Flavor drives demand

Millennials continue to exert influence on the world of beverages. They like their drinks on the sweet side and they like lots of choices. Suppliers have gotten the message and responded with specialty beverages aimed at that finicky demographic.

“Many factors drove the [beverage] industry in 2012, but the real driver was and continues to be flavor,” observes Eric Schmidt, director of research at Chicago-based Technomic. “In every category and segment of spirits, wine and beer, flavor is what attracts consumers and keeps them coming back. This trend will intensify throughout 2013, and product innovation around flavor will continue to play an important role.”

That’s especially true in the liquor industry. “The big trend is flavored spirits,” said Peter Cressy, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council at the industry’s annual media briefing. He noted that over 40 percent of the 6,000 products introduced last year were flavored; 220 variations, ranging from citrus to wasabi—and even freshly cut grass.

Vodka has been the main flavor carrier, especially for confectionary varieties  like frosting, whipped cream and cookie dough. Now that’s spread to other spirits. Whiskey producers are luring younger drinkers like bees to honey with flavored versions, including Bushmills Irish Honey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Wild Turkey American Honey.

Another hot flavor is cinnamon, led by Sazerac’s Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and Jim Beam’s Red Stag Spiced. Innovative craft distillers have been playing around with berry and peach flavors. And Philadelphia Distilling exploited a current culinary trend with XXX Shine Salted Caramel.

It’s not just brown goods; cordials are a hotbed of flavor innovation, too. Dutch producer Lucas Bols just launched Bols Yogurt Liqueur in the U.S. market, made from fresh yogurt with a sweet and sour profile. Booze for brunch seems to be the aim of Pernod Ricard’s new Mama Walker’s liqueur line, which features three breakfast-inspired flavors: Maple Bacon, Blueberry Pancake and Glazed Donut.

Sonic’s Summer of Shakes

Kicking off its Summer of Shakes promotion, Oklahoma City-based Sonic Drive-In debuted not one, two or 10, but a whopping 25 new and different varieties, in adventurous flavors such as Peanut Butter & Bacon, Cherry Cheesecake and Coconut Cream Pie. Available in all 3,500-plus locations, the shakes are priced $1.99 to $3.99.

“Twenty-five new flavors allowed us to make a splash without overwhelming customers,” says Sonic spokesperson Patrick Lenow. With increasing commodity costs, it’s become more of a challenge for QSR brands to maintain profitability without raising prices, and featuring high-profit items like shakes helps with that. However, menuing a lot of new items can be challenging operationally. With a base of proprietary Real Ice Cream soft-serve, Sonic managed to roll out those 25 shake variations with the addition of just five new SKUs: peanut butter topping, cream pie syrup, graham cracker pieces, lemon juice and cheesecake syrup.

The idea came from an entrepreneurial franchisee who last year created 52 different shake flavors. Impressed, corporate adopted the idea for this summer. The launch is supported by TV ads, local radio and print ads, as well as social media and digital marketing. 

Besides the 25 varieties, customers can also opt to customize their order by mixing and matching flavors. To drive after-dinner traffic, Sonic shakes are half-price after 8 p.m.                

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