10 Beverage Opportunities in 2016

While the total servings of foodservice beverages declined in 2015, the most expensive beverages—with an average price of $2.58—are growing rapidly according to a recent report by The NPD Group.1 In fact, 29 percent of customers said they would choose a restaurant based on the specialty beverages menued.1 This is good for operators and commercial chains as specialty beverages have higher margins and lead to more revenue, making adding on-trend beverages a must for any menu. With insights from across the U.S., Kerry Foodservice’s team of experts has predicted the top ten beverage opportunities for 2016 and created this list to help operators best leverage the trends.

  1. Fresh Herbs & Spices

  2. Due to “Restless Palate Syndrome” amongst adventurous eaters, operations have been forced to find more unique, bold flavors without too much sweet.2 As a result, beverages featuring fresh herbs and spices like lavender, rosemary, cardamom, juniper berries, anise and thyme are making appearances on beverage menus across the country.

    Simple syrups derived from herbs and spices are the perfect way to appeal to elevated tastes. They can be used in espresso-based drinks, lemonades, chai, cocktails and tea. For example, during the 2015 U.S. Barista Championship, the winner’s signature espresso drink featured juniper syrup.3 Likewise, Native Foods Café, a Chicago-based chain, serves strawberry lemonade with lavender.4

  3. Shim Cocktail
  4. In 2015, Flavor & The Menu named “low proof” (less than 12 or 13 percent alcohol) beverages or shim cocktails a top trend, and the popularity continues to grow.5 Imbibe magazine also noted this trend in their July/August 2015 issue.6 Although low in alcohol, these drinks are big on flavor, which gives operators a selling angle to explain the higher margins.

    Going a step further, operators can offer a flavor-forward mocktail menu. This idea was a highlight at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s premier cocktail festival in New Orleans. Levi Andersen, beverage product specialist for Kerry, attended this conference and said, “Restaurants should be happy to learn they can sell glass after glass of a mocktail with little-to-no spirits to a single guest without having to cut them off.”

  5. Global Fusion
  6. Ethnic mash-ups have been inspiring the street fare scene and are now finding their way into beverages. Eighty-two percent of Americans are open to exploring and sampling adventurous flavors,7 forcing operators to look beyond traditional influences for specialty beverage inspiration. From the Australian classic flat white to horchatas popping up on menus across segments, evidence for the growing popularity of global coffee drinks is prevalent.

    A few chains are already starting to merge global influences together in innovative ways, and other companies are sure to follow suit in 2016. A great example of global fusion that is gaining popularity is a New Orleans inspired Vietnamese coffee. This drink layers sweetened condensed milk with cold brew iced coffee and chicory-infused simple syrup.8

  7. Tea Time
  8. Tea continues to grow in popularity with the U.S. total wholesale value sold reaching 10 billion dollars last year—up fivefold from 1990.8 Millennials preference for tea’s increased health benefits10 is a large factor in the ascending sales with 42 percent preferring tea and 42 percent preferring coffee.9

    From matcha, tea lattes and cambrics to chai, kombucha, cocktails and on tap options, the creative applications are endless. For example, the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore serves a London Fog (Earl Grey Latte). By calling out the familiar tea ingredient and pairing it with a familiar drink like a latte, the beverage becomes approachable to the average consumer.

    “Like the London Fog, The Blended Matcha Salted Caramel Chai drink was designed to be an approachable transition into matcha tea,” says Andersen. “Using a blender to mix the ingredients into a frothy treat helps fully blend the grassy, bitter matcha taste with the sweet caramel chai. You can pour it over ice or heat it up.”

  9. Fermented Drinks
  10. Fermented foods have long been popular, and now, many operators are taking the same cultured properties and translating them to beverages.11

    What exactly is fermentation? A process, built under carbonation, that lowers the pH of drinks creating an environment unfriendly to bacteria.11 And it’s being used to create specialty beverages such as: shrubs, switchels, drinking vinegars, kombucha, fermented sodas and water kefir.

    “[They’re] a great way to bring more flavor to different parts of the menu. Cocktails and mocktails are the obvious choice when it comes to introducing consumers to this new beverage trend,” said Daniel Campbell, research & development chef at FoodIQ. However, he went on to say the trend could easily be incorporated into other beverages such as: “granitas with switchel or kombucha and a dairy kefir base for a more health-halo’d milkshake.”

  11. Smoked Citrus
  12. Smoked citrus is set to catch fire in 2016. Grilling citrus creates a brilliant, yet unexpected, sweet and smoky flavor that makes a great addition to any beverage such as tea, lemonade, cocktails and mocktails. It not only boosts craveability, but it also extends the seasonality of citrus beyond the typical summer season.

    “We’re seeing smoked, charred and grilled citrus as a big trend in beverage development,” says Cathy Holley, publisher and editor-in-chief of Flavor & The Menu. “The flavor transformation from applying high-heat methods to citrus is significant, with the sour profiles being balanced by a notes of sweet caramelization and savory smokiness. These techniques give customers an unexpected boost of flavor while providing brilliant signature flavor-building opportunities for beverage programs.”

  13. Bubbling Beverages
  14. Hand-mixed sodas continue to popularize and evolve with consumers’ elevated palates. In fact, craft soda was one of the top trends at the 2014 Fast Casual Executive Summit, and it’s not showing signs of slowing down.12 Restaurants are experimenting with new, fresh ingredients like rose petals, lavender, tarragon, celery, cold brew and tea.12 Jones soda even launched a new hand-mixed soda dispenser at the 2015 NRA Show—perfect for high-volume operations.13

    From coffee tonics to carbonated teas and natural sodas, bubbling beverages go beyond the sugary sodas of the past. A great example is Cannonborough Beverage Company of South Carolina, who is in charge of servicing more than 50 restaurants in the region with natural, seasonal sodas in “Brite tanks.”11 Owner Mick Matricciano told Imbibe magazine, “Our goal is to create sodas that grow up with you.”

  15. A Season for Every Ingredient
  16. According to a survey of chefs by the National Restaurant Association, locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce and environmental sustainability are the top three table-service menu trends for 2015.14 The farm-to-table trends translate to the glass as the consumer demand for seasonal ingredients grows in 2016.

    The focus is on seasonality with local sourcing and the use of real ingredients. Feature vegetable or herb-infused liquors in seasonal cocktails and utilize craft distilleries, breweries and regional roasters for an efficient way to menu this trend without straining resources.

  17. Creating a Buzz
  18. More and more restaurants are adding value and creating buzz around their beverage menu by elevating the presentation of each cocktail. They do this by upgrading glassware, paying closer attention to garnishes and using theater like smoke, fire or staff interaction.

    The Build-Your-Own Mimosa Board at the Aviary Café in Springfield, Missouri, is the perfect example. It comes with oranges for customers to juice themselves creating mimosas with fresh, hand-squeezed flavor. This way, customers get an experience and the freshest mimosas for miles.

    Likewise, The Coffee Wall at The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. allows customers to choose and pour their own hot and cold brew coffees.15 Allowing customers the freedom to sample, choose and mix their own coffee to their liking adds an element of excitement and comfort.

  19. Cold Brew
  20. Cold brew coffee comes from slow steeping for about 8-20 hours in room temperature water, deepening the rich flavor and smoothing away unwanted acidity and bitterness. Although it can be a lengthy process, many chains have found creative ways to incorporate this on-trend beverage.

    New formats of this cool drink have also quickly evolved like nitro coffee—cold brew infused with nitrogen—that has a creamy consistency, similar to that of dark beer. Packaged cold brew coffees come in a can allowing operators to serve delicious cold brew with minimal effort. 16

    It’s also being served on tap. La Colombe Café created a coffee and milk drink served out of a tap called the Draft Latte.17 This creamy, naturally sweet beverage can be enjoyed on its own or on top of cold brew to create a Pure Black and Tan cold pressed coffee drink.

Menuing on-trend beverages creates countless opportunities for restaurant chain operators. With these top 10 trends from Kerry’s Beverage Innovations Team, operators will see lots of big wins in 2016.

“As preferences with beverage offerings continue to evolve, we look to our beverage lineup to be comprised of relevant choices for our guests based on their taste and lifestyle preferences,” says Andrew Selvaggio, vice president of research and development for Smashburger. “The most important aspect of new beverage trends is to know who your costumers are and create meaningful and innovative products to fit their needs. This combination of reading into trends and adapting them to your operations is imperative to success in the fast casual space.”


  1. NPD Group, 2015
  2. 5 Flavor Trends to Watch in 2015, IFT, November 2014
  3. US Barista Champion, Sprudge Feb. 2015
  4. Lemonade Opportunities, NRN, June 2015
  5. 2015 Flavor Trends, Flavor & The Menu
  6. Imbibe Magazine, July/August 2015
  7. Flavor Trends U.S., 2014
  8. 2014 State of the Industry Report, US Tea Industry
  9. Coffee’s Millennial Problem, YouGov, Feb. 2015
  10. 12 Trends in Coffee/Tea, Flavor & The Menu, May/June 2015
  11. Imbibe Magazine, May/June 2015
  12. Fast Casual 2014 Executive Summit
  13. Craft Beverage Brand Jones Soda Makes a Play for Fast-Food Soda Fountains, Eater, Feb. 2015
  14. 2015 NRA Chef Survey, Central Penn Business Journal, July 2015
  15. Self-Serve Taps, Restaurant Business, Sept. 2015
  16. Stumptown Nitro Cold Brew, Sprudge, April 2015
  17. Draft Latte: Defined, The Daily Grind, Aug. 2015
  18. The Black Tie, Peet’s Coffee

Log In or Sign Up to add your comments to posts.

Current rating: 0 (0 ratings)

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.