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Beverage trends: High-margin specialty drinks rise with summer temperatures

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr user Bonita Suraputra)

Beverage sales have become increasingly important at restaurants, where high-margin specialty drinks are growing in popularity and sometimes even replacing snack sales. The stakes climb even higher in summer, as chains promote a slew of limited-time strawberry lemonades, flavored ice teas, frozen coffee drinks and other cold refreshers that people are willing to pay a premium to sip, said NPD Group’s Bonnie Riggs.

“Many of the specialty drinks are ones you can’t make at home or easily obtain at home, whereas in the case of soft drinks can purchase and have at home,” Riggs said.

As the mercury climbs, restaurant chains are pouring on the new summer offerings, hoping to create and tap into existing beverage trends. Smoothie seller Jamba Juice began rolling out fresh juice bars at 500 locations last month, Wayback Burgers will kick off the season later this month with Free Shake Day, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf bowed two new limited-time iced blended drinks recently and new concepts are popping up to promote the popular Asian favorite bubble tea.

Sonic has dubbed it the Summer of Shakes, with half-price shakes after 8 p.m. It’s one of several ways the drive-in chain continues to build popularity for its diverse drink offerings. When consumers are rating quickserve eateries, they’re likely to service right after food, but at Sonic beverages come in a strong second, according to a recent report by newBrandAnalytics. Social media mentions of Sonic’s shakes were nearly off the charts, and brand fans also had plenty of good things to say on Twitter and other social sites about the chain’s Limeade and slushes.

As sales of specialty beverages, bottled water and other non-carbonated beverages continue to climb, restaurant sales of both sugary and diet sodas have been steadily declining, Riggs said. Soda companies have been seeing the same trends at retail stores as well, as consumers continue to find alternatives to carbonated soft drinks. Nationwide, soda sales fell 3% last year and 1.2% the year before, according to Beverage Digest. To boost restaurant and convenience store sales, Coca-Cola debuted its Freestyle dispensing machine in 2009, and PepsiCo unveiled its own digital soda dispenser dubbed Spire earlier this year.

Summer may be the time for light and cool, but quickservice chains aren’t giving up their focus on hot coffee, including Subway which announced earlier this month that a new partnership with Keurig Green Mountain will put single-serve K-cup machines in every U.S. Subway restaurant.

Warmer days also bring demands for thirst-quenching cocktails, and many of the top flavor trends identified in research by newBrandAnalytics sound made for hot days, including ginger, mango margaritas, guava mojitos and champagne cocktails.

Finally, speaking of summer’s beverage trends — Digg  compiled a list of the favorite drinks in the 32 countries with World Cup soccer teams, from the yogurt-based non-alcoholic refresher called Doogh in Iran to the absinthe that goes into a cocktail called a Chrysanthemum in Switzerland.

What drinks is your restaurant pouring to quench summer thirsts? Tell us about it in the comments.

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