Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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Drinking in Flavor Bold, spicy, sweet, fruity—the leading flavors of on-trend beverage menus

Almond as a beverage booster is on the rise, thanks in part to the healthy halo and rich nuttiness it brings to drinks such as this banana, almond and Kahlúa frappe.

Today’s flavor-seeking diners often begin their quest for new taste sensations with a drink order. Beverages inform the dining experience from beginning to end, providing cues, complements and contrasts that enhance the culinary style of the particular establishment. Hot, cold, blended, with or without alcohol—beverages should be at the forefront of an operation’s strategic flavor plan.

Beverage flavors currently run the gamut from sweet to spicy and from down-home to exotic. For an overall trend snapshot, take a look at flavored vodkas. Many of the entries are designed to attract the all-important Millennial consumer. Sweet offerings abound, ranging from the layered Van Gogh PB&J to the many dessert-inspired Pinnacle vodka expressions, including Whipped, Strawberry Shortcake and Pecan Pie. On the spicy end are selections such as UV Sriracha and Stoli Hot, with its jalapeño bite.

Indeed, the clear spirit is a palette for creative forays into flavor experimentation, and flavored vodka provides something for everyone. Citrus and vanilla are familiar favorites, but consider the cult following of Bakon Vodka and the curiosity factor of Naked Jay’s Big Dill pickled-flavored vodka and Ivanabitch Methanol Vodka. Even with all the introductions, the largest portion of flavored vodka sales in recent years has been raspberry vodkas, followed by citrus expressions, according to Technomic’s Trends in Adult Beverage (TAB) analysis. Flavored vodka illuminates the importance of tracking what’s hot and happening, but also understanding what is truly trending—what flavors consumers increasingly seek out and return to when looking to quench their proverbial thirst.

Top 4 Trending Flavors

Based on analysis of MenuMonitor, which tracks 1,900 U.S. menus, the 2013 Flavor Consumer Trend Report and ongoing adult beverage research and analysis, Technomic has identified four flavors trending across both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.

Available in forms such as syrup, extract and milk, almond is a versatile ingredient that is on track with today’s health and flavor trends. The nut, recognized for its heart-health benefits and as a source of protein, also delivers a sweet, nutty flavor, thus hitting on both health and indulgence. Almond increasingly shows up in beverages at restaurants across the country. European-bakery inspired Le Pain Quotidien offers almond milk as a condiment for or ingredient in its specialty coffee and hot beverage offerings. Tapping into the housemade beverage trend, Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano presents almond syrup as flavoring for its Italian Cream Sodas. Epic Burger, the all-natural burger chain with seven locations in the Chicago area, includes almonds in its Milk & Honey Smoothie, which also features bananas, fat-free vanilla yogurt, skim milk and honey. The incidence of almond on beverage menus rose fastest in limited-service restaurant smoothie offerings, growing 54.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012. At the bar, almond is a go-to flavor for spirited hot coffee drinks, while amaretto brings rich nuttiness to specialty drinks. The Claim Jumper chain offers several drinks featuring almond, such as the blended Almond Mocha Rocha, including Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Disaronno Amaretto, Bols Butterscotch Schnapps, cream, caramel and chocolate.

The incidence of ginger rose 22.5 percent across all beverage menus at Top 500 restaurants, including both limited- and full-service concepts (in the fourth quarter of 2013 as compared to the same period the prior year). Ginger—available in fresh, dried, syrup, liqueur, and ginger ale or ginger beer formats—lends a spicy-sweet and familiar-yet-exotic note to drinks. Ginger can provide complement, contrast, or it can serve to balance a range of flavors, such as lemon, cucumber and peach. Long recognized as a flavor appropriate in tea-based beverages including chai, it’s now adding a kick to smoothies, juices, non-alcoholic refreshers and cocktails. Among the specialty juice offerings at the Mansion Restaurant at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas is Pineapple-Ginger Asian Pear, while seafood concept McCormick & Schmick’s combines ginger with grapefruit for a non-alcohol Spritzer. Although ginger beer is an integral part of the classic Dark and Stormy cocktail, ginger burst onto the cocktail scene when Domaine de Canton debuted in 2007. Ginger’s appearance on drink menus rose 9.4 percent in quarter four 2013 over quarter four 2012. Ten-unit BLT Steak recently added a Ginger Passion cocktail, showcasing Stolichnaya Premium Vodka, Grand Marnier, passionfruit and ginger infusion. The Liquid Market menu at Zed451, Tavistock Restaurant Group’s fire-grilled concept in Chicago, includes Ginger Bourbon Lemonade, featuring fresh ginger.

Artisan honey has taken hold on the culinary scene, and mixologists are tapping into the range of honey varietals to inform cocktails with nuanced notes of sweetness. A MenuMonitor comparison of the fourth quarter of 2013 with 2012 shows the incidence of honey on full-service restaurant menus rose 7 percent. The alternative sweetener, which also provides texture to drinks, appears not only as an ingredient, but also to rim glasses, which are then rolled in cinnamon or other spices. Housemade honey syrups, smoked honey and other applications extend honey’s versatility. Of course, the numerous flavored whiskeys involving honey are increasingly present in restaurant specialty cocktails. On the non-alcohol side of the menu, honey’s incidence in hot beverage selections at limited-service restaurants rose 20 percent; examples include the array of hot honey teas at Lollipop Coffee & Tea locations, including Honey Dew Milk Tea and Plum Honey Tea. Cold drinks involving honey are also emerging on limited-service restaurant menus such as at Pret A Manger, which offers Honey Tangerine Juice. The tea-and-honey combination continues to resonate. Half of consumers surveyed said honey is an appealing flavor for hot or iced tea; more women (55 percent) than men (44 percent) indicated a preference, according to the Flavor Consumer Trend Report.

Once the flavor of summer, peach is available year round thanks to syrups, extracts and purées, and drink pros are exploring the succulent fruit’s potential to impart flavor to their innovative creations. Often a flavored tea selection, peach is making its way into specialty drinks. The White Peach Palmer at Columbus, Ohio-based Bravo! Cucina Italiana combines white peach purée with housemade lemonade and iced tea for a new twist on the classic Arnold Palmer. More than half (54 percent) of consumers indicate peach is appealing for smoothie drinks, while 36 percent say the same for hot or iced tea drinks, according to the Flavor Consumer Trend Report. Behind the bar, peach is now making appearances in sangrias and specialty cocktails. At Bar Louie locations, the Peach Lightning involves Jacob’s Ghost White Whiskey, Dekuyper Peachtree, white peach purée, lemonade and cherries for a sweet-tart experience. The Island Rum Punch at 13-unit, fresh-focused Lazy Dog Café in Southern California combines Myers’s Platinum White Rum, coconut rum, orange, pineapple, peach and cranberry juices with Diamond Head Dark Rum.

Mango is not exactly a newcomer to the back bar—the tropical stone fruit’s sweetness is a go-to flavor in many a blended cocktail. Consumers and bartenders indicate increasing interest in mango as a flavor for cocktails, according to Technomic’s On-Premise Bar Mixer Marketplace study:

  • 25 percent of consumers would consider ordering a cocktail including mango, and there is high level of interest in mango as a flavor for juice-and-spirit drinks, margaritas, mojitos, martinis, daiquiris and sangrias.
  • 56 percent of bartenders are already using mango as a flavor in cocktails.
  • 33 percent of bartenders are interested in trying mango as a flavor in cocktails.

Cocktails that combine mango with other trending flavors include:

  • Mango Mint Gingerita: Milagro Silver Tequila, fresh lime juice, mango purée, mint leaves, topped with ginger beer
    Cantina Laredo, units nationwide
  • Beach Memories: A blend of mango, citrus and spiced rums, amaretto, Blue Curaçao, grenadine, sweet and sour mix with pineapple and cranberry juices
    Kahunaville Island Restaurant, units nationwide


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