Buying fruit beverages

Not just juice

Beverages are, of course, a big profit center, and most restaurants have created varied and interesting beer, wine and cocktail offerings. But when it comes to nonalcoholic drinks, that creativity often comes up short. Many operators make do with fountain drinks, iced tea and a reach-in stocked with a few bottles of RTD juices.

But sales indicate that this category could use a boost. CSD volumes were down 2.6 percent in 2007 over 2006, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation, and fruit beverages slumped 3 percent last year. That means operators have to get more imaginative with nonalcoholic beverage offerings.

Fruit juices are the original energy drinks—a beverage segment that is rocketing in popularity these days. Grape juice, for example, offers many of the same “French Paradox” heart-healthy benefits that wine does—without the alcohol. And a recent review of research by Tufts University indicates that cranberry juice may promote cardiovascular health. Juices from “superfruits” like blueberries, pomegranate, acai, goji and mangosteen all claim health and wellness benefits.

Nutrition experts concur that the most benefits accrue from freshly squeezed or extracted juices. For many time- and labor-strapped operations, that’s simply not possible. And sourcing, purchasing, storing and prepping lots of fresh fruits is challenging. Fortunately, there are plenty of fruity options.

Powdered drink mixes, such as Crystal Light and Country Time Lemonade, are a breeze to prep—just add water—and they boast a long shelf life. Fruit ades and juices are also available frozen or as bag-in-box concentrates. Full-strength juices come in shelf-stable or refrigerated forms. Another effortless way to add a fruity punch to your beverages is with flavored syrups and flavorings. Add a shot to iced tea to add interest or mix them with sparkling water for a signature soda. A huge variety of flavors is available. For example, Monin just introduced the on-trend Acai flavor and an intriguing Habañero Lime in its “sweet heat” line.

Play up the wellness angle even more with the new category of “enhanced” juices. Minute Maid, for example, has a lineup of juices with a plus, including Heart Wise Orange Juice, with plant sterols to help reduce cholesterol; Active, an orange juice with glucosamine to aid joint flexibility; and Enhanced Pomegranate Blueberry, with Omega 3 for heart health. Also on the juice front, Minute Maid offers smoothies made with real juice; they’re available in six flavors, including peach, raspberry and mango.

Whichever approach you take to juicing up your drinks list, don’t neglect presentation. Use good quality disposables or even finer glassware. And don’t forget a garnish—a slice or wedge of real fruit or even a flag can turn plain juice into a signature and justify a higher ticket.

Bravo for mocktails

It’s very much like making a cocktail,” says Dan Blumenthal, executive chef and co-owner of Bravo! and Sal & Mookie’s in Jackson, Mississippi, about his mocktails. Although Bravo! boasts an award-winning wine list, an impressive beer menu and an array of specialty cocktails, the restaurant also features 10 thoughtfully crafted nonalcoholic drinks. The nonalcoholic drinks account for a “significant” portion of Bravo’s! sales.

Most popular are the Montego Bay, orange and pineapple juices, club soda, grenadine and a cherry garnish; Lesley’s Punch, white grape juice, ginger ale, club soda and 7 UP, garnished with lime; and Missmosa, sparkling grape and orange juices with an orange wheel. All are $3.

The nonalcoholic drinks are flavored with pre-made juices and syrups, and they usually have a fresh fruit garnish. Those ingredients are also mixed up into Bravo!’s cocktails. “There’s a lot of crossover usage,” notes Blumenthal, which is a good purchasing strategy. “We don’t buy anything that just goes into one drink. That means waste.”

The juice drinks give customers more interesting choices than soda and iced tea, says Blumenthal, who has been offering the option for about five years. The idea worked so well that when Sal & Mookie’s opened a year ago, he expanded the number of mocktails to 16 and added a lineup of spritzers and coffee drinks. Sal & Mookie’s is less formal than Bravo! and more family- oriented, hence the bigger nonalcoholic selection. “The goal at Sal & Mookie’s was to draw a younger crowd, and upsell customers from iced tea or soda,” explains Blumenthal. “I sell soda for $1.85, compared to the nearly $3 I get for one of those mocktails.”  



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