Inspired by 60 years of tradition, XING FU TANG, the pioneer of handcrafted caramelised brown sugar tapioca pearls, now spreads its happiness across Belgium. James Aswin, CEO, tells us more about this authentic fast food franchise brand and its rapid growth.
Originating in Taiwan, XING FU TANG has quickly become a well-established international fast food brand, despite only having been founded in 2018. Specialising in authentic handmade caramelised brown sugar tapioca pearls – also known as ‘boba,’ the brand was inspired by the true story of a 60 year old family tradition.
Tapioca pearls have long been ubiquitous as one of Taiwan’s most loved street-food snacks. XING FU TANG’s founder was brought up by his grandparents in Taiwan, and his grandmother used to prepare an afternoon snack of tapioca pearls cooked with brown sugar for him. One day, whilst tending for her grandson, she became distracted from her cooking, leaving it to burn. Unexpectedly, the burnt brown sugar exuded a richer and more aromatic flavour. The caramelised tapioca pearls eventually became the secret recipe behind XING FU TANG and its subsequent global success.
XING FU TANG – or ‘Temple of Happiness’ in Chinese – is currently represented in 18 countries across five continents, and with more than 150 points of sale worldwide the company continues to see rapid growth. It remains the only leading international bubble tea brand to date where most of the ingredients, including the caramelised brown sugar tapioca pearls, are handmade and prepared fresh daily at each location. This alone has cemented a global reputation and earned the company the nickname ‘The Hermès of the bubble tea industry.’
According to a recent report published by US based Allied Market Research entitled ‘Bubble Tea Market by Base Ingredient, Flavour and Component: Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2019 – 2027,’ the bubble tea market size was valued at $2.4 billion in 2019, and is estimated to reach $4.3 billion by 2027 in the US alone.
Belgium: A Conventional Melting Pot
Belgium has a population of more than 11.5 million, with Flemish, French and German as its official languages. Its linguistic diversity and related political conflicts are reflected in its complex system of governance. Brussels, the capital and the de facto headquarters of the European Union, is divided into 19 different municipalities, each self-governing, despite its population of 1.2 million. This alone explains why Belgium remains a challenging market to penetrate for any international fast food franchise brand.
Furthermore, the Belgians in general are notorious for their conventional taste and complacent lifestyle. Hence it takes them longer, in comparison to their neighbouring nations, to warm up to fast food concepts other than their own, or anything which would challenge them out of their comfort zone. For example, global chains such as Starbucks, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and even Kentucky Fried Chicken were not present in the country prior to the late 90s / early 00s.
Challenging an Uncertain Market
Most successful individuals and organisations dare to challenge themselves by taking calculated risks, thinking outside of the box, and moving outside of their comfort zone – hence why most of them become industry leaders.
Indonesian-born serial entrepreneur and investor, Irvan Simampo had been living in Belgium for more than a decade owning several successful business ventures in the fashion and lifestyle sectors. Ambitious by nature, he was keen to expand his empire into the food and beverage industry. Recognising the worldwide reputation of XING FU TANG, inspired by its authentic concept, and having identified a niche in the Belgian market, he believed that the brand had the potential for success in Belgium. With this in mind, and despite being aware of the local challenges, in Spring 2021 he signed an exclusive master franchise agreement to develop the XING FU TANG brand across Belgium. This being amidst the struggles of many food and beverage businesses during and post Covid-19 pandemic.
With neither experience in the sector, nor in franchise management, a mutual friend introduced Irvan to James Aswin, a luxury hotelier veteran with more than 25 years of industry experience.
Luxury Hotelier Veteran Turned Fast Food CEO
Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, James Aswin has lived in the US, Switzerland, the UK, Germany and finally Belgium, his home for the past 12 years. A graduate of the prestigious École Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland, he commenced his career in hospitality at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in London, where he worked for close to a decade. James progressed through the ranks and was eventually promoted to Director of Food & Beverage, becoming the only person of Asian origin in Europe and at 28 years of age, the youngest person worldwide within this luxurious hotel chain to hold the position. James was then nominated for the ‘Young Promising Manager of the Year, 2006’ award within his chain for his achievements, and was subsequently appointed ‘Food & Beverage Champion for the EMEA Region.’ This alone demonstrated his dedication and motivation to succeed.
James continued to work within other internationally renowned organisations, breaking barriers, and eventually becoming the only 5-star Hotel Manager of Asian origin in Frankfurt, Germany, at the age of 32. Throughout his decorated career progression, he also became the key player for various hotel, restaurant and bar opening / refurbishment projects, including being the co-founder and Managing Director of the first exclusive private members club in Brussels.
Albeit without experience in fast food franchise management, James took on the challenge of piloting XING FU TANG BELGIUM. A true hospitality all-rounder, his previous experience across various sectors within hospitality management were crucial to his success in his role as the company’s CEO. Self-taught James took the initiative to use all feasible resources to secure financial investment for the company, notably by successfully acquiring several government subsidies for the launch of the brand, which he managed in less than six months within his new role.
Furthermore, despite being part of an international fast food franchise brand, his vision for XING FU TANG BELGIUM Is to be as socially engaged and responsible to the local community as possible. For this reason, James stresses that part of the brand’s mission is to collaborate with local suppliers and hire local employees. He personally ensures that everyone working with him at XING FU TANG BELGIUM possesses the correct attitude and positive outlook to reflect the DNA of the brand, as he believes that happy team members are vital to making customers happy. James also ensures the brand’s continuous support in various sustainable and charitable activities, including efforts taken to minimise wastage through working with local organisations, and creating various promotions where a percentage of the earnings are donated to non-profit charitable organisations.
XING FU TANG BELGIUM is currently expanding its business with a further prime location set to open in Brussels city centre in Q2 2023, as well as other key cities across the country. XING FU TANG BELGIUM remains true to the brand concept and James’ own belief – ‘Shared happiness is the best happiness.’ For further information on XING FU TANG BELGIUM, including the full range of exciting bubble teas and customisable beverages provided, please visit the company website at https://xingfutang.be