Non-Alcoholic Beverages Create Excitement on Foodservice Menus

Posted in Family Restaurant on August 11, 2023

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Trending ingredients, innovative formulations provide memorable experiences for customers

Non-alcoholic beverages such as milkshakes, mocktails and specialty coffees and teas have become increasingly important elements of restaurant menu offerings.

Operators are innovating with beverages in 2023, with on-trend flavors, ingredients and forms, from functional beverages that incorporate healthful ingredients to new lemonades and other drinks featuring infusions of tropical fruit flavors. These types of beverages, often colorful and designed to share on social media, can drive excitement and trial as seasonal, limited-time offers, or can bring customers back again and again as year-round, permanent menu items.

Some recent examples of innovative, permanent new options and beverage trends in 2023 include:

  • Starbucks’ new Frozen Lemonade lineup, which features such on-trend flavors such as passion fruit, acai and dragon fruit, along with the chain's Refreshers base (essentially sweetened white grape juice concentrate blended with green coffee and water), strawberry purée and other ingredients.
  • Caribou Coffee’s new take on the bubble tea trend, featuring Raspberry Green Tea with Bubbles and Frozen Matcha with Bubbles. Both include coconut coffee jellies.
  • Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii’s new, plant-based Mana Energy drink lineup, which contains caffeine from green coffee beans along with some botanical adaptogens. The new items include Sunrise Swell Mana, with a blend of strawberry and orange-mango fruit fusions; Reef Racer Mana, with watermelon and dragon fruit, and Pipeline Plunge Mana, with blue raspberry and piña colada fruit fusions.

Consider capitalizing on consumer interest in these fast-growing flavors and forms in the non-alcoholic beverage market with recipes such as this Vegan Matcha Tea Shake with OREO® Cookie Pieces. It includes almond milk, matcha powder, vegan vanilla ice cream, boba tapioca pearls and Golden OREO® Cookie Pieces.

Creating Memorable Moments

When it comes to drink menus, Danny Bendas, managing partner at Synergy Restaurant Consultants, says operators should look beyond the basic recipe formulations and think about adding flourishes that make the beverage stand out, and offering items that encourage not just one-time trial, but drive repeat traffic.

“You want customers to say, ‘Wow, that was really good. I want to go back to this place because they had this drink,’” says Bendas.

He offered these specific suggestions for creating memorable specialty beverages:

Consider visual appeal

Think about presentations that could provide shareable images for social media such as Instagram and TikTok, Bendas suggests. Adding some subtle touches to a drink presentation, such as an interesting garnish, or a rim of cinnamon sugar or cocoa, for example, can be a simple way to make a drink memorable. Another idea is to create a stencil to use cinnamon or cocoa to create a design on top of the foam on a drink. “You can have a lot of fun with those kinds of things,” he says.

Blend flavors with coffee drinks

This could be done with a flavored foam or flavored cream on top of a cappuccino-style drink; for example, this Latte with OREO Creme Icing on top. “I think coffee accepts a lot of alternative flavors pretty nicely,” Bendas says, citing the opportunity for creating coffee shakes and frozen beverages with mix-ins for any season. 

Partner with local vendors

Restaurants can team up with local beverage makers to create unique specialty sodas, coffees, kombuchas or other items, just like many operators do with local beer breweries. “This can be a great way to grow your community involvement,” says Bendas. “They're helping you, and you're helping them. It’s good PR, and good marketing for everybody involved.”

Consider blending sweet and savory flavors

Consumers are increasingly receptive to spices and other savory flavors being mixed with sweet menu items, says Bendas. “You could use an herb blend in a cocktail or a non-alcoholic beverage, whether that’s lemonades or fruit beverages or agua frescas,” he says. “Those can be good year-round.”

Mocktails Gain Traction

Alcohol-free cocktails are another 2023 beverage trend that is ripe for innovation, and more and more operators are adding these items to their menus. Condado Tacos, for example, recently added two new spirit-free cocktails to its menu: the Nojito, made from a mix of cucumber, mint, lime, agave syrup, and soda water; and the Shooter McGavin, made with black tea, lemonade and ginger beer.

Bendas said it’s important for operators to make mocktails that look similar to traditional specialty cocktails, using similar glassware, flavors and garnishes, for example, to appeal to consumers who may be cutting back on alcohol consumption but still want interesting flavors and experiences. He also suggests using fresh fruit juices and other fresh ingredients whenever possible, and focusing on high-quality natural flavors, syrups, and purées for creating new mocktail trends.

“There are some pretty good products on the market these days that are alcohol-free liquor/wine replacements,” he says. “These add the flavor of the product without the alcohol.”

Alcohol-free options can also be sold at prices similar to the traditional versions, which creates opportunities to grow profit margins, Bendas notes.

Providing Customization

As with other areas of the menu, customization has been a key driver in the non-alcoholic beverage market. Patrons of coffee cafes have become used to ordering beverages made to their individual specifications, and soft-drink suppliers have rolled out self-serve machines that allow customers to concoct their own blends of flavors and brands.

Quickservice burger chain Sonic, which has long allowed customers to mix-and-match their own drinks from the beverage menu, exemplifies this focus on customization. Earlier this year it reinforced this message with an Instagram marketing campaign in which several musical artists posted videos of themselves describing their favorite way to customize their Sonic beverages, such as lemonade with real strawberries and vanilla (shared by DJ and music producer Metro Boomin).

Seasonal Innovation

The changing of the seasons and the excitement around annual holidays also present opportunities for specialty drinks and new beverage trends that help customers celebrate. The summer months are prime time for refreshing, fruity lemonades and sparkling waters, for example, while specialty milkshakes, coffees and teas can be created for almost any holiday or season, from Valentine’s Day to the series of fall and winter celebrations.

Comfort is key when it comes to these year-end holiday recipes, says Bendas. Traditional holiday flavors such as apple or cranberry are ideal for evoking comfort, and could be incorporated in specialty beverages, such as a hot apple cider drink, he says.

Some other examples of innovative beverage trends in 2023 for any time of year include:

 

“It’s all about trying to be as innovative as you can, but staying within your brand,” says Bendas. “Think about what you can as an individual brand do to become memorable and a little bit different, but staying within yourself.”

Opportunities abound for operators to think outside the box when it comes to trends and creating specialty non-alcoholic beverages and mocktail items, whether as limited-time offerings or permanent menu additions. For more beverage ideas and inspiration to drive customer excitement and profitable sales, view our infographic on NA beverage trends and innovation.

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