Chicago-based Technomic Inc.’s Beverage Consumer Trend Report found that beverages sales could help restaurants to boost check averages.

According to the report, 71 percent of consumers now purchase beverages away from home two or more times a week, up from 66 percent in 2010. As the economy stabilizes from the recession, restaurants and retail foodservice locations are well-positioned to boost beverage sales, the company says. Beverages act as a high-margin add-on that can help increase check averages for operators and also increase the overall dining experience for consumers by providing an added element of flavor to a meal, it adds.

The survey also noted growth in specialty coffees, specialty teas and smoothies at Top 500 limited-service restaurants. Specialty coffee increased by 10 percent on limited-service menus during the past two years and is emerging as one of the segment's leaders, the survey says. With the rise of sweet tea, specialty tea listings nearly doubled on menus, it says. Smoothies, including fruit smoothies, grew by 8.5 percent, while the protein-enhanced varieties jumped by 123 percent, proving that smoothies have become a menu mainstay, it adds.

"Today's foodservice consumers continue to base dining decisions on their perception of value," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., in a statement. "Innovative operators are creating value by crafting new and unique beverages including specialty lemonades, handmade sodas and 'mocktails' that are uniquely flavorful, fresh and a better-for-you option."

With 29 percent of consumers saying they like to try new and unique beverages, operators can build their credibility and bottom line by leveraging trending flavors with more creative beverage offerings, Technomic says.

Another interesting finding of the Beverage Consumer Trend Report is that 49 percent of women aged 18 to 24 and 41 percent of all consumers agree that their beverage preferences tend to change depending on the season/time of the year. Additionally, two-thirds of consumers say they drank regular hot coffee (68 percent) and regular soft drinks (66 percent) at least once in the past month, the report says. Roughly half of consumers say they purchased regular hot coffee (46 percent) and regular soft drinks (53 percent) from foodservice venues at least once in the last month, it says. Plus, 47 percent of consumers aged 18-24, compared with 29 percent of consumers overall, say they would like to try new and unique beverages offered at restaurants, it adds.

Technomic's Beverage Consumer Trend Report examines beverage purchasing decisions, attitudes and preferences based on survey results from 1,500 consumers. The Menu Insights section utilizes Technomic's exclusive MenuMonitor database to provide an in-depth look at how leading and emerging chain operators menu and position beverages. The report also features 20 emerging and innovative beverage concepts and demographic profiles for respondents who have consumed leading beverage brands in the past week.