When it comes to explaining their popularity, one of the main reasons consumers give for choosing a booze-free beverage is the perception that these drinks are a healthy alternative to both alcohol and carbonated sodas. Predominant in this belief are consumers of bottled or vitamin-enhanced waters, according to product manufacturers such as Nestlé.“Consumers are seeking out healthier beverage options, given that more than 30 per cent of them are unfortunately overweight, obese or in danger of developing diabetes,” says John Challinor, director of corporate affairs for Nestlé Waters Canada. “Consumers are also experimenting with different food choices – more so than ever before. The bottled water segment offers tremendous variety and a natural complement to the many innovative and interesting food choices now available in the marketplace.”
Health is also a prime motivator for many of the patrons of Halifax eatery The Wooden Monkey, which specializes in organic and good-for-you food and beverages. From house-made iced teas crafted from organic tea and Nova Scotia maple syrup to a unique “power juice” consisting of organic juices, kelp alginate extract and hemp oil, the Wooden Monkey is seeing a notable preference for these types of healthier options.
“We have many non-alcoholic drinks that are customer favourites,” says Matt Gass, general manager of the Wooden Monkey. “The price ($5.99) of non-alcoholic cocktails such as the Power Juice may seem steep, but understandable considering the quality of their ingredients. The kelp and hemp oil help your body absorb all the nutrients in the juice as well as maximize the nutritional value from your food.”
Variety of benefits
Still, health isn’t the only factor leading customers to the non-alcoholic beverage tap. Many customers see non-carbonated soft drinks and bottled water as an affordable option. It may not necessarily result in higher profits by driving up the check average (such as with liquor), but it may keep them coming back more frequently due to the availability of so many refreshing options.
“Many consumers want to drink more water, but they also want a great taste experience, so options are important to cater to consumer needs,” says Shirley Mukerjea, director of marketing, Gatorade, Hydration and Emerging brands at Pepsico. “For example, coconut water is an emerging trend within the hydration category, generating a surge of consumer interest for its natural hydrating qualities and refreshing taste. Although a relatively new innovation in this country, the beverage has been enjoyed for centuries where coconuts are grown.”
Owner Pradeep Sharma of Spice Up Indian Cuisine in Vancouver sees non-alcoholic beverages such as their popular masala chai tea and mango or banana lassi as excellent alternatives for designated drivers during an evening out.
“Due to increased awareness and strict drinking and driving laws, these drinks are becoming very popular,” says Sharma. “Foodservice operators can also increase their profits from non-alcoholic drinks by making more in-house products.”
For the non-carbonated beverage segment, a surge in popularity means an increase in trends such as ethnically inspired drinks, flavor innovation and sustainable packaging.
“Over the next couple of years, we’re likely to see more ethnic influences as well as experimentation with ways to differentiate drinks (such as featuring flavored ice or nontraditional glasses),” says Technomic’s Mandeltort. “We’ll see more fusion drinks as well, similar to so-called ’twisted teas,’ and more vegetable-and-fruit blends to provide both sweet and savoury notes that play off each other.”
Nestlé’s John Challinor believes consumers will continue to look for more flavor variety as well as a focus on environmentally friendly packaging.
“Innovative ideas or developments include the growth of innovative sparkling and flavour-based sub-brands and brand extensions in ever more convenient and environmentally sustainable packaging,” he says.
However such trends may eventually play out, there is still much that foodservice operators can do to promote consumption of non-alcoholic beverages and ultimately to improve an establishment’s bottom line.
“Restaurant operators can increase sales of non-alcoholic drinks by properly displaying their product choices, promoting them as daily specials and educating the consumer about some of the health benefits many of these drinks offer,” says Sharma.
Matt Gass of the Wooden Money agrees: “It’s all about the servers promoting these products at the table. Engage and inform your customers about what you offer and never underestimate the power of suggestion.”