prime Minister Menu”, which introduced eight drinks/ teas which are supposedly healthier and is obviously riding on PM Lee Hsien Loong’s recently declared war on diabetes.

Taste not everything

But taste might not be everything.

Food marketing is a strange concept where feel-good vibes associated with a food matter more than the food tasting good.

As quite a bit of money can be spent on crafting those associations that work, there will be more misses than hits.

LiHo was recently promoted on Class 95 radio riding on the healthy living wave. While it sounds good on radio, this isn’t really going to encourage more people to drink bubble tea as it is associated with being a dessert treat.

With Gong Cha back in the race, LiHo is going to have to do more to make a sustained impression on consumers’ minds.

One can wonder whether their cheese teas will tide them over the bubble tea war — which is only beginning.

Or will the brutal F&B scene in Singapore decimate the competition.

Top image via byul918, taken from LiHo’s Facebook post

More Info: