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The continuing popularity of beverages intended to strengthen the immune system is one of the lasting impacts of coronavirus. Many restaurant customers are now predisposed to look for ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and probiotics when they scan a beverage list.
This is a great opportunity for operators to promote beverages that provide the immunity support consumers seek along with the excitement and flavor they crave. The universe of possibilities ranges from smoothies to juices, flavored iced teas, housemade sodas, sparkling waters and even cocktails.
And with cold and flu season not far off, it is time for operators to tune up some wellness- and immunity-building beverage offerings—such as a smoothie featuring an extra dose of healthy produce or a signature latte with a couple of pumps of liquid vitamin and mineral supplement added for good measure.
Innovating around immunity
Development of immunity-boosting products is ongoing at Smoothie King, based in Dallas with more than 1,100 U.S. stores. The pandemic drove a 44% increase in sales of Immune Builder smoothies, found in the Be Well Blends section of the menu.
This summer Smoothie King is reformulating its Immune Support Enhancer, a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that support a healthy immune system, with the addition of vitamin D, which is associated with proper immune function. The Immune Support Enhancer is a standard ingredient in Smoothie King’s Immune Builder Smoothies and is offered as an addition to any of its other smoothies.
“People definitely have a heightened awareness of staying healthy and having a strong immune system,” says Rebecca Miller, chief marketing officer of Smoothie King.
Two of the brand’s popular smoothies are the Immune Builder Mixed Berry, which is made with bananas, strawberries, wild blueberries, raspberries, fruit juices and almond milk; and the Immune Builder Veggie Superfood, a combination of organic spinach, kale and carrots with bananas, dates, electrolyte blend and apple-pineapple juice blend.
In addition, Smoothie King is developing a new product this year aimed at gut or digestive health that will be formulated with prebiotics, probiotics and fiber. Ingredients like those are believed to benefit the myriad of healthful microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract that regulate immune response as well as digestion and many other bodily processes.
“When we look at trends in health and wellness, we see people being very aware of the importance of good digestive health,” says Miller. “That’s why we felt it was necessary to do something in that space.”
Trends on the menu
In restaurants, menu items with “immunity” or “immune” callouts have risen 24.1% in the past four years, although they are still rare and found on only 1% of menus, according to Datassential research. The ingredients most paired with immunity claims on menus are ginger, lemon, orange, turmeric and apple. A few other items, such as spirulina, bee pollen, elderberry and raw honey, have trended up in recent years on a small percentage of menus.
Although operators can blend their own ingredients to create healthful elixirs, some may appreciate the convenience and labor-efficiency of using a liquid nutritional booster with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Adding just a pump or two to a lemonade, iced tea, hot or iced coffee, juice, sparkling water or cocktail improves nutrition without changing the beverage’s flavor profile.
The power of plants
The demand for immune-supporting beverages parallels another trend on the rise—consuming more plant-based foods for better health. In the 2022 Plant-Forward Opportunity Report by Datassential, 32% of consumers surveyed say they seek long-term disease protection in plant-based foods.
Here are some ways operators are leveraging plant-based ingredients in alcohol-free beverages and cocktails:
- The Passion Fruit Cooler at Laser Wolf in Philadelphia combines passion fruit, lime, orange and cilantro.
- Skinny Lemonade + Blue Butterfly Iced Tea at Lemonade fast-casual eateries in California adds blue butterfly tea, which is thought to have health benefits, to lemonade to create a vibrant blue color in a fresh, sugar-free refresher.
- You’re So Cool, a specialty of High Five Rooftop Bar in Oakland, California, is a mélange of vodka, elderflower, mint, cucumber and soda.
- Atlantic Love at Atlantic Grill in New York City is a signature cocktail featuring sour mash whiskey, passion fruit, elderflower liqueur, maraschino cherry syrup and egg white.
- So Fresh & So Green at Julep in Houston combines Irish whiskey with aloe liqueur, arugula, black pepper and lemon.
There is a large base of customers mindful of the importance of a strong immune system. Operators who offer them flavorful beverages with immune-boosting attributes stand to win their regular patronage.