CHICAGO — Craft sodas, matcha tea and cold-brewed coffee are rising on restaurant menus, according to a new report from Datassential, Chicago. Second only to tap water, brewed coffee is consumed daily by 43% of consumers, while 33% drink juice every day and 25% sip tea.
“There’s really opportunity in a lot of different beverage categories,” said Jennifer Aranas, project director at Datassential. “People may think some areas are saturated or they’re seeing downward trends as an industry.”
Carbonated soft drinks have struggled lately against negative health perceptions. Nearly 40% of Americans drink soda at least daily, in spite of growing concerns surrounding sweeteners and artificial ingredients, but “they also indicate that they try not to drink it that often,” Ms. Aranas said.
“The perception is soda is not so good for you,” she added. “That’s certainly one of the barriers soda manufacturers have to contend with. Maybe it’s switching to a natural sweetener while not reducing the amount of actual sugar that creates that healthier halo. Mexican Coke is a good example of that.”
Mexican Coke, which is sweetened with cane sugar, increased 41% over the past year in restaurants, and Ramune, a Japanese soft drink, grew 61%. House-made sodas have debuted at a number of restaurants, including Sonic Drive-In and Starbucks, featuring premium ingredients and sweeteners perceived as natural.
“Cleaner labeling for a lot of consumers is what healthy means, so even if it doesn’t have fewer calories, just having a clean label is certainly impactful nutrition in their minds,” Ms. Aranas said.
Trending soda flavors include blood orange (up 328% on beverage menus since 2010), lavender (up 58%) and pomegranate (up 44%). Pineapple, ginger, tamarind and cranberry also are popular ingredients.
On coffee menus, such descriptors as “local,” “fair trade,” “premium” and “full-bodied” are gaining steam. Espresso shots and cappuccinos are the top hot coffee drinks offered, but cold-brewed coffee and iced coffee are quickly growing. Starbucks earlier this year debuted cold-brewed coffee, which is steeped in cool water for 20 hours, resulting in a smooth, rich brew with notes of chocolate and citrus. Dunkin’ Donuts recently introduced a pair of iced coffees in Oreo and Chips Ahoy! cookie flavors, joining a lineup of limited-time varieties that have included Rocky Road, white chocolate raspberry and pumpkin. Seasonal flavors, now a staple in major restaurant chains, are favored by more than a third of consumers, according to Datassential.
Like coffee, tea benefits from positive health perceptions, but many consumers tend to favor the flavor of other beverages, Ms. Aranas said.
“Tea overall has a lot more room to grow than maybe some of the other beverages,” she said. “There’s a lot more opportunity there in terms of innovation and driving consumption…
“I think people would really love to love tea because there are so many good things about it.”
Wendy’s recently introduced Honest Tea Tropical Green Tea, which is sweetened with organic fair trade cane sugar and includes hints of mango and pineapple. For the summer, the chain is offering Fruitea Chillers, hand-shaken beverages in orange mango and blueberry pineapple varieties that combine fruit juices and purees with the green tea.
Top juice varieties on restaurant menus include the traditional orange, cranberry, pineapple and grapefruit, but green vegetables and savory flavors are surging. Kale and spinach grew 71% and 50%, respectively, on juice menus over the past year, and cucumbers increased 43%.
Organic and frozen lemonades also are growing. Chick-fil-A recently added a Frosted Lemonade, which combines the chain’s signature fresh-squeezed lemonade with vanilla soft-serve. Krispy Kreme has introduced a line of frozen lemonades, including original, strawberry and mango flavors, for the summer. Popular lemonade flavors include blueberry (up 49% over the past year), limeade (up 41%), blackberry (18%) and watermelon (15%).
Trending flavors in smoothies and shakes include coffee, lemon, peanut butter and berry. S’mores rose 210% over the past year in blended beverages, while strawberry cheesecake increased 148% and white chocolate grew 81%.
“Consumers really love milkshakes … but milkshakes are not offered in very many restaurants, particularly in midscale or family restaurants,” Ms. Aranas said.
Fast-food chains continue to innovate on the frosty treat. Burger King this year introduced a Red Velvet Oreo shake, and Steak n’ Shake launched a Nutella milkshake. In its third year, the Summer of Shakes promotion at Sonic features 25 flavors, including jalapeño chocolate, coconut cream pie, and chocolate-covered banana.
Restaurant operators thirsting for better beverage sales may consider introducing coconut water as an ingredient, Ms. Aranas said. Nearly 40% of consumers like it or love it, according to Datassential. Jamba Juice recently introduced Colada Fruit Refreshers, made with whole fruit, coconut water, coconut cream and sherbet. Flavors include Pina, tropical and lime.
“I think there’s interest there in maybe innovating around coconut water, which has health halo but doesn’t have the best flavor,” Ms. Aranas said.
Non-dairy milk alternatives represent another opportunity.
“I think they should expand their scope beyond almond and soy milk, which are the primary alternatives right now.”Click for a slideshow of recent beverage innovations in restaurants.