Sep 09, 2015

A Well-Rounded Beverage Menu




The latest non-alcoholic beverage research from Datassential can help you keep up with the latest trends.

By Maeve Webster & Mike Kostyo

At New York’s Atera restaurant, servers prepare an elaborate drink tableside, sifting this, whisking that, all the while discussing the history of the ingredients and the reasoning behind each action. But they’re not making a cocktail. The drink, a tableside matcha service, is part of Atera’s elaborate $65 “Tea Progression,” designed and implemented by Jeff Ruiz, who is the tea curator and captain at the restaurant.

Across the country, a number of restaurants have begun to take their non-alcoholic beverage programs very seriously, elevating the coffees, teas, juices and other non-alcoholic beverages through meticulous sourcing, avant-garde ideas and elaborate preparations. Chicago’s Next restaurant offers a non-alcoholic drink pairing menu designed to pair with the ever-changing theme: a green tomato, garlic, and white pepper drink for a Sicilian-inspired menu; or, a watermelon, red pepper and beef tea paired with a Tortilla Espanola for a menu that honored Spain’s famed El Bulli restaurant. Portland, Maine’s Hugo selects single-origin coffees from local Tandem Coffee Roasters and pairs them with the “ideal brewing method” – press, pour-over, siphon, etc. – to finish the meal.

It’s not just fine dining restaurants that are upping their game. Consumers today have access to high-quality, on-trend experiences on an everyday basis – from coffee beans sourced from far-flung locales and brewed to exacting specifications at national coffee chains, to fast casual burger restaurants offering house-made craft sodas to set themselves apart. To keep up, operators of every stripe are experimenting with on-trend flavors (herbal infusions, alternative sweeteners like molasses and flavored honeys), global drinks (Cuban coffee, Thai iced tea), and attention-getting brewing methods (tableside presses, carbonated tea on draft).

Datassential’s recent MenuTrends Keynote: Non-Alcoholic Beverages, is specifically designed to understand the current non-alcoholic beverage market’s major trends, the fastest-growing drinks on menus, and what consumers want. Here’s a peek at a few of the findings from this comprehensive report that you can leverage in your own drink program, in order to meet consumer expectations and create a memorable, well-rounded beverage program that includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options.

Thinking Outside the Cup: Coffee and Tea

If coffee is an afterthought in your beverage program, you might want to give it a second look – it’s certainly top-of-mind for consumers. In fact, after tap water, brewed coffee is the most consumed beverage. Roughly two out of three Americans drink hot brewed coffee on any given day, and 16 percent drink a specialty coffee beverage.

While consumers certainly turn to coffee for a morning or afternoon pick-me-up, there are plenty of opportunities to reach consumers at every hour of the day, particularly with specialty coffee beverages and iced coffees. Roughly 30 percent of consumers purchased their last iced coffee or iced specialty coffee at lunch, and one in 10 consumers chose a hot or iced specialty coffee with dinner. Yet, while 88 percent of operators offer hot brewed coffee, only one-third offer hot specialty coffee, and even fewer offer iced varieties. Specialty and iced coffees resonate with Millennials, in particular. Over a quarter of Millennials loved unique, trending varieties like bulletproof coffee or Thai/Vietnamese coffee.

Millennials are also interested in seasonal flavors. Half of Millennials were interested in seasonal coffee and tea flavors, compared to 35 percent of consumers overall. Tea has been experiencing its own “third wave” recently, as new varieties and an increased emphasis on sourcing drives innovation in the category. Brown rice tea has grown 117 percent on menus in just the past year, while matcha has grown 56 percent. Tea bases like jasmine, oolong and rooibos are all growing on menus, as well as unique flavors like lychee, kiwi, watermelon and coconut. Consumers don’t actively avoid tea like they do some other beverages, likely due to its health halo. And operators can impart that same halo to other drinks (cocktails, juices) or even dishes (ice cream, sauces) by incorporating tea.

With the right mix of seasonal and iced beverages, a well-designed coffee program can keep sales up across dayparts and throughout the year.


The New Healthy: Alternative Milks and Green Juices

It’s not just tea adding a health halo to menus.Alternative milks and functional juices are key parts of the “New Healthy.” Instead of focusing on nutrition (low calorie, low fat) or feel-good terms like “organic” and “sustainable,” operators and consumers are interested in functional foods and ingredients – energy, protein, superfoods. In fact, the term “protein” now appears on 44 percent more menus than it did four years ago.

Alternative milks, many made from energy-packed nuts, have been growing fast on menus. Almond milk is up 41 percent on menus and soymilk is up 27 percent. Operators are also experimenting with house-made, premium nut milk options, which can justify a premium price and are another trend that resonates with Millennials, who are more likely than other generations to “love” varieties like cashew, walnut and coconut milk. These milks can be used throughout the beverage menu, from coffees to cocktails. Los Angeles’ G&B Coffee serves an iced, house-made, almond-macadamia milk latte, shaken and served over ice from the shop’s high-end Kold-Draft ice maker, prompting The New York Times to ask if it’s the “best iced latte in America.”

Some of the fastest-growing juice varieties on menus today, however, incorporate nutrient-dense greens. Juice varieties like spinach, cucumber and celery are all up at least 18 percent in the past year (spinach is up 50 percent). On-trend kale continues to grow. In fact, kale is up a whopping 422 percent on non-alcoholic beverage menus overall in the past four years. But consumers are also concerned about the purity of and high sugar content in juices. Nearly three-quarters of consumers said that “pure, 100 percent juice” was important to them, and nearly a quarter said excess sugar was a barrier to ordering juice away from home.

How Sweet Is It? Carbonated Beverages

Sugar was also a major barrier to soda and carbonated beverage consumption. Twenty-four percent of consumers said they were discouraged from drinking a soda at a restaurant because sodas have too much sugar and are too sweet, and over 20 percent were concerned about calories and high fructose corn syrup. Now consumers are seeking out natural and alternative sweeteners. Thirty-nine percent of consumers said they were interested in natural sweeteners in non-alcoholic beverages; and operators are responding, using options like raw or cane sugar, honey, molasses or maple syrup. At Roam Artisan Burgers, a “better burger” fast casual based in San Francisco, the house-made sodas are sweetened with agave nectar, and come in flavors like caramelized pineapple and prickly pear.

The craft soda movement has driven far more flavor experimentation in carbonated beverages, with flavors like lavender, blood orange and hibiscus trending in the past year. Lavender alone has increased its presence 120 percent in carbonated beverages in the past year. And great taste is not only the most important attribute when consumers choose a soda, but also over half of consumers said that having a soda that pairs well with the particular food they are eating is important.


Keep Evolving, Stay on Trend, and Command Premium Prices

For many of today’s consumers, a few cans of soda and some drip coffee won’t cut it any longer. They are looking for healthier options, new flavors and on-trend ingredients (although that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to see their old favorites, but they do want options). A few innovative, on-trend drinks, like bone broth or horchata, can also make the entire beverage menu – and even the operation as a whole – seem trendier and more interesting. Many of these drinks particularly resonate with Millennials, while also commanding premium prices.

This is just a small peek into this comprehensive report, which also covers everything from pricing to regional differences to enhanced waters, energy drinks and smoothies/shakes, and even beverage toppings. So before you send that drink out to the guest, top it with a sprinkle of chocolate shavings – nearly one-third of consumers said they loved them.

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