US restaurants altering beverage menus

Posted by James Ferre on 12th August 2008

Limited-service restaurants have reduced the number of beverage items on their menus compared to last year to ensure maximum profitability, reports foodservice consultants Technomic in the new Beverage Consumer Trend Report.

The greatest drop occurred in customised beverages like specialty coffees, teas and smoothies. At the same time, there has been a corresponding increase in limited-time only (LTO) beverages.

“Limited-service operators are rationalizing their offerings to focus their regular beverage menus on the most profitable, popular and unique drinks,” said Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of Technomic Information Services. “They’re introducing new, innovative beverages through LTOs, rather than bulking up their everyday beverage menus with long lists of specialty drinks.”

On the other hand, Tristano noted that full-service restaurants, which tend to focus primarily on traditional meal accompaniments such as iced tea and soft drinks, had a modest increase in the total number of beverage items. One particularly strong area of innovation was in so-called mocktails, typically featuring lemonade in combination with other fruit flavors.

Technomic’s Beverage Consumer Trend Report combines data from extensive quantitative consumer research, menu analysis from its proprietary MenuMonitor database and restaurant data from its Top 500 Report to generate fresh and timely insights into the non-alcoholic beverage segment.

Other findings of note included:

* Consumers are drawn to the terms “100 per cent fruit juice” and “natural ingredients” when dining out. Nearly four out of 10 consumers (38 per cent) said that seeing the term “100 per cent fruit juice” would make them more likely to order it and about one-third (32 per cent) indicated the term “natural ingredients” would increase purchase probability.

* More than half (57 per cent) of consumers aged 18-24 reported purchasing food or a beverage from a higher-end fast-food restaurant in the past month, compared to an average 30 per cent across other age groups.

* Consumers are still strongly motivated by health considerations when dining at a foodservice venue. The top two beverages they believe should become a larger part of their diets are plain bottled water (35 per cent) and tap water (31 per cent). Almost half of consumers (44 per cent) said they should be drinking fewer regular carbonated soft drinks.

* 36 per cent of full-service restaurants and 34 per cent of limited-service restaurants had bottled water on their menus as of the period ending December 2007. The research also shows that not all operators that offer bottled water include it as a branded menu item.