Sponsored by Whirley-DrinkWorks!
In an effort to capture a share of the booming market in catering, delivery and takeout, chain operators are leveraging packaging advances that make to-go beverages more convenient both for the boardroom and the home.
These cutting-edge advances include flexible bags for carbonated and noncarbonated beverages, bag-in-box packages for coffee, and glass and metal to-go vessels for draft beer — dubbed growlers and crowlers, respectively. Operators are promoting group beverage offerings like those via dedicated catering menus, through their websites and by direct sales suggestions to patrons.
This generation of new packaging helps to maximize beverage profits in off-site foodservice. “It’s common knowledge in catering — and really almost everywhere in the restaurant industry — that beverage has an easy upsell ability and good profit margins as an add-on,” says Todd LeBlanc, national director of catering at Mellow Mushroom, a casual pizza chain based in Atlanta with about 200 units.
Expanding catering efforts
LeBlanc is at the helm of the chain’s first national catering program, which systemizes and expands the catering efforts of its franchisees. Mellow Mushroom's colorful new Catering Reimagined menu features the chain's famed pizza along with new chef-driven sandwiches, salads, appetizers and desserts, plus beverages by the gallon — all popular offerings among corporate catering clients.
To maximize sales of iced tea and lemonade for catering, Mellow Mushroom uses the Whirley-DrinkWorks! DrinkBag, a flexible, gallon-sized bag that is easy to store and transport, and is printed with attention-getting branding. To LeBlanc, it is a distinct improvement over the rigid, bulky, hard-to-fill milk jug that caterers often use. “It made sense to me to go with this product,” says LeBlanc. “It actually works out perfectly in the long run.”
- Better use of space. “Milk jugs take up what would be three racks of dry storage in the store,” says LeBlanc. “But the DrinkBag hardly takes up any space at all.”
- Improved branding impact. Mellow Mushroom worked with Whirley-DrinkWorks! to splash eye-catching, full-color, customized ice cube imagery and the Catering Reimagined logo on the exterior. “I wanted it to look like a big jug of iced tea,” says LeBlanc.
Looking ahead, LeBlanc anticipates a switch from 2-liter bottles of carbonated soft drinks to sodas in DrinkBags for Mellow Mushroom catering. “I'd much rather have soft drinks in that bag with my logo on it on a catering buffet than a 2-liter bottle that has no life afterwards,” says LeBlanc.
That move would also reduce cost significantly because the DrinkBags would be filled from the soft drink fountain. And again, space would be saved. “Four bags fit securely in a single milk crate and you can stack them,” says LeBlanc. “But a 2-liter bottle is just an awkward stepchild that doesn’t fit well anywhere and constantly causes problems with delivery.”
Another future amenity for Mellow Mushroom catering clients may be fresh draft beer sealed in crowlers at restaurants in places where local alcohol regulations permit.
Efforts like those by Mellow Mushroom and other operators are taking place amid a market for delivery and takeout foodservice that is booming at the expense of restaurant traffic. “It’s apparent in general that walk-in, dine-in business is down,” says LeBlanc. “I think everyone is looking for a way to bridge the gap.”
Millennials drive changes
Chalk that up to a crop of consumers — especially millennials — enjoying many new ways to eat, shop and consume entertainment at home. The burgeoning world of digital ordering and third-party delivery services brings them anything from fast food to haute cuisine while they binge watch streaming video.
The NPD Group, a market research firm, reports that nearly 50 percent of dinners purchased from restaurants are consumed at home. “The most popular place to eat out this year will be our home,” says NPD restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News.
Not surprisingly, many restaurant chains have delved into mobile ordering and delivery. Examples include fast-casual players like Shake Shack and Qdoba, coffee and bakery brands like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera Bread and sandwich mavens like Subway and Which Wich — plus a host of QSRs.
Showcasing signature beverages
A chain with a long history of promoting its signature beverage to-go is Lexington, Ky.-based A&W Restaurants. “Guests know us for our root beer, first and foremost,” says Sarah Blasi, A&W vice president of marketing. “We make it fresh in the restaurants and it has always been a strength of ours.”
About 140 A&W restaurants that sell bulk root beer to-go, out of a total of 640 domestic units, use the Whirley-DrinkWorks! DrinkBag with its bold A&W logo imagery rather than milk jugs. It takes up much less storage space than the jug and has a wider mouth for quicker, easier filling, says Blasi, adding, “And from a marketing perspective, it is probably the most impactful piece of packaging in the restaurants.”
“Root beer has a great penny profit,” says Blasi. “So we love to sell bulk root beer.”