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Few foodservice segments have mastered limited-time offerings (LTOs) like coffee shops. Whether vividly flavored lattes and frappes or robustly concentrated cold brews, coffee shops succeed on LTOs by providing delicious taste at great prices. And the most noteworthy move of all: Those often repeated seasonal LTOs have customers trained to expect pumpkin-flavored products in the fall and peppermint-accented products near the holidays. Call them learned cravings.
It's wise, therefore, for any seller of coffee drinks, cocktails, mocktails, smoothies and shakes to take advantage of those well-established trends by creating their own pumpkin and peppermint favorites using ready-to-pour flavors. Use them to turn a simple frappe into a seasonally targeted creation with just an ounce of pumpkin spice. Want a cocktail? Add pumpkin spice flavor to the classic combo of vodka, lime and ginger beer for a twist on the legendary mule.
“Pumpkin spice and peppermint flavors are a natural for boozy shakes and hot toddy-type drinks” in the fall and winter, says restaurant consultant Arlene Spiegel, owner of Arlene Spiegel & Associates. “They make the perfect seasonal and holiday solutions to otherwise predictable and boring drinks.”
Consultant Andrew Freeman, owner of Andrew Freeman and Co. agrees, saying ready-to-pour flavors like these give bartenders and baristas endless opportunities to be creative. But he warns that just being being clever with drink combos isn’t enough. Taste must come first to please patrons and drive repeat purchases.
“Pumpkin spice can go very well with bourbon or rum drinks, but it needs to be a considered approach,” he says. Create new drinks, he adds, “in a thoughtful way so it seems logical and not a marketing gimmick.”
Ease of use
Ready-to-pour flavors simplify prep and production procedures for any drink—desserts and soups, too—exceedingly important in today’s historically tight labor market. Ready-made syrups eliminate time normally allotted for mixing and clean-up while ensuring recipe consistency, Freeman says.
“In some cases, purchased syrups might also last longer or be more shelf stable than house-made syrups, which may require refrigeration,” he says. “Consistency is important both to controlling costs and keeping happy customers. If someone likes a drink, they want it to be the same the next time they order it.”
Freeman says pre-made and bottled flavors reduce sourcing and storage of multiple ingredients for one recipe, such as a scratch-made syrup. They also can eliminate steps in customer-facing preparation, such as cocktail muddling. Additionally, he says using those flavors as bases spurs creative ideas for riffs that create recipe complexity. Smart baristas, bartenders and chefs, he adds, also will learn to use them in multiple menu items.
Spiegel points to gains in service speed when using flavor accents. As customers became increasingly acclimated to delivery and pick-up services during COVID-19 shutdowns, they wanted faster service and better order accuracy. Fewer production steps, she says, leads to less time customers must wait for their orders and reduced mistakes.
“Formulated, high-quality syrups are the perfect and much-needed solution to an industry facing a labor shortage,” she says. “Being able to have a ready-to-pour product greatly increases the speed of service while reducing possible errors of preparing made-from-scratch recipes.”
No sugar, no calories, no guilt
In early 2021, an American Psychological Association survey of 3,000 clients found that 61 percent of Americans gained unwanted weight due to COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020. Shuttered workout facilities compounded the problem, researchers learned, as did the increase in restaurant food delivery options. These and other complications, Freeman and Spiegel say, make new-to-market calorie- and sugar-free flavor offerings enticing to customers looking to shed their “COVID 19 pounds” while enjoying a delicious drink.
“Many people want to lose that COVID weight and are looking for ways to slim down and cut out some of the extra unhealthy calories,” Freeman says. “When it comes to guilty pleasures, people are focusing on overall wellness while allowing a few indulgences and the pleasures they bring. They acknowledge how they can be part of a healthy lifestyle in moderation.”
Instead of using an ounce of sugar-laden syrup to flavor a pumpkin spice latte, replace it with an ounce of sugar-free, calorie-free flavor, add in the same espresso and switch out whole milk for steamed low-fat milk. Do much the same with hot cocoa: zero-calorie peppermint flavor, steamed, low-fat milk, and a sugar-free dark chocolate sauce. Additionally, many alcoholic cocktails can be made healthier when simple syrups are replaced with a range of sugar-free flavors.
Anytime operators make such switches, Spiegel encourages them to promote those changes to customers.
“Discerning consumers are mindful of the type of sugars they find acceptable,” she says, before cautioning, “and they look for natural flavors rather than artificial sugary concoctions.”
For more information on how sugar-free and calorie-free bottled flavors could help your restaurant, coffee or bar business, click this link.