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An operator doesn’t have to serve hard core health buffs to profit from better-for-you beverages. The truth is --- healthful refreshers are winning favor with an expanding array of consumers.
In fact, as a sign of how beverage habits are changing, teas with functional benefits, such as antioxidant properties, are one of five notable coffee and tea trends for 2017, according to a blog by the market research firm Mintel. And even coffee has assumed a healthful persona. A National Coffee Association blog declared that “based on overwhelming scientific evidence, coffee is officially considered part of a healthy diet.”
Infused, Fermented, Brewed
Other on-trend, better-for-you options combine flavor, refreshment and healthfulness in one gulp. For example, Watermelon Fresca and Lavender Lemonade are signature beverages of the fast casual vegan restaurant chain Native Foods Café based in Chicago. Made in-house with fruits, herbs and lots of water, the drinks are displayed in the dining room in self-service dispensers.
Other operators are exploring flavored iced teas, kombucha, a fermented tea beverage rich in probiotics; matcha, an antioxidant-packed green tea; cold brew coffee and nutritional smoothies.
“In the last few years, as soda sales have consistently dropped, consumers have really gravitated toward better beverages that are lower in sugar and more functional,” says Mitch Grittman, product development manager of New Orleans-based Smoothie King, with more than 863 locations worldwide.
Smoothie King’s brand promise is “smoothies with a purpose,” Grittman says. Smoothies billed as fitness blends, intended for people who are toning up or building muscle, are high in protein and low in carbs. Lower calorie slim blends appeal to those who are managing their weight. Wellness blends with ingredients like plant-based protein and acai promise to strengthen immunity. And “take a break blends” flavored with fruits, juices, sorbet and frozen yogurt are tasty, sippable rewards.
A line of Coffee High Protein Smoothies introduced last year has become a hit for Smoothie King. The popular vanilla version, one of four flavors in the line, combines New Orleans-style cold brew coffee with whey protein, protein blend, turbinado, almonds and nonfat dry milk.
“These allow you to have a meal while you are drinking your coffee,” says Grittman. “You get a full load of protein, so you’re not just drinking coffee and crashing two hours later from low blood sugar.”
A line of limited time only Summer Hydration Smoothies launched last summer touted the natural hydrating power of coconut water along with vitamin C, potassium and fruits, in flavors like Watermelon Hydrator, Passionfruit Peach and Strawberry Mango Hydrator.
Handcrafted, Clean, Nutrient dense
Jar Bar, a fast casual restaurant slated to open in Northbrook, Illinois, this spring, is the outgrowth of founder and owner Karen Firsel’s penchant for serving fun, tasty fare in Mason jars and her perception of an unfilled niche in America’s suburban restaurant scene. The latter reflects a lack of restaurants serving quick, healthy and interesting fare for young adults with families who have migrated from the city.
“Eating habits are changing, and the suburbs are often overlooked by the more urban, sophisticated restaurant brands,” says Firsel, a former TV producer and lifestyle expert. “I want to fill that void.”
Jar Bar’s menu emphasizes handcrafted, clean ingredients, nutrient dense combinations and rich flavors, and includes vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free options. In its beverage offerings, it’s conspicuous for its lack of a carbonated soft drink dispenser. In its place is a trendy and flavorful iced coffee and matcha green iced tea on tap. The latter, prepared by a supplier, is unsweetened, allowing guests to add a natural sweetener like stevia at their discretion.
“You are going to drink something that we know tastes great and also works for you,” says Firsel.
Firsel likens the stimulation of matcha green iced tea to “a slow burn,” as opposed to the high flame of coffee. “For me it is not an over-caffeinated feeling. It is more of a fine-tuned release. Plus there are so many health benefits --- for your metabolism and your hair and your eyes and skin.”
Given the rising demand for healthful refreshers in restaurants, the interplay of nutrition and flavor promises to have a broadening appeal among consumers.
“We definitely have a mix of customers — people who have just finished a workout and those who just stop by for a quick, healthy snack,” says Grittman. “If [this behavior] is not completely mainstream, that’s the direction it is headed, full steam ahead.”