Beverages have always delivered high margins for restaurant operators. Now drinks in an emerging category—health-based beverages—are poised to deliver even more. However, restaurants operators will have to pick and choose carefully among a myriad of healthful beverage options. Here’s what the organizers of the inaugural Healthy Beverage Expo in Las Vegas say are the key trends to watch.
1. More function.
Experts note that beverage makers are combining ingredients to enhance and broaden the functionality of drinks. The result: so-called two-for-one beverages.
“We’ll see drinks touting brain health and bone health, as well as healthy energy drinks,” says Healthy Beverage Expo’s Kim Jage. “We’ll also see drinks that combine coconut and fruit. And we can anticipate more waters with electrolytes but no artificial flavors. Also, watch for healthy ready-to-drink beverages that add essential fatty acids, such as omega 3s.”
2. Better beverage sweeteners.
Expect to see more beverages that use natural sweeteners and flavorings in soft drinks. The idea is to shave calories while maintaining taste. No one foresees the demise of sugary drinks that use high fructose corn syrup. But a recent industry white paper, “7 Key Changes the Beverage Industry Must Accept,” predicts that “Americans will morph their taste buds into craving less-sweet beverages. As a result, sugars content in beverages will diminish to about one third of their present volume.”
3. Healthy alcohol-based beverages.
The forecast here calls for the addition of vitamins and other all-natural ingredients to wine and cocktails. Look for healthier alcohol options that have fewer calories and more organic ingredients. Some brands now tout the non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) status of their offerings.
4. Healthy beverages for the under-18 set.
This trend reflects a switch in the marketing focus of beverage manufacturers rather than the arrival of specific types of new products. "As parents, we're not offering soda; schools aren't offering soda; and basic juice and water can be a bore for this group," says Jage. "Our kids, like us, sometimes need functional beverages—a wake-me-up in a time-starved world, a relaxant for day's end. Adults have these products at leisure; teens don't. Also, the products out there that are suitable to teens are not marketed to teens—and the packaging is not teen-friendly. That will all start to change in 2013."
5. Gastronomically seasoned beverages.
Progressive mixologists have already raided the pantry to gather culinary ingredients (sea salt, ginger turmeric, etc.) for use in hip cocktails. Now these ingredients are starting to show up in non-alcoholic beverages, too. “We've certainly seen some culinary seasonings in beverage recipes, and we'll see more and more of these types of ingredients appearing in healthy beverages, on the product label and in marketing materials," says Jage. "Seasonings will also play a more important role in drink recipes as we trend toward bolder flavors. For those that drink a meal but dislike chalky protein shakes, these types of beverages will be appealing."
6. Healthy, better-tasting ready-to-drink coffee beverages.
At this point in the game, you wouldn’t think there would be any unaddressed niche left in the coffee segment. But the Healthy Beverage Expo team says to keep your eye on ready-to-drink coffee. “Most of the consumer market that buys RTD coffees want sweet flavor and a full mouthfeel,” they say. “Healthy RTDs usually don’t deliver, so manufacturers that focus on true, healthier RTD coffees will emerge victorious and dominate in this space.” That means introducing lower calorie, enhanced and all-natural versions of RTD coffee.
7. Healthy and simple lemonade beverages.
Lemonade has been a staple in the beverage category forever. It’s a healthy drink by default; the big change is that now it’s going to be marketed as such. “"This year, we will all be reminded of the health benefits of pure lemons --- high in antioxidants, aids digestion, rich in dietary fiber," says Jage. "As our meals in 2013-2014 incorporate richer flavors and spices, lemonade's sour profile will refresh our palate and, if made with real lemon, detox our body. Watch for more lemonade beverages over the course of the year."
What’s the key takeaway here for full-service operators? We’d say it’s that the market for healthy beverages appears poised to expand, and you’ve better have plenty of options—hopefully, high-margin ones—to offer customers who want these types of drinks.