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Quickservice chains see sweeter beverage sales

3 min read


Consumers might be downing fewer sugary drinks overall than they were a decade ago, but you wouldn’t know it looking at fast-food chains, where specialty-beverage sales are on the rise. American adults cut their consumption of sugary drinks by 45 calories per day between 1999 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and youths cut 68 calories per day, Food Consumer reported.

Many are also changing where and when they drink beverages. At Sonic, half-price beverages for afternoon happy hour have made it cool to hit the drive-in for after-school snacking, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. The chain, which says it offers more than 1 million specialty-beverage permutations, has seen sales between 2 and 5 p.m. increase to 23% of revenue, and beverages are seen as a separate and increasingly popular snack category. “It’s almost like specialty beverages are replacing some standard food items,” NPD Group restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs said.

Rivals including Taco Bell, Dairy Queen and McDonald’s McCafe have taken note, launching afternoon snack and beverage promotions and taking the risk that bigger afternoon-snack crowds might mean slower sales at dinner.

What’s in your sports bottle?

The CDC says that while consumption of sugar-sweetened soda and other traditional sweet drinks has dropped, the trend has not extended to sweetened sports and energy drinks. Energy-drink sales rose 14% last year, and sales of sports drinks increased 2%, according to Beverage Marketing.

Those beverages, along with sweetened tea and fruit-flavored drinks, are the latest target for New York City’s “Pour on the Pounds” public-service campaign, with videos and outdoor ads educating people on the high sugar levels and calorie counts in seemingly healthy sports drinks and fruit-flavored drinks. The campaign urges consumers to opt instead for water, fat-free milk, unsweetened tea or fruit, according to as media outlets including Advertising Age.

“Sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit-flavored drinks sometimes sound like they’re good for us, but they are contributing to the obesity epidemic just as much as sugary soft drinks,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner.

The beverage industry takes a different view of the $1.4 million campaign, as well as New York City’s push to ban big sodas. “Selectively picking out common grocery items like sugar-sweetened beverages as a cause of obesity is misleading,” the American Beverage Association’s Christopher Gindlesperger told WNYW-TV. “The public does not believe that solutions to obesity are as simplistic as a ban on the size of just one item that people consume, nor should they.”

Are your customers cutting calories when it comes what’s in their glass? Tell us in the comments.