Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Rob Corliss
August 16, 2022

The growth of nonalcoholic beverages across foodservice concepts can be credited to two powerful drivers: an enthusiastic consumer base eager for exciting flavor experiences and a consumer base that puts high value on consumables that improve well-being. In the beverage world, both of those target markets are big and share many crossover ingredients, happily, making the opportunity significant by hitting multiple need states.

Savvy beverage developers are using modern approaches to make their offerings stand out. They’re calling on bright, natural colors, fun infusions, bold hybrids, striking layering techniques, craveable textural play and comforting twists. Most importantly, they’re becoming expert storytellers, sharing these highly visual beverages on social media to help define their brands for younger generations, hooking them with refreshing drinks and converting consumers into evangelists through meaningful emotional connections.

Thoughtful, flavor-forward ingredients that meet a wish list of flavor thrills and/or wellness benefits are table stakes in the nonalcoholic beverage game. Operators are rising to the challenge, upping the ante and calling the bet with flavorful concoctions. Here, we present 10 areas prime for beverage exploration and play.

1

Sparkling

As consumers become more experience-driven in their beverage expectations, effervescence offers dimension when added to trend-forward drinks. Serve enhanced flavor complexity that delights with carbonation, along with lower sugar and intriguing inclusions, for a refreshing option.

TRY THIS

  • Almond-Strawberry Sparkler: Sparkling lime water + orgeat + strawberry purée
  • Mandarin-Coffee Soda: Club soda + vanilla cold-brew coffee + mandarin orange juice

MENU SIGHTING

White Dragon: Lychee, mint and sparkling green tea
O-Ku, based in Charleston, S.C.

2

ZERO-PROOF COCKTAILS

Beverage menus continue to allocate more space to impactful non-alc cocktails. With thoughtful flavor approaches top of mind, the complexity of a zero-proof cocktail can meet customer need states for a social, creative, booze-free experience.

TRY THIS

  • Non-Alc Wine-Berry Refresher:Hibiscus tea + ginger syrup + fresh raspberries + ice + zero-proof red wine float
  • Spiced Pineapple Zero-Proof Margarita: Zero-proof tequila + Key lime juice + charred pineapple syrup + Serrano pepper slice

MENU SIGHTING

Straight From the Fire: Roasted corn tea, smoked maple syrup, cooked grape must, The Bitter Housewife Bull Run barrel-aged bitters, fresh sage and orange peel
Suckerpunch, Portland, Ore

3

NEW PLANT “MILKS”

Dairy-free beverages continue to grow in popularity as more consumers turn to plant-based options that align with their lifestyle choices. Leverage this trend by going beyond almond and oat bases and explore introductions that feature less-conventional milk alternatives. Look, for example, to potato, cashew, hemp seed, pea or banana blends.

TRY THIS

  • Big Blue: Potato “milk” + blueberry purée + blueberry honey + lavender
  • Tamarind “Milk” Fresca: Cashew “milk” + tamarind syrup + lime juice

MENU SIGHTING

Strawberry Mylkshake: Hemp mylk, banana, strawberry, hemp seed and vanilla
JuiceLand, based in Austin, Texas

4

AMPLIFIED BREAKFAST JUICE

Juice is perfectly primed to break from its traditional morning norms, ready to match the excitement enjoyed by specialty coffees. Tropical mixes place colorful juices front and center as an adventurous, amped-up comfort option for patrons craving an a.m. refresher.

TRY THIS

  • Morning Deluxe: Orange-guava-passionfruit juice + small-chopped peaches + vanilla oat foam topper
  • Morning Juice Slushy: Pineapple-orange-mango juice + ginger green tea + ice + condensed milk swirl

MENU SIGHTING

Honey Bee: Grapefruit, turmeric, yuzu, Anjou pear, honey, bee pollen and almond blossom tea
-The Butcher’s Daughter, locations in New York and Los Angeles

5

TEXTURE

Texture and mouthfeel differentiate beverages, establishing premium cues that align with consumer preferences for experiential flavor. Operators can introduce the interplay of textures via modern inclusions, such as suspended bits of pulp, purées, fruit, seeds, chewy jellies and enhanced ice cubes.

TRY THIS

  • Brunch Sunrise Quencher: Coconut “milk” + mango nectar + red grape verjus swirl + Aleppo chile flakes + bullet ice
  • Maine Seaside Limeade: Housemade limeade + frozen cranberry-kelp cubes

MENU SIGHTING

Spring Fling: Seedlip Garden 108, house-infused coriander simple, lime, muddled snap pea, muddled cucumber slices and celery bitters
Deluxe Bar & Grill, Seattle

6

FERMENTED BEVERAGES

As gut health becomes a bigger consumer priority, fermentation makes bigger headlines, moving beverages that feature fermented ingredients into the limelight. Blending mindful choices with distinctive flavors can help differentiate menus in this competitive space.

TRY THIS

  • Cocoa-Kefir Smoothie: Milk kefir + banana + dark cocoa powder + dates
  • Carrot Tepache: Pineapple tepache + carrot juice

MENU SIGHTING

Proxies, ‘Nightshade’: Sangiovese grapes, cherry, sun-dried tomato vinegar and rooibos
Lyla Lila, Atlanta

7

GOING GLOBAL

Use of spices and intriguing ingredients from the global pantry can drive flavor curiosity, inducing trial of new beverage offerings. Be sure to load these with sensory appeal, infusing memorable heating/cooling effects along with visual aesthetics and robust flavors.

TRY THIS

  • Pandan Shaker: Coconut cream + pandan + green apple juice + lemongrass syrup
  • Masala Lemonade: Housemade lemonade + masala spice blend + fresh mint sprig

MENU SIGHTING

Rain Priest (agua fresca): Watermelon, chipotle and mint
Kachina Cantina, Denver

8

“SNACKS”

A rise in between-meal snack beverages confirms the evolution of menus seeking to serve the active lifestyle habits of consumers throughout the day. Small-format, fuel-up beverages are well-positioned to deliver delicious on-the-go convenience.

TRY THIS

  • Mini Butternut Shake Snacker: Vanilla almond “milk” + orange juice + roasted butternut purée + cinnamon + clove
  • Mini Coffee Snack Sipper: Oat “milk” + espresso + hazelnut-chocolate spread + Greek yogurt

MENU SIGHTING

Super Seed: Strawberries, cherries, beets, CP apple juice, peanut butter, flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and pea protein
E+Rose, Nashville, Tenn.

9

SMOKE

Raise the beverage bar with smoke, leaning on it as a high-impact flavoring with unexpected subtleties that impart a sense of adventure. Paired with sweet flavors, smoke-enhanced beverages deliver big on craveability.

TRY THIS

  • The Vermonter: Ginger beer + fresh apple cider + smoked maple whipped cream
  • Southern Blossom: Dry hopped sweet tea + peach nectar + smoked ice cubes

MENU SIGHTING

Forestier: Wilderton Earthen, The Pathfinder, apple, sultana, walnut, honey and madrona-smoked salt
L’Oursin, Seattle

10

FUNCTIONAL HYBRIDS

Natural, better-for-you beverages present opportunities to connect with consumers who prize health benefits. Enhanced-function beverages promising improved mental clarity, boosted immunity or support for physical agility are certain to hit that purchase-intent sweet spot. Look to water, coffee and tea as ideal delivery vehicles to pair with a wide range of ingredients.

TRY THIS

  • Prickly Intellect: Coconut water + prickly pear-lime + ashwagandha
  • Procha Chiller: Pea protein + chilled vanilla-matcha latte + pink Himalayan salt

MENU SIGHTING

Golden Girl (by Vic Tovar): Spicy ginger, turmeric, cayenne, honey and collagen peptides
The Crest, Columbus, Ohio

About The Author

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ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 30 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and owning the culinary consultancy ATE (All Things Epicurean) since 2009. Based in Nixa, Mo., ATE has an energizing passion focused on flavor innovation and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness. Rob is also a regular contributor to Flavor & The Menu. [email protected]