Fountain of the future
Perhaps the biggest news in the soda-fountain world is the development of a high-tech, interactive dispenser by the foodservice arm of Coca-Cola. Called Freestyle, the proprietary machine can dispense more than 100 branded drinks, both carbonated and still. Customers punch up their order on a snazzy touchscreen and Freestyle combines highly concentrated ingredients with water and sweetener right at the nozzle, via trademarked PurePour technology.
“Freestyle is a pretty neat option,” says Scott Shotter, VP of operations for Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwestern Grill. The chain was approached by Coca-Cola to test the dispenser in a store in the Atlanta market. Although it’s still early in the test phase, Shotter is pleased so far with the machine. “The Freestyle is eye-appealing; it’s a focal point in the restaurant,” he notes. “Kids are having a ball with it, making their own custom drinks.” As a plus, children are dragging their parents into Moe’s to try out the machine.
Another upside is that the bag-in-box ingredients package is smaller than that used with standard dispensers, so it takes up about half the kitchen storage space.
New users tend to spend a few moments figuring out how the Freestyle works. But the Moe’s store is located in a business area, with a lot of frequent customers who are now familiar with it. “Day after day, speed times are getting faster,” Shotter reports. The next step will be to install Freestyle in four more Moe’s units for a six-month test. “After that, we’ll review the results with Coca-Cola—our tracking and their tracking,” concludes Shotter. “We’ll see if Freestyle is something that could be beneficial to the company and our franchisees.”
Sweet gone sour
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sweetens many processed foods, including condiments, soups, sauces, dressings, baked goods and beverages. Because it is a liquid and easier to dissolve, the syrup is frequently used to replace cane sugar in soft drinks. Thanks to corn subsidies and sugar tariffs, HFCS is generally cheaper than cane sugar as well.
Critics have blamed HFCS for a host of health problems, including America’s obesity crisis. A few states have even proposed “soda taxes” aimed at reducing consumption of sweet soft drinks. Now a Princeton University study indicates that consumption of HFCS causes significantly more weight gain than sugar–in lab rats, that is. However, its link to human health and obesity is still inconclusive.
HFCS is made by processing corn syrup, which is mostly glucose, with enzymes that convert percentages of glucose into fructose, resulting in a sweeter syrup. Sugar, on the other hand, is made from sugarcane and contains sucrose. But the Corn Refiners Association insists that “sugar is sugar” and in a campaign to educate consumers about the syrup’s advantages, points out that sucrose and HFCS have similar nutritional profiles. Unfounded or not, consumer concerns over HFCS have prompted many beverage manufacturers to reformulate drinks with cane sugar—and they are marketing that change. It’s an option you can offer to your customers.
Craft brews are the bright spot in beer sales, while mass-market suds sales have remained flat. But did you know that many craft producers also brew artisan sodas?
Of course, soft drinks are not “brewed” in the same way beer is, but craft producers make sodas with the same attention to quality ingredients. They prepare extracts and infusions from botanicals such as roots (yes, there are roots in root beer, including sasparilla, licorice, burdock, ginger); tree bark and sap (birch, cinnamon, wild cherry, maple); spices (vanilla, allspice, nutmeg, clove, juniper); herbs (mint, wintergreen); and fruit juices and peels (orange, lemon, lime)—to name just a few. And they are usually sweetened with cane sugar, honey, molasses or stevia leaf—no HFCS here.
Brewpubs have long offered sodas brewed on-premise to counteract the veto-vote from non-drinkers. And many craft brewers offer soft drink lines to complement their ale offerings. Chicago-based Goose Island, for example, offers a line of “Natural Craft” soft drinks in flavors like Spicy Ginger and Concord Grape. In Wisconsin, Sprecher Brewing handcrafts extracts for a line of eight gourmet sodas in flavors like Orange Dream and Ravin’ Red (cherry and cranberry juices sweetened with Wisconsin honey).
The same hops and malted barley used in beer-making are infused with fruit juices and carbonated water for WP Hopper Soft Brews, made by British-based Juice Brewery. They pour with a foamy head and hoppy aroma just like beer, but contain no alcohol. Soft Brews come in Blackcurrant, Apple and Citrus. Craft soft drinks are generally available from craft beer distributors.