Restaurant Beverages: Lap Up the Latest Consumer Insights

Beverages are an integral component of today’s foodservice industry. For operators, they act as a high-margin add-on that can help increase check averages. For consumers, they enhance the overall dining experience by providing an added element of flavor, health or functionality to a meal, or can serve as a snack or meal replacement.

In compiling our 2012 Beverage Consumer Trend Report we found that many of today’s consumers are gravitating toward specialty drinks, beverages that shine a spotlight on freshness, health and wellness, and drinks that are highly adaptable to innovative, unconventional flavor combinations.

Specialty Beverages are On-trend

While about two-thirds of consumers report ordering regular hot coffee and soft drinks within the past month, other responses show a general spike in interest in specialty beverages. For example, consumers say that they have increased their purchases of specialty teas and blended or specialty coffees over the past two years. Operators have responded to this shift; in fact, specialty coffee has surpassed soft drinks to become the leading type of non-alcohol beverage (in terms of actual menu listings) on limited-service restaurant chain menus.

Most consumers are no doubt familiar with specialty coffee offerings like cappuccinos, lattes and macchiato drinks. With coffee now firmly entrenched on menus as a specialty offering, look for tea to emerge as a new platform for flavor innovation. There are plenty of opportunities to promote tea as a specialty drink, from Asian-style bubble teas to tea featuring real-fruit infusions.

In general, we’re seeing a larger menu-development shift toward non-carbonated beverages as thirst quenchers and refreshing drink options. Starbucks’ offers a new line of sparkling energy drinks; dubbed Refreshers, the beverages feature ginseng, vitamins and high-caffeine green-coffee extract. Jamba Juice’s seasonal promotion, Fruit Refreshers, combines coconut water and fresh fruit. These beverages are well-positioned as a fresher take on energy drinks.

Better-for-You Drinks

What do today’s consumers think about beverages and health?  When we asked them about how health claims drive beverage purchases, here’s what they said:

  • More than two-fifths of consumers say that they are likely to purchase beverages with “reduced sugar” or “sugar-free” callouts on the menu;
  • Health-halo attributes resonate for beverages, especially “fresh” and “natural.” Of all contemporary health claims measured, consumers are most drawn to beverages that carry clearly defined fresh or natural claims, such as “fresh-brewed” or “100% all-natural fruit juice.”

Another trendy beverage that is helping operators to underscore health and wellness is juice. With the drives toward both healthful eating and novel beverages, consumption of fresh juices in restaurants is up significantly—and has plenty of room to grow further, fueled by the potentially vast variety of juices, blends and mix-ins that can be offered. The quality and variety signaled by juice offerings make them an attractive point of differentiation for juice bars, as well as non-beverage concepts and other types of foodservice locations—such as retail outlets with a foodservice focus.

The Uniqueness Factor

Our research also found that new and innovative beverage flavors are a strong traffic driver, particularly among younger consumers. Nearly half of consumers aged 18–24 (47 percent compared to just 29 percent of consumers overall), say that they enjoy “unique” beverage flavors.

Signs point to the continued proliferation of non-alcohol drinks that are outside of the ordinary and present twists on old favorites. Independent restaurant operators are leading the way, with modern lemonades featuring herbal or floral accents like basil, lavender and anise; non-alcohol “mocktails” that emphasize freshness with muddled fruits; and artisanal sodas made onsite.

Note: These insights were drawn from Technomic’s Beverage Consumer Trend Report which takes an in-depth look at the latest menu developments and consumer preferences, behaviors and attitudes regarding the non-alcohol beverage category.


Aimee Harvey

Aimee Harvey is an Editor at Technomic, Inc. Since 2003, she has delivered insights to Technomic products, including newsletters and trend-tracking reports, and has been a contributing editor for industry trade magazines. She currently provides menu analysis and trend forecasts for the firm’s Consumer Trend Reports series.

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