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Natural ingredients differentiate beverage programs

fresh brewed iced tea restaurant

With big players such as Taco Bell and Panera Bread touting their recent moves to all-natural ingredients, it’s never been more important for operators across all segments to highlight fresh, recognizable ingredients on their own menus. This emphasis can drive sales across all menu parts—including beverages.

In fact, the opportunity for beverages made with real ingredients is particularly strong. According to a June 2015 Datassential report on non-alcoholic beverages, consumers are very interested in premium ingredients, seasonal flavors and natural sweeteners, which is likely a result of the move toward healthier beverages.

For operators, iced tea, fresh brewed in-house, can be a point of distinction on beverage menus, as it holds appeal for diners seeking natural, carefully crafted beverages.

New flavors, new possibilities

Over the last few years, hot tea has experienced some major upgrades, including the addition of exotic blends (matcha, chai and pur-eh) as well as a better awareness of various brewing styles. But with 85 percent of the tea consumed in the United States being iced, according to a 2012 report by the Tea Association of the USA, there’s no reason why the cold stuff shouldn’t be on the receiving end of some of that innovation, too.

“Chefs are getting really creative and differentiating their restaurants with unique iced tea offerings,” says Paul Hubbard, associate brand manager for tea at Unilever Food Solutions, adding that fresh brewed iced tea pairs well with plenty of fruit and herbal flavors.

And savvy operators are highlighting these flavor additions and natural ingredients on menus as well. “’Organic’ is increasing as a descriptor of iced teas, as is ‘fresh,’ ‘homemade’ and ‘premium,’” says Maeve Webster, senior director of Chicago-based Datassential, a leading food insights agency. She also says that while most of the iced-tea innovation is occurring in the fine-dining segment, new flavors and tea types, such as green tea, are trending across segments.

Easy-to-brew, easy to sell

Although most operators have some type of iced-tea program already in place, it’s never too late to improve the quality of offerings—and doing so can reap rewards. “Operators need to and should consider their beverage menus very much an extension of their food program,” says Webster. “Those beverages should as much reflect the operation’s focus and sensibility rather than being a cookie-cutter set of options.”

Thus, menuing fresh-brewed iced tea can convey an overall sense of quality, freshness and attention to ingredients—and what’s more, brewing iced tea in-house doesn’t necessarily require additional labor or equipment. There are a few best practices to keep in mind, though.

  • Equipment. When it comes to choosing iced-tea brewing equipment, operators should know what the expected daily volume is going to be before buying or having equipment provided, says Kevin Acevedo, equipment manager for beverages at Unilever Food Solutions. Knowing the equipment’s specs is vital, as is having a dedicated outlet that’s no further than five feet from the brewer’s plug. And don’t even think about using an extension cord, he adds.
  • Keep it clean. Although brewing iced tea in-house isn’t labor intensive, there are a few common mistakes operators should avoid. “Most of the mistakes that I see are using incorrectly sized teabags, not changing the water filters and not cleaning/sanitizing the equipment, including faucets,” says Acevedo.
  • Promote it. Once the fresh-brewed iced-tea program is in place, operators need to promote it. “Brand [the program] FOH,” says Hubbard. “Guests really want to know that it’s fresh-brewed and what brand of tea it is.”

Need one more reason to offer fresh-brewed iced tea in your restaurant? Consider the profit margins for fresh-brewed iced tea: “Each serving costs just 10 cents,” says Hubbard. “So a $2 or $3 glass of fresh brewed iced tea is probably the most profitable item on an operator’s menu, especially compared to tap water.”

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This post is sponsored by Lipton®

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