It wasn’t that long ago when beverages such as coconut water and smoothies made with leafy green vegetables were considered crazy additions to restaurant beverage menus.
But today, it’s a different story: According to a recent MenuTrends Keynote report from Chicago-based research firm Datassential, mentions of coconut water on menus have increased 233 percent since 2010, while mentions of green drinks—think kale and spinach smoothies—have risen 133 percent and are mentioned on 1 to 2 percent of non-alcoholic beverage menus.
The rise of these and other specialty beverages is proof positive that for restaurateurs, signature beverage programs are no longer an option—they’re critical for success in today’s competitive marketplace. Here are a few additional flavor trends operators can leverage to boost beverage sales.
Not an average cup
Both coffee and tea have moved into the spotlight, as operators are using these ingredients to create unique beverage offerings. “Coffee is moving into a third wave of appreciation that goes beyond just knowing country of origin, but attention to roasting and brewing methods,” says Jennifer Aranas, project director at Datassential. Additionally, specialty coffee beverages such as espresso-and-tonic as well as cold-brew coffee are popping up on national chain menus.
Aranas also says that like coffee, operators are taking iced tea offerings beyond just sweet tea and are capitalizing on the health halo of flavored and blended teas. Green tea, kombucha and matcha are several on-trend tea flavors and formulations; in fact, matcha has grown 50 percent on menus since 2010, according to Datassential.
Fruit flavors in iced teas are another growing trend, with berry, passion fruit, coconut and mango leading the charge. “Premium ingredients will be differentiators across beverage types,” says Aranas. Additionally, 39 percent of consumers are interested in natural sweeteners, according to Datassential, so iced tea that’s sweetened with fruit is an on-trend way to appeal to consumers. Wendy’s, for example, menus Fruitea Chillers in both blueberry pineapple and orange mango varieties.
Mocktails with a kick
At Perennial Virant in Chicago, Chef Paul Virant has been singing the praises for farm-to-table cuisine for a long time. So it’s no surprise that he takes the same approach with his rotating seasonal mocktail, which currently features a drink made with ginger beer, lemon balm, lemon verbena and fresh lemon.
In fact, mocktails—especially those made with herbs or spicy flavors—are surging in popularity. Datassential says that 21 percent of consumers are interested in mocktails and herb and fruit flavors, such as lavender and blood orange, are trending on menus as well.
And while specialty beverages such as these are a natural complement to lunch and dinner menus, they can work across other menu parts as well. Milktooth, an upscale-casual cafe in Indianapolis, includes a variety of mocktails, shrubs and house sodas on its coffee menu. Several selections are tea- or coffee-based, making them an interesting addition at breakfast or brunch.
Changing seasons, changing flavors
And just like in food, seasonality is playing a role in beverages as well. “Popular seasonal food flavors often work in beverages,” says Aranas. “Citrus and berry are driving beverage flavors during the warm months, and pumpkin, peppermint and warm spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and ginger, peak during cold months.” Foodservice operators would also be wise to consider offering holiday-specific items—pumpkin spice is a classic example—but lesser-known seasonal flavors are an opportunity as well.
One seasonal trend that’s taken off during the warmer months is specialty lemonades. Demand for flavored and housemade lemonades have been on the rise for some time, and operators who menu signature lemonades with premium ingredients can take advantage of this seasonal opportunity. IHOP, for example, has responded to this trend with two offerings: Blueberry Fruit Lemonade Splasher, made with tart lemonade, blueberry syrup and fresh blueberries; and Watermelon Fruit Lemonade Splasher, made with classic lemonade and real watermelon.
Get started with mixology ideas from Lipton.
This post is sponsored by Lipton®