Alternative refreshers shine in corporate dining

From Kraft Foodservice.

Employees of a medical technology company near Chicago are embracing noncarbonated, sugar-free refreshment beverages and moving away from carbonated soft drinks, following a trend that has been gaining steam nationwide in recent years.

“There are some diehards who have to have a Diet Coke every morning,” says Scott Gannon, Sodexo general manager of Café 1717 at Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics in Deerfield, Ill. “But as people change their attitudes toward health, we are seeing more of them move to noncarbonated alternatives.”

The selection includes beverages like Crystal Light, Snapple, Honest Tea, Gold Peak Tea and Vitamin Water. They appeal “to people who want to be a little healthier and who don’t want all the calories in a 20-ounce soft drink,” Gannon said. “But they want something with flavor. They think water is too boring.”

Gannon adds that although bottled carbonated beverages are still the overall sales leaders at the cafe, the noncarbonated, better-for-you alternatives are gaining momentum, particularly among the younger demographic in the 400-employee building.

That parallels the dynamics of the beverage market. Beverage Marketing Corp. reported that carbonated soft drinks remained by far the largest liquid refreshment beverage category in 2010, but they continued to lose volume and market share. In fact, volume declined by 0.8% from 13.9 billion gallons in 2009 to 13.8 billion gallons in 2010 and market share dropped from 48% to 47%. In contrast, premium beverages such as ready-to-drink tea and coffee, sports beverages and energy drinks “displayed particular vibrancy,” as the research firm put it.

To merchandise those noncarbonated refreshers, Café 1717 has set up a wellness beverage area. It comprises a dedicated cooler for bottled teas and waters, a filtered water dispenser and a Crystal Light bag-in-box dispenser using high-ratio liquid concentrate. Thanks to the liquid concentrate, employees no longer prepare Crystal Light manually from powdered mix in an old-fashioned bubbler, reducing labor and mess and ensuring consistency.

“Our customers appreciate the consistent taste because there are no mixing errors from day to day,” says Gannon. “That consistency is huge. It’s what people expect from our café in general.”

Two small-footprint, dual-spout dispensers offer four flavors: Crystal Light Lemonade, Wild Strawberry Energy, Cherry Antioxidant and Raspberry Ice. Each is sugar free and has only five calories per eight-ounce serving.

The new branded dispensers have a look that is far more clean and contemporary than the dated bubbler that was formerly used. “People think that is old, while the bag-in-box dispenser is fresh and clean,” Gannon says.

Each of the flavors has its fans, in some cases for reasons that go beyond taste, refreshment and low calories. “Wild Strawberry Energy has that little additional energy boost that some people are looking for,” says Gannon. And with the value of antioxidants a topic in nutrition today, Cherry Antioxidant appeals to some employees as well.

Installing the bag-in-box dispenser was simple using the existing water line from a soft drink machine. No electricity was necessary because the beverage is dispensed by gravity. After a bag-in-box of liquid concentrate is depleted in about a week and a half, it takes just a moment to replace it with a new one. Cleaning the dispensers is quick too, with just a brief cycle. Furthermore, the bag-in-box system is not only more profitable than bottled beverages, it’s also more sustainable, because it creates less packaging waste.

“It is really easy to use and train staff to use,” says Gannon. “We have had nothing but praise for the product and the way the dispensers work.”