Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

The Arc of Non-alc: 10 Beverage Builders Tap into the ongoing potential of the booze-free beverage

At Boleo, an Argentinian rooftop lounge in Chicago, cherry cola is made in-house with cola nut, vanilla, orange and bergamot.
PHOTO CREDIT: David Szymanski

As nonalcoholic beverages continue to soar in popularity and to make a diverse impact on menus, it’s imperative that quality cues and leading formats exceed the expectations of today’s consumer.

Nonalcoholic beverages afford operators the opportunity to increase purchase occasions, especially with younger generations. These drinks are a huge growth area with health-conscious consumers—perhaps even more than is the case with food, as they play an increasing new role in our nourishing lifestyles.

They also spark the adventurous curiosity of this consumer, one who is often seeking to discover new drinks.

California Pizza Kitchen

The Fresh Strawberry Mango Cooler is hand-shaken and combined with Fresca and flavorful syrups at California Pizza Kitchen.

Beverage menu positioning is ripe for innovation. Drinks can serve as a meal replacement (a.k.a. drinkable breakfast, lunch or dinner), as a snack, as an immunity booster, for overall wellness and/or fitness goals—or simply as delicious refreshment. Here are 10 fresh takes for actionable innovation.

Unconventional Soda

Soda continues to get a makeover. A modern, craft-style approach to soda can diversify your operation and attract consumers looking for something fun or even healthy-ish, yet still reflective of what they have loved for so many years.

Sparkling Italian Soda Creamosa: Blackberry, strawberry, orange, blueberry or pomegranate, whipped cream
—Blazing Onion, multiple locations in Washington
Cherry Cola: Made in-house with cola nut, vanilla, orange and bergamot
—Boleo, Chicago

Try this

  • Huckleberry Hound Soda: Huckleberry soda + yuzu + apricots
  • Egg Cream: Seltzer + dark chocolate syrup + whole milk

Floral/Botanical

Of all the beverage trends, look to florals and botanicals to lead your future drink menus—these are next-gen recipe flavors. They are bright, deep, big-impact ingredients that add unique character and can transform traditional beverages.

Grapefruit, Hibiscus Sparkler: Fresh grapefruit juice, hibiscus syrup, lavender syrup, elderflower tonic
—Joséphine Wine Bar, Charleston, S.C.

Housemade Roasted Rosemary Lemonade
—Pie Tap, Dallas

Try this

  • Moringa Almond Refresher: Elderflower syrup + orange blossom water + almond milk + moringa powder
  • Holy Limeade Slushie: Fresh tulsi basil + lychee limeade + bullet ice

Funky/Fermented

Desire for wellness has shifted some attention to digestive health and interest in powerful probiotics. Kombucha, shrubs, switchels and kefir have paved the path for fermented drinks.

ACV Tonic: Apple cider vinegar, water, ginger, turmeric, lemon, honey
—Vibrant, Houston
Ginger & Berry Probiotic Kombucha on Tap
—Darwin’s Ltd., Cambridge, Mass.

Try this

  • Beet Kvass: Fermented beet juice + blood orange juice + cinnamon
  • Probiotic shot: Liquid from sauerkraut + cherry purée

Sparkling/Fizzy

The proven retail success of these vibrant beverages lends itself to housemade applications. The bigger play is the opportunity to showcase local and/or seasonal produce in your drinks. Tout your ingredients and heightened approach to freshness.

Fresh Strawberry Mango Cooler: Fresh strawberries hand-shaken with Fresca and mango/guava/ginger syrup
—California Pizza Kitchen, based in Los Angeles
Cool Hand Cuke: Dry sparkling cucumber soda, ginger-lemongrass syrup, lime juice
—The Henry, Las Vegas

Try this

  • Sparkling Cantaloupe Agua Fresca: Cantaloupe, frozen + jasmine + sparkling mineral water + agave + mint leaf garnish
  • Blackberry Spritzer: Fresh blackberries + orange-blossom honey + sage leaves + citrus sparkling water

Cross-Functional Blends

The rise in functional beverages reflects the increasing impact of consumer wellness needs. Hybrids that combine beloved attributes from different beverage categories are a menu-development sweet spot. Consider fruit and vegetable juices, teas, plant milks and energy boosters for inspiration.

Morning Meditation Fresh Juice: Orange, lemon, turmeric, organic ginger, agave nectar and beet
—First Watch, based in University Park, Fla.

Skinny Lemonade T’s: Classic or blood orange with blue butterfly pea-flower tea
—Lemonade, based in Los Angeles

Try this

  • Green Dragon: Coconut milk + matcha + clover honey + pickled ginger slices + mint garnish
  • Power Potato Smoothie: Roasted/chilled sweet potatoes + pear juice + maple syrup + hemp seeds + maca powder

Enhanced Waters

Water is the most consumed beverage in the world. Capitalize on this with the addition of simple, health-inspired trending flavor additions. We’re talking subtle hints that add light and natural refreshment. Look to culinary techniques as well as maple, birch, coconut, cactus, aloe, citrus and more.

Agua Fresca: Purple corn, pineapple, apple, cinnamon, sugar, lime
—Amara at Paraiso, Miami
Menta Miel: Raw honey, birch bark, CO2
—Colita, Minneapolis

Try this

  • Neptune Water: Coconut water + spirulina + bloomed chia and pomegranate seeds
  • Bark and Bite: Birch or maple water + ginger ice cubes + juice beverage

Plant Power

As plant-based beverage claims continue to rise, there is an opportunity to attract flexitarians who want a simple way to incorporate more plant-based options into their diet. Consider pulses, oats, nuts, grains and seeds to add intrigue to classic and trending beverages.

Some Like It Hot – Spicy Hot Cacao: Cacao powder, agave, housemade cashew cream, cayenne pepper
—The Juice Standard, The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas
Hummus Milkshake: Chickpeas, tahini, dates, bananas and almond milk, available in chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, butter pecan
—The Hummus & Pita Co., New York

Try this

  • Vegan Topper: Aqua faba + pure maple syrup
  • Harvest Cider: Hot apple cider + pure vanilla + Chinese five spice + foamed oat-milk topper

Sippable Cures

Whether psychologically comforting or nutritionally fulfilling, sipping medicinal style beverages hits all the macro wellness trend cues. Think outside the box on what you can reclassify as a beverage, and tap into the modern consumer focus on better-for-me, personalized nutrition.

Fungi Palmer: Cold-pressed lemon juice, Assam tea, Cordyceps, reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, monk fruit, erythritol
—Lifehouse Tonics & Elixirs, Los Angeles
Bone Broth: Filtered water, roasted bones butchered in-house, organic vegetables, simmered for a minimum of 48 hours and strained
—Blackbelly Market, Boulder, Colo.

Try this

  • Souper Summer Sipper: Puréed/chilled sea buckthorn + summer gazpacho
  • Bone Broth Elixir: Pure carrot juice + reishi mushrooms n-bone broth with collagen

Savory is the New Sour

Sour paved the road for savory, breathing new life into unexpected beverage experiences and modern flavor profiles. Evolved culinary palates of younger generations provide a platform for forward-thinking emerging beverages. Bold flavors can transport the guest experience.

Fizzy Hoppy Tea: Cold-brewed oolong, beer hops and magic
—G&B Coffee, Los Angeles
Matcha Horchata
—True Food Kitchen, based in Phoenix

Try this

  • Pickled Mango Lassi: Kefir + rose water + wildflower honey + cardamom + pickled mangos + chamoy drizzle
  • Gingersnap Iced Coffee: Cold-brew coffee + vanilla cashew milk + buckwheat honey + cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger/clove

Textured Coffee & Tea

A wide array of innovation—on-tap offerings, cheese tea, cold brew, carbonated, nitro-infused, airy frothed or whipped toppings, butter—has been tempting our palates. Consumers have a new interest in the texture complexity of their coffee and tea beverages, especially in fun formats.

Blanco y Negro: Cold-brewed iced coffee, espresso granita, housemade Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream
—Lamill, Los Angeles
Pistachio Rose Latte: Pistachio-butter base, rose water, honey syrup, steamed milk and espresso on top
—Demitasse, Santa Monica, Calif.

Try this

  • Silky Peanut Mocha: Espresso + peanut milk + dark chocolate + ghee
  • Peachy Keen Tea: Premium oolong tea + black jelly + peach juice + bits of fresh peaches

 

From the Mar/Apr 2019 issue of Flavor & the Menu magazine. Read the full issue online or check if you qualify for a free print subscription.

 

About The Author

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ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 20 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and, currently, owning a consulting company, ATE (All Things Epicurean), focused on flavor, menu and restaurant innovation. Based in Nixa, Mo., he has an energizing passion for food and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness.