The US beverage industry has taken a back-to-basics approach with selective, natural ingredients in everything from juice to alcohol, but this approach has been anything but boring. One exciting example of innovation in the beverage market is kombucha, a beverage that started out being sold in health food stores, but is emerging as a mainstream contender in retail and commercial restaurants.

As highlighted in Mintel’s 2016 Foodservice Trends, kombucha, a fermented tea that borders on the 0.5% alcohol threshold, is catching on in 2016. A crossover drink that’s nestled in the functional-tea category, kombucha appeals to multiple consumer preferences, with flavors combining to make it a stand-alone product, or being added to other alcoholic beverages to lend its health halo. Kombucha is touted for a variety of health benefits including detoxification, joint health, digestion/gut health and immune-boosting properties. In line with other beverages in the health category, such as cold-pressed juices and probiotic waters, it is the blend of flavors that is taking this beverage to the next level.

51% of US adults aged 25-34 drink kombucha soda

For example, Target now sells a kombucha soda brand called LIVE Soda, which is finding a niche with consumers who want an alternative to traditional carbonated soft drinks, offering flavors imitating traditional sodas from Cola to Root Beer. What’s more, according to Mintel’s Carbonated Soft Drinks US 2015 report, nearly one quarter of consumers already drink kombucha soda, including more than half of those aged 25-34.

Kombucha is still largely a retail-focused drink, but it’s starting to gain momentum in juice bars, coffee shops and other commercial restaurants, likely to gain attention from the 66% of consumers who like trying new/innovative coffee and/or tea drinks. Buzz from lifestyle food bloggers is creating awareness among consumers that don’t lean toward the extremes of a healthy lifestyle, but are open to something new

Larger chains are also jumping on board: Protein Bar launched two varieties of kombucha in select locations. Even grocery stores are starting to appeal to the trend, with Mariano’s providing kombucha on tap in select locations.

Within the health beverage category, kombucha is a leading example of how flavor, innovation and a sense of comfort with familiar products can drive a product from retail to a commercial restaurant setting.

Diana Kelter is a Foodservice Analyst at Mintel, specializing in Mintel Menu Insights. In her role, Diana takes a full-circle approach to foodservice trends by looking at various influences impacting restaurant menus.

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