Text by Bethany Wall
Beverages underwent an overhaul this year bringing fresh flavour combinations and unique drink fusions in hopes to satisfy the 82% of U.S. consumers who are willing to try new flavours and the 97% of Canadians who spend portions of their leisure time out at restaurants. Here’s a look at the major themes in non-alcoholic beverages:
Consumers crave dessert and cold pressed coffees
Dessert coffees continue to grow in popularity as 55% of U.S. consumers seek out specialty items even when they know they are not healthy. In fact, the amount of specialty coffee consumed in North America is growing rapidly, with leading flavours including caramel, chocolate, and cinnamon. Retailers are adding dessert specialty coffees to their menus including salted caramel, flan, tiramisu, and ice cream-flavoured lattes.
Cold pressed coffee, including iced and cold-brew, is becoming increasingly popular among coffee drinkers despite the extensive brewing time required, appealing to the 52% of Canadian coffee drinkers who are prepared to take their time for coffee for an improved taste. Starbucks recently added cold-brewed coffee to its menu despite the fact that it requires a labour-intensive process. Meanwhile, Dunkin’ Donuts added new Coolatta Lite flavours appealing to the 49% of U.S. consumers seeking lower calorie coffee with natural sweeteners. Chick-fil-A has partnered with Thrive Farmers Coffee, to offer a socially responsible iced coffee that is on point with the 21% of consumers that place ethical and health claims among the most important criteria when selecting a brand to visit.
Cane sugar is in; high fructose corn syrup is out
Another health-conscious move on the part of companies is to reintroduce sodas that contain cane sugar instead of artificial sugars. This provides alternative options for consumers that do not want high fructose corn syrup in their drinks. To this end, Jones Soda is offering custom-designed fountain machines for its unique flavours. Meanwhile, Umami Burger is partnering with PepsiCo to provide Pepsi products with “real sugar”.
Lemonades and vegetables as a key ingredient
With warmer weather here, lemonades have hit the marketplace in full force. Operators like Chick-fil-A are taking lemonade a step further with unique fusions, combining it with soft serve ice cream to create Frosted Lemonades. The lemon beverage is available in regular and diet to appeal to the 26% of Canadians who do not drink juices because they taste too sweet and the 27% who don’t drink juices because they contain too many calories. Similarly, Taco Bell and Snapple partnered to introduce Lemonade Freezes.
Vegetables are also making an appearance on drink menus as an ingredient in teas, smoothies and coffees. Verve Coffee Roaster introduced an espresso drink with carrot-pineapple juice. This type of combination may excite the 42% of U.S. consumers willing to try menu items with unusual ingredients. Smoothies with veggie ingredients continue be popular with consumers including Tropical Smoothie Café’s Avocolada smoothie that contains avocado, spinach, kale and coconut.
Coconut finds popularity as a non-milk substitute
In addition to veggies, the use of coconuts as an ingredient in beverages has been on the increase in recent months. This includes coconut-flavoured drinks, as well as non-dairy milk substitutes, especially for consumers with milk allergies. This should help satisfy the 17% of U.S. consumers that wish restaurants offered non-dairy milk products. Peet’s Coffee & Tea introduced three coconut coffees; Gloria Jean’s Coffee added Caramel Coconut Macadamia Latte; and Starbucks added coconut milk as an option in all beverages. Additionally, Back Yard Burgers added Coconut Cream Milkshakes which uses traditional ice cream but is flavoured with coconut syrup.
While seasonal trends bring excitement and reinvigorate the marketplace, there is still room for further innovation. One quarter of U.S. consumers place signature items among the most important criteria in brand selection and half of consumers wish they could get seasonal flavours year round. Differentiation with signature offerings using unique flavours, ingredients and fusions presents a huge opportunity for brands.
Bethany Wall is a Foodservice Analyst at Mintel