The big trend in soft drinks is do it-yourself—an offshoot of prolific mixology programs. With a spritz of seltzer, housemade infusions and syrups do double duty in sodas as well as cocktails, commanding a markup. Even Starbucks is testing artisan sodas as the coffee giant tries to diversify its beverage offerings.
California Pizza Kitchen takes a different approach with its soft drink mixology program. The Los Angeles-based chain spikes diet Pepsi products with various juices and fruits: SoBe Lean with blueberries, passion fruit, blood orange and pomegranate (the Berry Lean); Diet Pepsi with blueberries and lime (the Blueberry Lime); and Diet Pepsi with pomegranate and blood orange (the Dark & Red).
For its part, the Coca-Cola Company is testing sharable packaging in its Singapore market; a seemingly regular can of Coke splits apart into two smaller containers. Reportedly the test is doing well and may expand to other markets. Coca-Cola also announced plans to test a version of Coke sweetened with stevia, the all-natural low-cal sugar substitute.
“I think there is some romance about serving soda from the tap, says Sue Getgen, operations director for Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub.
The three-unit, Madison, Wisconsin-based chain partnered with the venerable (founded in 1985) Sprecher’s Brewery, as well known for its craft-brewed sodas as its artisan beers, such as Black Bavarian and Piper’s Scotch Ale. The soft drinks are produced in a handmade, gas-fired brew kettle. Many of the ingredients are sourced locally, including pure Wisconsin honey direct from the combs as a sweetener and Wisconsin Door County cherry juice in the Cherry Cola.
Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pubs are licensed to use the Sprecher’s name and logo, so it’s natural to serve the renowned sodas. Four are available on tap, for $2.50 a glass, $1 for a refill; flavors switch out but Root Beer and Orange Dream are always on rotation. All of Sprecher’s bottled sodas are available as well ($2.50 each) and served in the same frosty mug. Fancy wooden menu boards promote the soft drinks, as do drink menus on tables.
“Adults go for the sodas, too,” says Getgen. This alcohol-free choice is popular at business lunches, and soda is an upsell from plain tap water.” While other restaurants have seen CSD sales tumble over the past few years, Sprecher’s gourmet soda sales have only increased, reports Getgen. “Consumers have a desire for something different and unique when they dine out.”
Sales are amplified by auxiliary items such as floats and sorbets. “Ice cream floats are a natural,” she adds. Guests can choose any of the eight soda flavors and ice cream. Root beer and orange dream with vanilla are the most popular. The Mini Float is $2; a Mug Float is $3; Rooty’s Big Float (a 22-oz. mug) is $4; a flight of three flavors is $5. Sprecher’s Brewery created the soda-flavored sorbets, but a local Madison company produces them. Flavors are Gorilla Grape, Orange Dream and Root Beer, priced $3.25 for a large, $2 for a small and a Trio of all three is $3. “The sorbets sell really well, especially in the summer,” notes Getgen.
Sprecher’s soda is also the main ingredient in Root Beer Mustard, which is served as an “unusual but yummy” dipping option for a soft pretzel appetizer. But sodas are Sprecher’s mainstay. “Guests look forward to the seasonal flavors.” notes Getgen. “They even call to ask when the new flavors will arrive.” Strawberry, blueberry and apple all have their adherents.