One Trend, Three Ways: The new wave of non-alcoholic drinks

By Sophie Mir

Non-alcoholic drinks remain a top mealpart at Canadian restaurants. Per Technomic’s Ignite menu data, almost all Canadian operators (99.4 per cent) menu non-alcoholic beverages. (If not menued, then they’re almost certainly available.) According to Technomic’s 2018 Canadian Beverage Consumer Trend Report, beverage consumption from foodservice has remained steady over the past two years, with consumers purchasing 3.3 beverages per week on average. That popularity has given operators the chance regularly test out new trends, both to quickly gather data and keep things exciting, and operators’ efforts are driving three major trends in non-alcoholic drinks — functional ingredients, innovative mocktails and cold-brew coffee with new twists.

Function and Form

This infusion of exotic, functional ingredients in beverages is meeting consumers’ desire for both health and innovation. According to Technomic’s 2018 Canadian Beverage Consumer Trend Report, 23 per cent of consumers said they would like to try new and unique beverages offered at restaurants, with 18- to 34-year-olds reporting significantly higher than consumers ages 35 and up (31 per cent to 18 per cent, respectively). At the same time, 38 per cent of consumers overall report that they would like restaurants to offer healthier beverages. When asked if they would be likely to order beverages that offer functional benefits, 23 per cent of consumers said they would, which skews even higher for younger consumers.

Both limited- and full-service restaurants are increasingly featuring trendy functional ingredients in a variety of beverages. Asian-inspired flavours in particular are growing rapidly, with turmeric up 80 per cent in non-alcoholic drinks since last year. Likewise, cardamom and matcha also rose by 33.3 per cent and 4.7 per cent in beverages, respectively and kombucha saw a 26.9 per cent bump. For example, Good Earth Coffeehouse recently debuted its Turmeric Latte and Earls Kitchen + Bar offers KeVita Ginger Kombucha, spotlighting its beneficial probiotics in the online menu.

Turmeric, matcha and beverages like kombucha not only offer distinct, bold flavours, but also connote health and wellness benefits. For example, kombucha provides both a tart and slightly sweet flavour addition to popular drinks, but it is also packed with antioxidants. With 41 per cent of consumers reporting that they are ordering kombucha, operators should incorporate it, and they shouldn’t stop there.

Mocktails 2.0

Among consumers who have had a mocktail in the last month, 43 per cent ordered from a foodservice location or restaurant. Operators are responding to consumers’ interest in mocktails, with menu mentions increasing by 9.1 per cent in the past year. The top restaurant segments that serve mocktails are upscale casual dining (50 per cent), fine dining (43.2 per cent) and contemporary casual dining (33.3 per cent), meaning there’s still a lot of room for limited-service restaurants to expand their current offerings. In all segments, however, operators are finding new ways to diversify their mocktail selections with fresh and uncommon flavours.

In the past year, both hibiscus and rose saw massive growth in menu mentions in mocktails, up 100 per cent and 300 per cent, respectively. For example, Cactus Club Cafe rolled out its Hey Hibiscus mocktail made with a blend of hibiscus and rose, and Wolf in the Fog in Tofino, British Columbia, spotlights its The Body is a Temple mocktail, featuring hibiscus grenadine. Mocktails are still dominated by fruit, including lime, lemon, strawberry, pineapple and orange, but there’s consumer demand for operators to explore less-charted territory.

Seasonality counts with beverages, too. According to Technomic’s 2017 Canadian Flavour Consumer Trend Report, 29 per cent of consumers reported that their preferences changed with the season, so come spring and summer, operators should spotlight warm floral flavours. Seasonal preferences resonate particularly strongly with women, with 35 per cent reporting seasonal preferences compared to just 22 per cent of men.

In what’s perhaps a sign that mocktails are joining non-alcoholic beer in the mainstream, non-alcoholic spirits are finding their way into commercial foodservice. Seedlip, a non-alcoholic spirit mimicking gin, is popping up in mocktails like Earls Kitchen + Bar’s Spring Gimlet. It appeals to the 33 per cent of consumers (including 41 per cent of younger consumer) that say they would likely purchase mocktails that taste like they contain alcohol, and normalizes the mocktail offering, potentially attracting new consumers.

New Twists in Cold Brew Coffee

Cold-brew coffee’s popularity continues to grow, with a 35 per cent increase of cold brew menu mentions in coffee. In addition, 15 per cent of consumers say they would like more restaurants to it. And as cold brew saturates the foodservice market, restaurants are adding a new spin on it as well. Starbucks Canada recently added cold brew blended with plant-based protein, bananas and dates. Second Cup Coffee recently menued a salted butterscotch cold brew coffee, while Jugo Juice developed a line of smoothies featuring cold brew as well. Since 34 per cent of younger consumers say they’d like restaurants to offer more flavour combinations in drinks, operators should continue to experiment unlikely combinations featuring cold brew, and that differentiate themselves from competitors.

Another way concepts are diversifying their cold brew selections is by offering and spotlighting dairy alternatives, including coconut- and almond-based milks. For instance, two of Jugo Juice’s three cold brew smoothies feature non-dairy milk, and along with its salted caramel cold brew, Second Cup menued an almond milk cold brew mocha, which should be unsurprising: almond milk is the fastest-growing ingredient in coffee.

Different Drinks, Same Trend

The overall trend shows up on different menus in different places and in different way, but overall, non-alcoholic beverages continue to provide opportunities for innovation among Canadian foodservice operators, with 65 per cent of consumers agreeing that they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers new flavours and 62 per cent stating that they are likely to return to the same restaurant if they like a new flavour. As a result, operators shouldn’t be afraid to explore unusual seemingly unusual combinations and layer different trends on one another to invigorate their non-alcoholic beverage menus. Restaurants that do it best will undoubtedly stand apart from competition and gain new patrons.

Sophie Mir is an Associate Editor for Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. The company’s services include publications and digital products as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry. Visit for more information.

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