Drink Your Fruits & Vegetables

Orange and apple juice step aside. Who could possibly miss what's happening in the fresh juice section in the grocery store produce department? Clearly, something hip is happening.

Bottles and rows of mixtures resplendent with the likes of pomegranate, blueberry, acai, goji berry, passion fruit, guava and mangosteen juice prove that vacations to exotic locales along with news of health-imparting antioxidants have made a splash with consumers. And the trend has spilled onto menus.

Foodservice beverage options haven't been the same — from morning juice to evening cocktails — since the dawning of the understanding that fruit in its fluid state is a fountain of flavor, health and profitability. (It also looks good on restaurant nutrition-content listings.)

Pomegranate juice may have been the first glamorous fruit to flow into the limelight when a mixed-drink version, the POMtini, was declared the official drink of the 2004 Oscars.

Juice is a way to make exotic fruits available to the masses any time of the year. California, the leading U.S. grower of pomegranates, only has the fruit available fresh from October through January. Ah, but the juice. It's available year-round. Not only is it easier to consume as juice, it also can be blended with other popular fruits, such as blueberries.

And what about those exotic fruits even harder to come by in the United States, like mangosteen, goji berries and acai? Leave it to the entrepreneurs to make a way. After visiting Southeast Asia years ago and falling in love with the native mangosteen fruit, Adam Heller made it his mission to make mangosteen juice available in the United States. He formed the San Francisco-based company Adam's 100% Inc. and now sells 16-ounce bottles of 100% mangosteen nectar from his Web site (www.mangosteens.com [3]). Later, he added 100% goji juice.

Fortunately for foodservice, there are plenty of renowned juice suppliers willing to help with necessary research and development in coming up with custom juice blends for operators. For several years, Coca-Cola-owned Minute Maid has partnered with The Culinary Institute of America to develop specialty drinks for restaurants.

It's a match made in heaven for Denny's Corp., Spartanburg, SC, which has its eye on its breakfast menu and is walking hand-in-hand with Minute Maid's Specialty Beverage Group through the many juice possibilities. Already, mango juice is one of the most popular juices for the giant chain. Plans are to come out with a new line of juices by the end of the year.

The Rainforest Café, a wholly owned subsidiary of Houston-based Landry's Restaurants Inc., has partnered with cranberry king Ocean Spray to develop some limited-time-only fun drinks, including Cranberry-Rita and Cranberry Sunset.

Add to the mix the menu-consistent qualities of individually quick frozen fruits, and restaurants have easy access to fruit-drink ingredients.

Dole Food Co. Inc., Westlake Village, CA, owns more than banana trees and pineapple fields. With all its IQF fruit offerings, Dole works with beverage consultant David Commer of Commer Beverage, Carrollton, TX, to develop drinks for casual dining chains. Commer says he notices many more chains incorporating fresh fruit in mixed drinks, which allows them to better compete with upscale restaurants in the bar business. Muddling blackberries, raspberries or blueberries with other ingredients for the fresh-fruit benefit makes customers sit up and notice the flavor. It's the understood health benefits of fresh fruit that will keep the trend going for years to come.

For others, only fresh never-frozen produce will do, especially when the famous Santa Monica farmers market is nearby. That's the case for the new Copa d'Oro bar in that city. Guests can custom-order their drinks, which may include fresh herbs and vegetables and fresh fruits and berries — all ranging from savory to sweet and mild to spicy. This summer, guests will find freshly muddled apricot or passion fruit juice bringing a seasonal element to their potent potions.