Nothing says “summer” like a bright red slice of watermelon, and this this seasonal association has not been lost on recent menus, where the fruit or the flavor began flooding beverage menus in 2010 and continues to make a splash, with watermelon as a beverage ingredient growing from 6 mentions in Q2 2009 to 18 mentions in Q2 2012, according to Mintel Menu Insights. It shows up most often in cocktails, especially margaritas, where its sweetness helps balance tart lime and salt rims.

Ruby Tuesday was one of the first chains to make a big splash with watermelon in summer 2010, adding a line of watermelon-flavored cocktails including mojitos, martinis, sangria and margaritas, all with fresh watermelon garnishes. Other chains, including On the Border, and Outback Steakhouse also added watermelon to the margarita mix, while in 2011, Uno Chicago Grill used it to balance the tartness in a mojito featuring Stolichnaya Premium Vodka, Pallini limoncello, fresh mint, fresh watermelon and fresh lime juice. This summer’s batch of summer cocktail specials at T.G.I. Friday’s includes a watermelon mojito.

Alcoholic beverages aren’t having all the watermelon fun. Last summer, Genghis Grill’s Watermelon Kwencher line included Khan’s Watermelon Pineapple Sparkler, Khan’s Watermelon Arnold Palmer and Khan’s Watermelon Lemonade, and Smith & Wollensky featured a Watermelon Refresher. This season, Jamba Juice’s Watermelon Splash limited-time offer (LTO) combines the fruit with coconut water. At Krispy Kreme this summer, customers washed down donuts with a Jolly Rancher Chillers, available in three flavors: Green Apple, Watermelon and Cherry Orange.

Lately, old-fashioned soda fountains have come back into vogue. At Soda Shop in New Orleans, sodas reflect local tastes and specials have included pineapple-lemongrass and watermelon-mint flavors.

How is watermelon also affecting food menu trends?

The big, fleshy fruit is also trickling onto food menus, with Mintel Menu Insights showing mentions up 107% from Q2 2009 to Q2 2012 and showing up most often in salads. Lately, watermelon salads are going far beyond the typical fruit cup to bring in unexpected ingredients, like goat cheese and spinach to the salad plate. At the Boston-based Italian chain Bertucci’s, watermelon’s sweetness gets a savory edge when marinated in olive oil, paired with peppery arugula and feta, finished with balsamic glaze and topped with grilled shrimp. Uno Chicago Grill has featured a salad of watermelon, blueberries, spinach, red onion, goat cheese, basil and fat free vinaigrette.

Fine dining menus show watermelon’s sophisticated side. An August 22, 2012 article in the Chicago Tribune describes salad served at Cafe des Architectes in the Sofitel Hotel. The contemporary-styled French brasserie arranges a checkerboard design by “alternating cubes of meatier heirloom tomatoes in different colors with pieces of watermelon, accompanied by watermelon gelee made with juice from the fruit.” Watermelon vinegar adds a touch of acidity while other accents on the salad include a yuzu-avocado mousse and balsamic vinegar prepared to resemble caviar, sliced gooseberries and tomato “chicharrones,” or tomatoes roasted very crisp.

Watermelon is also a natural for dessert applications, and this summer brought a good crop of these treats, too. In June, Baskin-Robbins brought back Watermelon Chip sherbet. Jamba Juice’s Whirl’ns Frozen Yogurt (offered at locations in some Western states) featured Wildly Watermelon as a summer LTO. Pinkberry picked fresh watermelon pieces as one of its new toppings.

Mintel Insights

Plan Ahead: Watermelon’s strong growth in popularity means it’s time to plan ahead; growers, distributors and restaurant buyers should arrange ample supplies for next year.

Go Technicolor: Honeydew, cantaloupe and yellow-fleshed watermelon are ways to extend the trend and bring subtle taste and color to salads and drinks.

Offer Health Benefits: While watermelon is mostly water, it also packs good nutrition. According to the trade group the National Watermelon Promotion Board, 2 cups of watermelon chunks contain 25% of the daily intake of vitamin A and 30% of vitamin C. Watermelon also contains B6 (6%) as well as potassium (8%), phosphorus (4%) and magnesium (8%).

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