Quenching the thirst for better non-alcoholic beverages at restaurants and foodservice operations

By Aaron Jourden
Quenching the thirst for better non-alcoholic beverages at restaurants

Upgrading and enhancing non-alcoholic beverages is a great way for operators to please their guests and differentiate from the competition. Today, we’re seeing operators expand their beverage offerings beyond basic soft drinks, milk and coffee, to include such trend-forward refreshments as handcrafted ades (such as lemonades and limeades), fresh-squeezed fruit-and-veggie juices, and concoctions made with natural and organic ingredients.

To a large degree, trends in non-alcoholic beverages are mirroring what Technomic has been seeing on the food side for some time. Operators have been turning the everyday into the gourmet, adding better-for-you options, focusing on bold flavours, using high-quality ingredients, employing artisan preparations and exploring ethnic specialties.

Luxe liquids

Restaurants are upping their game when it comes to higher-end beverages. Everything from original house drinks, mocktails and spritzers, to specialty teas and coffees have been on the rise in the past few years. And restaurants are increasingly making these drinks onsite and to order using artisan techniques, their own recipes and premium ingredients. Technomic data show that as these luxe liquids gain more space on the menu, conventional beverages like fountain soft drinks, regular teas and milk have shown a slight decline.

Original housemade beverages complement nicely the artisan hot dogs and condiments served up at Craft Dogs in Toronto, where guests can sample creative soft drinks made with ingredients like seasonal fruits, natural sugar cane and Canadian maple syrup. Listed flavours include Blueberry Up, Peach Ginger Ale and Cocoa Rootbeer.

Spritzers were a summer addition at café chain Waves Coffee House, which offered three sippers in Sparkling Pomegranate, Strawberries N’ Fizz and Vanilla Cream flavours. The beverages, each capped with a dollop of whipped cream, were made with club soda, fruit-flavoured syrup and smoothie mix.

Wok Box Fresh Asian Kitchen recently added Vietnamese Iced Coffee to its range of Asian food and drink. The new offering is a blend of Trung Nguyen Coffee, sweet condensed milk and ice.

Fruity and flavourful

Restaurants in Canada have embraced drinks that feature tangy, tart and sour flavours. Ingredients like lemon, lime, cranberry and even grapefruit are showing up more and more across the beverage spectrum, making a splash in everything from juices and smoothies all the way to coffees.

Lunchgoers at Fable, a Canadian cuisine concept in Vancouver, can choose from a handful of citrusy sippers. The farm-to-table restaurant offers fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices as well as lemonade made of real lemon juice and sugar that’s topped off with soda.

Quick-service coffeehouse chain Blenz Coffee recently launched a line of organic Shaken Iced Teas in three citrus-tinged flavours: Kiwi Lime, Citrus Pear and Guava Lemon. Each is made with a choice of whole-leaf Hojicha green tea or Dragon Blend black tea. Blenz Coffee also recently rolled out a handmade latte variety that’s made with orange, cinnamon and vanilla.

Beyond tart, other growing beverage flavours range from sweet to savoury. Some of these include almond, coconut, caramel, tomato and mint.

Growth and decline of selected non-alcoholic beverages at restaurants

Emerging platforms

Smoothies as a beverage platform continue to rise, thanks to the drink’s wide-ranging appeal as a meal replacement, a treat and a traditional beverage. Smoothies also benefit from a health halo when they feature ingredients such as Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, but can also be extremely indulgent with the addition of ingredients like chocolate, peanut butter and ice cream.

Bakery café chain Williams Fresh Cafe recently offered a new Organic Yogurt Beta Blast Smoothie for a limited time. The healthy meal in a cup consisted of carrot, ginger, honey, peach and coconut water. Williams Fresh Cafe launched its line of organic yogurt smoothies – made without purées, preservatives or artificial colours or sweeteners – in 2012.

Fresh Fuel Smoothies are a new addition at Pita Pit, which offers varieties like Strawberry-Kiwi Omega-3, Banana-Pineapple ’N Fibre, Mango Probiotic, Pomberry Antioxia and 5-Berry Immuniforce. Each is made with 100 per cent real fruit and fruit juice with low-fat yogurt.

At Toronto’s Live Food Bar, diners can pick from a variety of good-for-you beverages to go along with their vegan and healthy fare. Guests can select their choice of milk – soy, rice, almond, hemp or coconut – their smoothie or coffee drink, or choose any of the restaurant’s organic juice spritzers, organic teas or kombucha “elixirs.”

The rise of juicing as a beverage platform, part of the broader move to healthier dining in Canada, is increasingly playing out at restaurants as juices move from niche beverage to mainstream drink. Restaurants are in a great position to take advantage of juicing since making juice at home is time-consuming and messy, yet many consumers still want juice made fresh for them.

Vegetarian restaurant and juicery Fresh does just this at its four locations in Toronto. The chainlet features a menu of house-recipe juices, smoothies and other drinks, but guests may also get a made-to-order juice prepared with the ingredients of their choosing.

Freshii, a fast-casual chain known for its health-oriented menu, touts its fresh juices and smoothies as a great way to start the day with an energizing liquid breakfast. Among the chain’s offerings are “energy,” “power” and “detox” fruit and veggie juices.

On the horizon

Ethnic street foods are not just bringing new food preparations to Canadians – beverages are part of the mix too. Some ethnic beverages that could prove popular include Indian mango lassis, Mexican horchata (a sweet, milky rice drink), Asian bubble teas and kombucha, a fizzy fermented tea and a tradition that goes back to ancient China.

Healthy refreshments and drink ingredients are also expected to grow in the coming years. We expect to see more cold-pressed juices, crafted tea drinks, milk alternatives like nut milks and coconut water, as well as menu claims like “natural” and “organic.”

Whether looking at beverages as a way to enhance the menu, as a driver of new dayparts and snacking occasions, or simply as a way to generate more sales with add-on purchases for meal visits, there is plenty of opportunity today to innovate the drink list. One need look no further for inspiration than what’s currently driving excitement among foodies.

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About the author

Aaron Jourden is an 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 technomic.com for more information.

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