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Beverages have been called the "holy grail of profitability." Their high-margins are reason enough for operators to experiment a little with broader offerings.
But there's much more to this trend. Restaurant visits are increasingly driven by beverages, and consumers want diversity — in the morning, for lunch, for a snack and late into the evening.
The worlds of fast food, casual food, fine food and even pizza are no longer defined only by center-of-the-plate entrées and creative sides. The beverage menu also is pouring into the spotlight.
In our newly published "2014 Beverage Trends" report — our first to focus specifically on drinks — we take a look at what trends operators are seeing in their restaurants and what they predict for the future for this critical menu component. In addition to the nearly 500 operators who took the survey, we polled 1,100 consumers to learn what they want, and how and where they want it.
Overall, consumers told us they want more coffee, tea and alcohol options from restaurants. For the youngest demographic — the Millennials — tea is as significant a driver as coffee. Consumers across the board said they want more tea options represented on menus, including sweet, flavored and iced.
Coffee remains a staple, however, and is especially important for consumers ages 35 and up. Additionally, consumers are warming up to frozen and iced coffee offerings. Lattes, cappuccinos and other espresso-based options are also gaining popularity, especially among the younger demographics.
Operators say they are more bullish about smoothie sales and consumers are seeking out more craft beer options. Smoothies have the "perceived healthy" halo and have also benefited as a meal replacement choice for those on the go. Craft beer has a social advantage, and tends to attract Millennials.
All indications show that soda sales, across demographics, are slipping, and operators' confidence about their rebound is low. Although it remains the most popular beverage listing by far, making up more than half of all beverage sales, operators expect soda to pull in closer to 39 percent of sales two years from now.
Overall, while many consumers haven't dramatically changed their beverage preferences as options have increased, a big handful are actively seeking out healthier options and more flavorful options than they were just two years ago.
The operator and consumer survey results are outlined in detail in the 2014 Beverage Trends report, and are complemented by commentaries from industry experts, including:
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