Foodservice-Specific Beverage Trends
By RENEE PAS
Specialty drink endeavors expand restaurant opportunities
Boutique drinks are finding a welcome home in foodservice establishments as beverage companies create fashionable and unique specialty drinks. The Republic of Tea, for example, has a ready-to-drink line only available at restaurants. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola recently launched a program to create new concoctions solely for restaurants. Both companies recognize there is a greater opportunity to tap in foodservice.
With wine varietals as the inspiration, The Republic of Tea, Novato, Calif., opted to create a line of ready-to-drink bottled teas just for restaurants. These high-end iced teas are exclusively sold at fine dining restaurants in the United States. Common venues are upscale eateries such as the Neiman Marcus café.
What’s highly unusual for a beverage company is that they are not for sale at any grocery store, convenience store or any other off-premise location, save one, the company’s Web site.
Specialized beverages, such as The Republic of Tea line, have the potential to bring both some added panache and revenues to restaurants. Offering unique drinks is one way foodservice operators can target orders that include either tap water or no beverage at all. A whopping 30 percent of all restaurant orders are void of any beverage besides tap water, according to Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends (CREST) data cited by Coca-Cola.
“There is a huge opportunity to capture a beverage occasion,” says Monte Ammons, senior customer marketing manager for Coca-Cola, Atlanta. “If you can create something unique and compelling, you will see movement from the tap water consumer.” He believes specialty drinks are the wave of the future for restaurants.
Custom drink creations
Over the past year, Coca-Cola has been working with the Culinary Institute of America on a new specialty beverage program. It was showcased for the first time at the National Restaurant Association Show in May and has since drawn interest from restaurant operators.
Coca-Cola consultant Donna Shields, a nutrition and culinary expert in St. Marys, Ga., describes the program as marrying culinary arts into the beverage category.
The program started by examining how Coca-Cola could offer more variety for restaurants using its core Coca-Cola products. That turned into CIA developing 100 different drink recipes — everything from dessert to wellness offerings to kids’ drinks. The program also resulted in a relationship with Monin Flavorings, Clearwater, Fla.
One of the keys to Coca-Cola’s program is that it is simple to execute, Shields says. “Operators want stuff they can pre-batch; they have to be able to execute in volume.”
Another program win is that operators have a lot of independence. Coca-Cola basically provides an inventory of drinks and will also create proprietary beverages for operators.
“It’s a way to give innovation without creating products from scratch,” Shields says.
An early adopter of the program is Sonic, the Oklahoma City-based chain of 3,000 drive-in fast-food restaurants. The chain is known for innovation in menu items and beverages.
One of the items Coca-Cola developed with Sonic is the Orange Cool Breeze. Proprietary recipes are not shared, Ammons says. “We work in silos with each customer to create specialty beverages for them.
“What our program does is give [Sonic] a chance to look at different flavor combinations they haven’t thought of before,” Ammons says. “It is an evolution of how we are interacting with our customers, looking for ways to utilize Coca-Cola brands with customers.” Sprite is the primary brand used as a base in specialty drinks.
Coca-Cola’s specialty drink program is just one of the approaches the company is taking to play more of a product development consultant role with restaurants. A recent foodservice segmentation study added to that perspective, defining the foodservice landscape from the consumer’s view. “It gives us some real direction in what beverages make the most sense in sub-groups,” Ammons explains. That lets Coca-Cola associates make customized beverage recommendations for each subset.
The next logical step in the specialty drinks program takes a page from the wine industry by offering food and beverage pairings. Determining why certain drinks taste better with some foods, and down the road, creating menus with pairing suggestions is, “an interesting area we want to explore,” Shields says,
Phasing in restaurants
If consumers are seeking more custom specialty drinks at restaurants, it could open the door to food establishments becoming places for new beverage trial. Traditionally beverage companies focus first on retail distribution, then foodservice, with new products.
Three-year-old POM Wonderful is in the beginning stages of getting into restaurants now that the company’s retail distribution is on solid ground. There was a strong desire from some foodservice operators to have POM part of the beverage line-up.
“There has been such a demand that restaurateurs were buying it at retail,” says Fiona Posell, spokesperson for POM Wonderful. The company is also in the early stages of developing recipes for restaurants, using the pomegranate juice as a mixer or a marinade. BI
Tonic may be a popular mixer, but today’s alcohol drink trends can include basically anything as beverage companies look for more ways to serve up their products.
Anheuser-Busch created a booklet of 24 cocktail creations that include beer. There is the Bud Light Orangutang, which is Bud Light, orange juice, simple syrup and a few drops of Grenadine; and the BE Bomb, which is BE and Jagermeister. And there are even beer-derived after-dinner drinks like the Michelob AmberBock Velvet Cream, which is made with Michelob, heavy cream, simple syrup, almond extract, bitters and a pinch of nutmeg.