Liquid gold: Beverage trends to befriend this spring
Just like the pizza operators serving them, diners are not immune to the constant crush of news about world events that seem lately to be less than reassuring. That's why food trend forecasting think tank, Culinary Tides, sees beverage trends this spring steering full-steam ahead toward the healthful and historically familiar flavors that provide the liquid equivalent of a big reassuring hug.
"There's been so much unrest since the election and a lack of confidence and a feeling of being unsettled with the school shootings, hurricanes, fires in California, the Russian investigation," Culinary Tides President Suzy Badaracco said. "It's not a recession, so we're not yet back in full-blown comfort food, but we are in a stall and that means a return to more historic ties."
Consumers, for example, want to feel settled, so they order what they know. They'll choose familiar bases — floral and black tea, lattes and lemonade — but since the economy hasn't tanked, they are still open to adding in more unique spices or flavors to make it a bit more interesting, Badaracco said.
Those add-ins, this season, include charcoal, infused ice cubes, whole herbs, bitters, coconut milk, varietal vanilla, hemp/chia, smoke and cocoa nibs.
"Teas are a calming source, but the sexy part comes in the add-ons," she said. "It's an interesting place because you can easily screw it up. Like someone could do a global, crazy drink but put cinnamon in it, and that would make no sense. That would freak people out. They wouldn't order that."
I'll drink (healthy) to that
Since a stall pattern inspires people to seek healthier menu options, consumers are more mindful about what they are drinking — whether it's drinking alcohol with more moderation or choosing lower-calorie or no-sugar-added drinks.
"The best option would be to have natural sweeteners when possible or some of the hybrid sweeteners that combine sugar with a non-caloric sweetener to lower-cals overall," Badaracco said.
Meanwhile, those mainstay carbonated beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are losing popularity as consumers move toward fewer additives and lower sugar overall.
"It appears consumers are moving away from high-fructose corn syrup to other beverages in an attempt to drink 'healthier' alternatives," NPD Group Foodseervice Practice President Warren Solochek said. "This is also why bottled water consumption is up at home in the same way it is up at restaurants."
Nekter Juice Bar CEO Steve Schulze agreed, saying his California-based chain is seeing younger guests showing a growing curiosity around new flavors and ingredients with functional health benefits.
"We recently amped up our lineup of cold-pressed bottled juices and juice cleanses with a very curated selection of superfoods, herbs, prebiotics and probiotics. Even the younger generations — teens and young adults — are asking very valid questions around our new ingredients, such as Ashwaganda and Camu Camu, two powerful superfoods that have tremendous health benefits."
Nekter is on the right track, Badaracco said, referring to her research that found that restaurants wanting to increase check spend through beverages should add cold-pressed juice and other health-based drinks.
"We don't see this trend slowing down anytime soon," Schulze said. "But the key to success in introducing this new wave of superfood ingredients is to find the perfect balance between nutrition and flavor. At the end of the day, if it isn't delicious, we've missed the opportunity to increase trial and repeated sales."
Along with healthful options, NPD's research also found that over the past two years, hot specialty coffee, iced specialty coffee, lemonade, flavored iced tea, bottled water, lemon-lime carbonated soft drinks and energy drinks have seen the most growth at restaurants.
"It looks like people still prefer to go to restaurants ... for espresso-based beverages," Solochek said. "I am confident this is because of the multiple variations ... so hard to make at home."
Coffee and tea are both trending up and will be even more popular at restaurants this spring, Badaracco said. Adding unique flavors and embracing nitro and cold brew options should be in most restaurants' plans. Cold brew coffee sales rose 450 percent in two years, according to Mintel research.
Starbucks, for example, now offers cold-pressed espresso at the Seattle Roastery, while the chain's sparkling cold-pressed Americano pours a shot of cold-pressed espresso over sparkling water, served on ice. The brand even offers a cold-oressed ginger fizz that combines ginger an cold-pressed espresso with vanilla syrup and grapefruit bitters, to give pizza operators some inspiration on the kinds of icy, fizzy, caffeinated offerings that are trending now.
Retail beverage brand trends as barometer
One way for pizza operators to predict consumer desires is by taking note of what beverage manufacturers and retailers are offering, Badaracco said. For instance, The Coffee Blenders' newest line features 100-percent Arabica dark roast Honduran coffee with nutraceuticals.
Its parent company, NuZee, is launching a line of ready-to-drink gourmet and functional cold-brew coffees blending dark roast Honduran coffee with nutraceuticals that are designed to provide health benefits. Varieties include Lean (weight loss), Think (cognitive performance) and Relax (stress reduction).
Laird Superfood offers six coffee creamers — including a turmeric-infused one — fortified with the marine mineral complex, Aquamin, by Ireland-based Marigot Ltd., Badaracco said.
Eight O'Clock Coffee has released three new varieties to its recently launched Infusions line. Super Spice is a medium roast blended with turmeric and cinnamon — a balanced, smooth, mild-spiced blend to awaken the senses, Acai Glow — also a medium roast — features acai berry for a rich, fruity, vibrant coffee experience. It also has B6 Metabolism, dark roasted and crafted to help support normal energy-yielding metabolism with a fruit and herbal blend rich in vitamin B6.
"These new Eight O'Clock coffees join Alert and Relax, released last fall, to round out the Infusions line with five varieties. Alert is blended with guarana and caffeine for an extra kick of caffeine, and Relax is a decaf brew gently blended with cuts of chamomile and lavender," Badaracco said.
Pizza with tea? Possibly
Tea companies are also embracing cold brew recipes as well as healthful options. Argo Teas, for example, is launching a line of ready-to-drink cold brew single estate bottled tea, and Tiesta Tea is already selling five functional, leaf-brewed teas.
The Energizer, Tiesta's Black Thai Tropical tea, includes a splash of guava, papaya and mango. Slenderizer is the company's Lean Green Machine with a splash of agave for a green tea with a citrus twist. Eternity features its Blueberry Wild Child tea with lemonade for a blueberry hibiscus tea complemented with lemonade's sweetness. Immunity features Maui Mango tea with a splash of passion fruit. Relaxer is made from Tiesta's Lavender Chamomile tea with a splash of vanilla for a soft herbal tea with lavender and chamomile.
Lipton is even getting in the wellness game with its Stress Less, Detox Soothe Your Tummy, Bedtime Bliss and Daily Support options.
McAlister's Deli, a fast casual brand known for its tea offerings, is getting in on the elevated tea trend this spring, said Chef Will Eudy. His guests are asking for twists on the chain's standard tea, which has sparked him to roll out Raspberry Tea.
"Familiar, comfortable, but something new — these are the key elements of all menu innovation at McAlister's," he said. " I'm still intrigued by, and am exploring the category of flavored waters, both still and sparkling. This is a great way to introduce a new flavor as well as satisfy our guests' desire for a lower-sugar beverage."
Lightening up the liquor
The retail industry's focus on un-cocktails is another hint to restaurants. Guinness, for example, launched a non-alcoholic lager in Ireland, and the drink company, Mingle, is selling Sparkling Mocktails in four flavors: Moscow Mule, Melon Mojito, Cranberry Cosmo and Blackberry Hibiscus Bellini.
Peel & Spice, a UK-based healthy soft drink company, is about to launch two non-alcoholic healthy drink alternatives - ginger and cinnamon, and lemongrass and black pepper, Badaracco said.
"During stall patterns, the mocktail is born because people are trying to feel more settled, so they are drinking with more moderation," Badaracco said. "And they are still marketed to adults, which is why we are seeing words like, ‘cosmos,' and ‘mojito' just without the alcohol."
A version of this story first appeared on sister site, Fast Casual.
Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.www