Milk, yogurt and ice cream lead the way in dairy beverage trends

By Aaron Jourden

Dairy is proving to be a key ingredient in some of today’s trendiest and most craveable beverages at restaurants. Milk, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products add sweetness, richness, texture and body to popular beverages like milkshakes, smoothies and coffee. Dairy is also a central component in up-and-coming ethnic specialties like Thai ice teas and Indian lassies.

Here’s a look at the top dairy ingredients currently found in drinks at leading chain and independent restaurants across Canada (excluding alcohol drinks), according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data:

Not surprisingly, milk is far and away the most-common dairy for beverages—found in everything from plain milk and flavoured milks to shakes and lattes. Milk also remains popular at restaurants since it’s suitable for all dayparts and for adults, kids and seniors. Following milk are yogurt, cream, ice cream and whipped cream, a versatile collection of dairy goods that have attributes ranging from healthy to indulgent, from sweet to tangy, and from airy to thick.

The familiarity and attributes of dairy make them essential for many on-trend beverage preparations at restaurants.


The milkshake is a nostalgic treat that’s been undergoing somewhat of a renaissance at chains and independents in recent years. Shakes are in fashion for several reasons. For one, they fit into the larger trend of creating simple foods and drinks by hand with wholesome ingredients. Shakes also fall into the collection of comfort foods that chefs have been keen to elevate, make for a great complement to hip burgers-and-fries restaurants, and are a canvas for experimentation and creativity.

Toronto’s Rose and Sons plays into tradition and craftsmanship by touting its vanilla-soft-serve-based shakes as a “way of life.” Guests can order flavours like Wild Blueberry, Soma Chocolate Caramel, Creamsicle and signature Bourbon on Bourbon on Bourbon. Mixing and matching is encouraged.

The top and fastest-growing shake flavours are made up largely of time-tested favourites like chocolate, mint, strawberry, vanilla and caramel. Flavours like mango, passion fruit and coffee show that there’s room to incorporate diverse fruits and ethnic flair.

What’s Shaken milkshake bar in Vancouver offers nearly 50 different flavours that range from chocolate and vanilla malted to avocado, bananas Foster and apple pie. Each is made with premium hand-scooped ice cream and fresh, natural ingredients.

New flavours for shakes also include adults-only varieties with alcohol, as well as shake mashups that blend in fruit pies or savoury ingredients like bacon.

W Burger Bar’s two locations in Toronto offer spiked shakes like the Chocolate Gorilla Monkey with Kahlúa, white crème de cacao, crème de banana and chocolate ice cream, while Edmonton’s Soda Jerks chainlet menus spiked shakes and floats in variants like the piña colada-esque Milky Malibu and the appropriately named Captain Jack with Cap’n Crunch cereal and Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

Holy Chuck, with two locations in the Toronto area, lists a decadent shake with bacon fudge and sea salt, along with a more adventurous sushi-inspired shake with wasabi, ginger and green onion.


While smoothies come in seemingly endless variety, dairy is essential to these popular drinks in their most basic, classic form—which is a thick blend of fruit and milk or yogurt, sometimes ice cream.

Smoothies are popular for many reasons. These drinks address current consumer demands for both healthy and indulgent beverage options as well as for filling meals and snacks that are easy to eat on the go. Smoothies are also highly customizable, fit in with active lifestyles, and can be enjoyed at any time of day.

Operators can leverage some of these key smoothie attributes through the use of dairy. For example, Greek yogurt could be substituted for regular yogurt to create a stronger and more contemporary health halo around a smoothie, while offering a selection of milks—whole, skim, organic, lactose-free, etc.—allows diners to pick an option that meets their dietary needs.

Booster Juice has tweaked its basic smoothie formula in a bid to grow its appeal among the health-conscious. The chain is now making its smoothies with an exclusive Vitala probiotic yogurt—stressing transparency and wholesomeness as key differentiators for its upgraded product.

Jugo Juice offers a wide range of indulgent and healthy smoothies, including the Green Tea Buzz consisting of matcha green tea, skim milk and lowfat frozen yogurt. At Jasper, Alberta-based Coco’s Cafe, which caters to vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike, diners can opt for a smoothie made with whole milk, one-per-cent milk or soymilk, with the option to add in yogurt.


Ethnic food and drink—particularly Asian and Latin American—has been on trend radars for some time. While the spotlight frequently illuminates fare like bánh mì, ramen and burritos, ethnic beverages are also gaining notice. And a number of these beverages feature dairy as a central component.

Thai iced tea is a spiced tea with hints of vanilla that’s topped with sweetened condensed milk, cream or milk, and usually served over ice. This specialty tea varies in appearance, but can feature a stark contrast between the dark tea bottom and lighter dairy top, and sometimes has an orange hue from the addition of food colouring. With its blend of tea, spices and dairy, Thai iced tea is a flavourful and exotic drink with a distinct appearance.

Nana restaurant in Toronto offers Thai iced tea two ways: as a traditional drink made of black tea, spices and sweetened condensed milk over ice, and as a signature Thai iced tea gelato dessert.

Vietnamese-style coffee is a strong, medium-to-dark-roast java drink that’s sometimes enhanced with chicory. Using a small filter that sits atop a cup, the coffee is brewed over sweetened condensed milk and generally served iced. In addition to its authentic ethnic appeal, the by-hand, one-at-a-time brewing method used for Vietnamese-style coffee fits into the current new wave of artisan coffee culture.

DD Mau in Vancouver offers hot and cold versions of Vietnamese-style coffee, both prepared with espresso and sweetened condensed milk. Caffè Beano in Calgary puts a spin of the drink by brewing intense Vietnamese coffee with steamed sweetened condensed milk.

Much like smoothies, Indian lassies are chilled dairy-based drinks often flavoured with fruit, frequently mango. Yogurt is the most common base for the lassi, while milk and buttermilk are sometimes used as well. Sweet and savoury versions are available at many Indian restaurants and often serve as a cooling beverage to drink while eating spicy foods.

Darbar Exotic Indian Cuisine in Kingston, Ontario, offers a fairly standard cold lassi with yogurt and mango that gets enhanced with rose water. Calgary’s Mango Shiva Indian Kitchen & Bar offers a trio of lassies in mango, sweet rose water and sea-salt-and-cumin flavours.

Shakes, Thai iced teas and Indian lassies show the true versatility of dairy in the beverage category at restaurants—on one hand it can serve as the base for a nostalgic treat, and on the other as a familiar component to an exotic drink. Flavoured and enhanced/boosted milks also represent an opportunity for operators looking to liven up their beverage lists and increase appeal among younger diners and the health-conscious alike.

About the author:

Aaron Jourden is Editorial Manager for Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. Visit technomic.com for more information.

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