With summer now in full swing, more restaurant chains are expanding their beverage programs to feature new limited-time offers built around flavored teas and coffees, iced drinks, smoothies and ice-cream-based shakes.
In the last month alone, such quick-serve chains as Bruegger’s, Cinnabon, Dunkin’ Donuts and Friendly’s each have introduced new beverages. The reason, industry watchers say, is the obvious increased consumer desire for beverages in the hot summer, as well as strong sales, margins, and chance for market share grabs, especially from supermarkets and c-stores.
“Chains are definitely looking to make inroads in beverage-only stops,” said Harry Balzer, president of the Chicago-based NPD Group marketing research firm. “In the category of beverage consumption, consumers will have between four or five [drinks] in the course of a day.”
He added that restaurant chains also see beverages as an opportunity to steal share from retail outlets because restaurants can provide more customized options and various flavor profiles.
“Restaurant chains are saying, ‘I can get a part of that business by offering my own proprietary flavors.’ Blazer said. “Whether it’s in a supermarket, c-store or restaurant, everyone is participating. They all are looking at it as a piece of business they want to obtain.”
Scott Hudler, vice president of brand marketing for Dunkin Donuts, a division of Canton, Mass.-based parent Dunkin’ Brands, said offering a wide-ranging beverage program is a no-brainer for the restaurant operator. It’s easy to do and has the potential to produce an additional revenue stream, he said.
“From an operational standpoint, restaurants find it to be relatively easy to serve beverages versus other food items,” he said. “Delivering a fountain drink or a cup of coffee is less complex than, say, a burger or burrito that has multiple variables in it.”
He added that because equipment is better and easier to use, “A lot of places see it as a chink in their armor if they don’t have that option.”
Philip Smith, corporate executive chef for Burlington, Vt.-based Bruegger’s bakery-café chain, said that in the case of coffee beverages, operators are aware their customers are used to and expect a consistently excellent product during each visit.
“People expect a really decent cup of coffee,” he said. “On the retail side, with companies like Keurig [offering technology that] brews you a good cup of coffee in 15 seconds, restaurants know they have to rise to that, have to educate themselves and their staff and keep quality standards high.”
But it’s not just coffee that chains are investing in, operators say. Fresh brewed, flavored teas and lemonades are gaining in popularity, too.
At Willbraham, Mass.-based Friendly’s Corp., Andre Fuhr, the company’s corporate executive chef, said there is a focus on expanding its beverage program with a line of flavored coffees and iced-tea drinks, both of which are currently in test at its fast-casual express units in Brookline and Wareham, Mass.
“We recently expanded our iced-tea offers by adding three flavors — green tea, raspberry sweet tea and regular sweet tea,” Fuhr said “They’re still in test, but I can tell you that we’ve grown our beverage incidents by expanding our line of teas.”
He added that the coffee flavors include coconut, vanilla and hazelnut.
As far as lemonade is concerned, Bruegger’s Smith said offering a line of flavored lemonade this summer makes economic sense. The chain currently is offering plain and strawberry-flavored lemonades.
“Lemonade is one of those things you can do well and plainly,” he said. “It’s easily understood [by customers] and refreshing. There is something good and sentimental about it. It taps into a sort of food psyche.”
Following is a sampling of beverages available this summer at a variety of chains around the country:
• Lemonade Coolers, shaken and made with cane sugar, in classic and strawberry flavors at the 297-unit Bruegger’s fast-casual bakery-café chain.
• Chillattas frozen drinks, available in blueberry, pomegranate, acai berry and blackberry flavors , as well as a line of Lemonattas available in lemonade, srrawberry and raspberry flavors, at Cinnabon, the 570-unit, Atlanta-based quick-serve bakery chain
• Coolatta frozen drinks at Dunkin’ Donuts feature such flavors as blue raspberry and watermelon. Additionally, the chain is promoting its Mixology campaign, which allows customers to mix and match flavors to create customized Coolatta frozen drinks.
Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].