Beverages are getting an overhaul this Spring, bringing fresh flavor combinations and unique drink fusions in hopes to satisfy the 82% of consumers who are willing to try new flavors, as stated in Mintel’s Innovation on the Menu: Flavor Trends US 2014 reportHere’s a look at the major themes in non-alcoholic beverages for Spring 2015:

1. Consumers crave dessert and cold pressed coffees

Dessert coffees continue to grow in popularity as 55% of consumers seek out specialty items even when they know they are not healthy, according to Mintel’s Limited Service Restaurant (LSR) Specialty Shops – Snacks, Beverages & Desserts US 2014  report. In fact, the majority of coffee consumed in the US is now specialty coffee, with leading flavors including caramel, chocolate, and cinnamon. Retailers like Tim Horton, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks are adding dessert specialty coffees to their menus including salted caramel, flan, tiramisu, and ice cream flavored lattes.

Cold pressed coffee, which includes iced and cold-brew, is also becoming increasingly popular among coffee drinkers this season. Starbucks recently added cold-brewed coffee to its menu despite the fact that it requires a labor-intensive process. Meanwhile, Dunkin’ Donuts added new Coolatta Lite flavors appealing to the almost half of consumers seeking lower calorie coffee with natural sweeteners. Chick-fil-A has partnered with Thrive Farmers Coffee, to offer a socially responsible iced coffee that is on point with the 21% of consumers that place ethical and health claims among the most important criteria when selecting a brand to visit.

2. Cane sugar is in; high fructose corn syrup is out

Another health-conscious move on the part of companies is to reintroduce sodas that contain cane sugar instead of artificial sugars. This provides alternative options for consumers that do not want high fructose corn syrup in their drinks. To this end, Jones Soda is offering custom designed fountain machines for their unique flavors, appealing to the 18% of consumers that place upscale, gourmet-like flavors/items among the most important criteria in brand selection. Meanwhile, Umami Burger is partnering with Pepsi-Co to provide Pepsi products with “real sugar”.

3. Lemonades and vegetables as a key ingredient

With warmer weather soon approaching, lemonades have hit the marketplace in full force. Operators like Chick-fil-A are taking lemonade a step further with unique fusions, combining it with soft serve ice cream to create Frosted Lemonades. The lemon beverage is available in regular and diet to appeal to the needs of almost one in 5 consumers wishing restaurants offered low/no-sugar juices, according to Mintel’s Breakfast Restaurant Trends US 2015 report. Similarly, Taco Bell and Snapple partnered to introduce Lemonade Freezes.

Vegetables are also making an appearance on drink menus this Spring, as an ingredient in teas, smoothies and coffees. Verve Coffee Roaster introduced an espresso drink with carrot-pineapple juice. As Mintel’s Ethnic Trends in Restaurants US 2014 report highlights, this type of combination may excite the 42% of consumers willing to try menu items with unusual ingredients. Smoothies with veggie ingredients continue be popular with consumers including Tropical Smoothie Café’s Avocolada smoothie that contains avocado, spinach, kale and coconut.

4. Coconuts find popularity as a non-milk substitute

In addition to veggies, the use of coconuts as an ingredient in beverages has been on the increase in recent months. This includes coconut-flavored drinks, as well as non-dairy milk substitutes, especially for consumers with milk allergies. This should help satisfy the 17% of consumers that wish restaurants offered non-dairy milk products. Peet’s Coffee & Tea introduced three coconut coffees; Gloria Jean’s Coffee added Caramel Coconut Macadamia Latte; and Starbucks added coconut milk as an option in all beverages. Additionally, Back Yard Burgers added Coconut Cream Milkshakes which uses traditional ice cream but is flavored with coconut syrup.

While seasonal trends bring excitement and reinvigorate the marketplace, there is still room for further innovation. One quarter of US consumers place signature items among the most important criteria in brand selection and half of consumers wish they could get seasonal flavors year round. Differentiation with signature offerings using unique flavors, ingredients and fusions presents a huge opportunity for brands heading into Summer.

Bethany’s work as a Foodservice Analyst is primarily focused on developing monthly foodservice-specific reports by utilizing custom consumer studies, market research, and menu information. Her most recent topics include Technology in Restaurants and LSR: Ethnic Concepts.

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