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Beverage sales and profits are increasingly vital in today's foodservice arena. An opportune way to keep them flowing into onsite and commercial operations is to menu beverages that resonate with millennials and Generation Z.
Eager for new flavor experiences, these adventurous consumers partake of many beverage trends. Examples include beverages with clean, natural fruit flavors; specialty coffee, cold brew and nitro coffees; flavored waters; unsweetened and lightly sweetened drinks; and functional products like kombucha and yerba mate.
Commercial role models
In the fast-casual restaurant segment, forward-looking operators are promoting beverages with fresher, more natural fruit flavors and less sugar and carbonation. This year St. Louis-based Panera Bread made news by posting information about added sugar and calories for all beverages. Touting “sweetness for every taste,” the chain launched a lineup of beverages including unsweetened Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea with zero calories and sugar and 100-calorie Prickly Pear Hibiscus Fresca, lightly sweetened with fruit juice and puree.
For its part, Lemonade Restaurant Group, based in Culver City, California, promotes seasonal Cold Pressed Lemonades in flavors such as blood orange, watermelon rosemary, cucumber mint, peach ginger, strawberry rhubarb and old fashioned.
Charging into onsite
The popularity of specialty coffee and beverages perceived as better for you than soft drinks extends beyond eateries into the noncommercial segment.
Morrison Healthcare, a Compass Group USA unit with about 600 hospital locations nationwide, launched Copper Spoon Coffee Co. at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis last year. The on-trend specialty coffee concept brings gourmet java and alternative beverages to health care.
A café run by Bon Appetit Management Co., a Palo Alto, California-based onsite firm, shows what’s trending in corporate dining today. Located on a high-tech company campus in California’s Silicon Valley, the café menus everything from espresso-based drinks to single-origin drip coffees to cold brew and nitro coffee.
Keeping it cold
Nitro coffee, pushed from a keg by nitrogen gas, is gaining a following at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “It has some rounder, sweeter qualities, although it is not a sweetened product,” says Maya Vincelli, assistant director of retail operations at UR Dining Services at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “We see people walking across campus just to get it.”
“There is a population of younger folks who prefer a cold brew to a hot beverage all the time,” declares Scott Hauver, assistant director for retail operations at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. This fall UConn introduced nitro coffee in one of its cafes. The goal is to attract incremental coffee sales in off-peak periods, such as afternoon, Hauver says.
Water, infused with flavor
“Water is a big seller for us — just plain bottled water,” adds Hauver. “We sell tons of it.”
Another hydration option at UConn is house-made infused water — plain water flavored with freshly cut fruits or sprigs of fresh herb on display in transparent, self-serve vessels. It’s an offering which shouts fresh, clean and healthy. “It does not need a high investment or special equipment to set up and operate,” Hauver notes.
At Richmond unsweetened, flavored waters are trending, both still and sparkling, in flavors like pineapple, blackberry and pear. “For the most part, people are not buying soda as much as they were in the past,” Vincelli says. “People are looking for something to replace their normal lunchtime soda.”
Richmond is also offering kombucha in bottles and cans in two retail locations. “Some years it flies off the shelf, as a functional beverage or a soda replacement,” says Vincelli. But the tart, fizzy fermented tea beverage with purported probiotic benefits is not to everyone’s taste. “Some people love it, but it is very polarizing,” Vincelli says.
Yerba mate, a naturally caffeinated, tea-like beverage derived from the leaves of a South American plant, has caught on. “Yerba mate drinks have taken off in the past year,” says Vincelli. “We sell it as an energy drink. In one location we have 12 different ones.”
Some customers may be switching to yerba mate from conventional energy drink brands, which have dipped a bit in sales, although they remain strong. “People may be looking for more natural energy products,” says Vincelli.
A strong beverage program is vital for competitiveness as well as profitability in today’s industry. Promoting an assortment of cold coffees, water-based beverages with little or no sweetening and natural, functional products like kombucha and yerba mate will leverage prevailing trends.