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Floods of new flavors in beverages

juice fruit drinks

Like the coffee culture that percolated over the last two decades, made-to-order juices, sodas and frozen drinks promise to be the next wave of liquid gold.

Starbucks, a long-time leader in the coffee segment, is also out front of these next-wave beverages. For the past year, colorful, customized cold drinks at Starbucks have been appearing all over social media—and the brighter the better. First, there was the "pink drink," made with acai tea and coconut milk. More recently, the chain’s Teavana Shaken Iced Berry Sangria Herbal Tea has offered another bright spot, this one bright red.

For operators, the opportunity innovative, exciting beverages provide is clear. Here’s a few beverage trends currently making waves on menus.

Niche drinks are the new norm

While traditional carbonated soft drinks remained the biggest liquid refreshment beverage category, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), they are poised to lose both volume and market share as niche categories continued to outperform most traditional mass-market categories. BMC research shows soft-drink volume slipped by 1.5 percent, from 12.8 billion gallons in 2014 to 12.6 billion gallons in 2015, which lowered their market share to less than 40 percent.

This shift comes as consumers, and younger consumers in particular, develop a thirst for the kind of ingredient experimentation that Starbucks has embraced. According to April 2016 research from BMC and conducted by Boston-based Fluent Group, some of the latest on-trend flavors for the 17-to-24-year-old crowd include mango, pomegranate, peach and watermelon. Dairy-free milks are also rising in demand, with soy, almond and coconut milks the first to emerge, both in plain and flavored forms.

Trends in bottled that could be in store for restaurant menus. Pressed, pure juices, sparkling, fermented probiotics beverages and chia drinks are just some of the ingredients filling the bottles in upscale grocery-store coolers.

Drinking to better health

Clean ingredients, better health and nutrition boosts are other priorities that are helping specialty beverages grow, as more consumers try to avoid artificial sweeteners, flavoring, preservatives and seek out low–calorie, organic, vitamin–enhanced and zero–calorie claims.

At b.good, a health-minded fast casual chain in the eastern U.S., the Kale Crush smoothie blends kale, apple, pineapple, banana and pineapple juice. For more traditional smoothie tastes, the strawberry-banana smoothie combines with strawberries, bananas, honey and Greek yogurt.

Similarly, at Mad Greens, an emerging fast-casual salad chain, the Bright Buzz Juice blends apple, carrot, and pineapple juice with a boost of bee pollen to “enhance energy, soothe skin, boost the immune system and support the cardiovascular system.” 

Talk value

David Commer, president of Commer Beverage, a Lewisville, Texas-based beverage consultancy to the restaurant industry, spent 13 years as director of beverage at T.G.I. Friday’s. He sees “talk value” as a primary reason for operators to offer custom, made-to-order drinks.

Stand-out beverages give your servers and bartenders something to talk about and your guests something to focus on, according to Commer. He cites Red Robin’s Freckled Lemonade, boozy shakes and monster malts as examples of signatures drinks that have helped create brand identity in a competitive restaurant market.

“If you’re committing to signature drinks, make sure they taste good,” says Commer, who notes that people are willing to pay a premium if signature drinks deliver on their promises. “They need to be worthy of the attention you give them. They also need to be easy to create consistently, and be priced effectively. Pricing isn’t all about discounting, it’s about value for the money.”

This post is sponsored by Smucker Foodservice

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