While core carbonated beverages have long dominated the market, consumers are looking for more options and new flavors.
Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are often categorized by entrée points—burgers, chicken, burritos, and so on—but there’s one thing they all have in common: They serve non-alcoholic beverages.
Whether the libations are sodas, coffee, tea, waters, or juices, they are profitable opportunities to provide customers with a complement to their meals or as a stand-alone, thirst-quenching option. Increasingly, restaurants find beverages a means to differ from competitors and to meet consumers’ changing demands.
“We’re seeing more unique beverage options beyond the typical soda fountain” that dominates quick service, says Jennifer Aranas, project director at the market research firm Datassential.
Aranas recently authored a Datassential report that found that brewed hot coffee is the most consumed non-alcoholic beverage other than tap water, followed by bottled water, juices, carbonated drinks, milk, iced tea, and diet carbonated drinks.
Limited-service restaurants have been upping their game with drinks, whether it’s Chick-fil-A rolling out specialty grade coffee, Wendy’s adding Honest Tea
green tea with tropical flavors, or Taco John’s menuing summer-themed carbonated beverages.
There’s plenty to consider when determining how to elevate a beverage program, including cost, brand alignment, and the target audience.
“Your brand is No. 1,” says Brad Miller, operations and finance expert at Synergy Restaurant Consultants. “If you are going to choose a program that is a step up, it also needs to be in line with the investment cost and your customer base.”
An effective way to move a beverage program ahead is adding fresh flavors.
“Bringing fresh in your restaurant sells very well,” Miller says, noting the trend has trickled down from full-service restaurants. Tropical and herbal flavors are also on the rise. Blood orange has been the fastest growing flavor on menus, up more than 300 percent since 2010. Other gainers include lavender, coconut water, and greens such as kale.
Just as new flavors are driving beverage sales, so are health concerns. Teas and waters are seen as better for you, while traditional carbonated beverages and some juices are sometimes disparaged due to their calorie levels.
But there’s more than caloric issues involved, since carbonated beverages may have the same or fewer calories than some similar-sized coffee drinks, including lattes and mochas. Instead, the issue is how they are sweetened.