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More healthful beverages replace sugary sodas

SHAPE July 2017

New generation of drinks includes lemonades, specialty iced teas, cold brew coffees and more.


With the sales of sugary, carbonated beverages continuing to decline in the U.S., nutrition-conscious consumers are making the shift toward drinks they perceive as being better for them.

In an effort to accommodate that sea change in beverage consumption, foodservice operators are menuing a range of more healthful, alcohol-free drinks including lemonades, specialty iced teas, cold brew coffees, house-made artisanal soft drinks, flavored and sparkling waters and low-calorie smoothies.

 “Overall, U.S. consumption of sugary beverages has been steadily declining over the past 10 years,” says Amy Myrdal Miller, founder and president of Farmer's Daughter Consulting in Carmichael, California. “Consumers have been bombarded with news reports about the potential negative health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages, and soda consumption has declined.”

“I'm seeing more clients opt for healthier, lower-calorie drinks while dining out,” says Torey Armul, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Many don't want to 'drink their calories,' which is a smart approach for weight control.”

Adding a scratch-made beverage option also provides a way for restaurateurs to stand out from the competition and offer beverages which have a healthy halo, says Joe Garber, marketing coordinator of Datassential research firm. “In fact, the term 'house-made' has grown 92 percent on non-alcoholic beverage restaurant menus over the past four years.”

Clearly, the nonalcoholic beverage landscape is changing, as demonstrated by the growing popularity of the following beverages:

Flavored waters. Agua frescas — Spanish for “cool waters” — and similar fruit-flavored waters are gaining in popularity as beverage options that are lighter, more refreshing and less caloric than sugary drinks. Waters — including mineral waters — can be made with ingredients ranging from cucumber and watermelon to mint and berries. “These are typically non-sweetened or lightly sweetened beverages,” says Myrdal Miller. “If the sweetness comes mostly from fruit, these provide a wonderful, enjoyable beverage choice.” 

Lemonade. Long a sweet mainstay of the South, lemonades are making their way around the country amped up with exotic flavors and freshly muddled fruit. “When fruit like strawberries are added, lemonade can become a great way to get more fruit in the diet,” says Myrdal Miller. “More than 75 percent of U.S. adults don’t consume the recommended amount of fruit each day. Getting more fruit through 100-percent fruit juice or by adding fruit — fresh, frozen, canned or dried/rehydrated — to beverages is a great way to easily boost intake.” An increasing number of restaurants are offering a choice of low-sugar lemonade to their guests.

Iced Tea. Recognized for its health benefits, natural ingredients and thirst-quenching qualities, iced tea is being consumed by consumers with greater frequency. Tea contains no sodium or fat, and is rich in flavonoids, which are linked to improved heart, gastrointestinal, bone and oral health. The fastest growing category of iced tea is tropical and fruit-flavored teas, which may be particularly appealing when these fruits are in season, says Datassential. Arlene Spiegel of Arlene Spiegel & Associates, a restaurant consulting company in New York, notes that there are hundreds of teas which can be brewed with botanical and spice infusions and which often give the operator a chance to create something unique. 

Also gaining in popularity is Matcha green tea, with its unique flavor and color, and Kombucha, a tangy non-alcoholic fermented tea — both of which purportedly contain health benefits. According to the Tea Association of the USA, 85 percent of tea consumed in this country is iced; at restaurants, that figure runs even higher.

Coffee. Cold brew coffee, nitro coffee (cold brew infused with nitrogen gas), coffee tonic (java and tonic water) — and even carbonated coffee soda are showing up on menus everywhere. Coffee is the top source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, not because coffee is a top source, but because Americans drink so much of it. Without added creamers, milk or sweeteners, coffee is a calorie-free, healthful beverage. There are not significant nutrient differences between cold brew and hot brew coffee, but there are flavor differences some people may notice, says Myrdal Miller.

About 10 percent of daily coffee consumers report drinking cold brew coffee in 2017, according to the latest National Coffee Drinking Trends study by the National Coffee Association, up from 1 percent in 2015.

Mocktails. Mocktails, which came of age in the ’80s, are in full swing again in the form of drinks like Mojitos, made by muddling lime and mint; and Margaritas, flavored with fruit purees and served frozen, says Spiegel. “These drinks are given the same beautiful garnishes as their boozy versions and appeal to kids of all ages.”

Artisanal Soft Drinks. Interesting house-made sodas with unique flavor profiles are filling some of the gap left by slumping sales of traditional carbonated soft drinks. “Some restaurants are creating soft drinks with watermelon juice, berry juice, cucumber juice and natural syrups, which are delicious, refreshing, and yield a higher price than the typical [sodas],” says Spiegel. They can be sugary, though, so restaurants may want to reduce the sugar content in their homemade versions to appeal to calorie-conscious guests.

Smoothies. While smoothies remain extremely popular, these highly sweetened drinks are not always a nutritional slam dunk, say health experts. The nutrient and health value of smoothies depends on their ingredient mix — for instance, one chain serves smoothies made with low-fat yogurt. If the smoothie is made with whole fruit, it can be seen as a flavorful, nutrient-rich beverage; on the other hand, many smoothies can contain added sugars and be calorie-heavy.

Over the past decade, sugary beverages have fallen steadily out of favor with many nutrition-minded consumers, only to be replaced by a new generation of favorites. “With so many choices of natural, healthier, functional beverages available in mainstream markets, the dining-out public want these options at their favorite restaurants, too,” Spiegel says.



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