Millennials come in for the cold

iced coffee

From Café Bustelo.

Trending on menus, iced coffee is leading the pack of chilled beverages on foodservice menus. The growing popularity of options such as these is, in large part, driven by younger consumers such as millennials and Gen Z. As warm weather arrives, new takes on cold brew, nitro coffee and icy flavored coffees will pay off, as patrons continue to seek out novelty and premium experiences.

The millennial desire for cold coffee beverages is a major business opportunity for noncommercial operations as well as restaurants and coffee shops. In Technomic’s 2016 Beverage Consumer Trends Report, more than a third (34%) of millennials said they have consumed cold/iced or blended coffee that was either dispensed or made from scratch in the last month, compared to just 26% of all consumers. And 21% of millennials said they have consumed bottled or canned cold/iced coffee in the past month, compared to just 14% of all consumers.

Yet there is an important distinction between the trendy cold brew coffee that millennials favor and traditional iced coffee made by simply chilling hot brewed coffee. Purists say that brewing with hot water extracts components that taste bitter and acidic in iced coffee. In contrast, cold brew is smoother, less acidic and higher in caffeine. It is made by soaking ground coffee in water, usually at ambient temperature, for 12 to 24 hours, then straining off the grounds. As a painstaking, arguably artisanal, premium beverage with a story to tell, it is right in the millennial wheelhouse.

Fast, easy-to-serve cold brew on tap has become a core menu item for many specialty coffee bars and shops that serve young adults. Even trendier is nitro coffee—cold brew infused with nitrogen gas—on tap. The latter has a foamy head like beer and a smooth, naturally sweet taste that appeals to the millennial yen for premium beverages and novel experiences.

For a sense of what might be possible with cold brew in a C&U, corporate dining or sports/recreation setting, consider the new Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea in Chicago. It features eight taps for seasonal cold brew and nitro coffee from local and national roasters, along with other trendy beverages like matcha, sparkling tea and kombucha.

Another trend is the increasing number of flavored iced coffee offerings. Nekter Juice Bar, a California-based chain, touts Vanilla Latte made with cold brew coffee, cashew nut milk, agave and real vanilla and Mocha Latte with cold brew, cashew nut milk, cocoa, coconut palm sugar and a hint of salt. What’s more, its Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle offers alcohol-free versions of popular cocktails like the moscow mule, manhattan and whiskey sour, using cold brew and various syrups, bitters and fresh lemon.

The next step in the evolution of cold brew will be the adoption of taps by more noncommercial and restaurant operators. First, they must overcome the operational challenges of incorporating kegged coffee into already-complex food and beverage operations. But with the millennial fascination with iced coffee going strong, they are likely to crack the code soon.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
sam kass talking menu directions

Sam Kass, former White House senior policy advisor for nutrition policy and executive director of the Let’s Move campaign, spoke at FSD’s MenuDirections conference in February.

Q: What’s one of the biggest food-related problems facing our country?

A: Obesity is the No. 1 threat to national security—20% of what we’re spending on healthcare is due to obesity. This isn’t a policy problem. The root of our challenge is culture, and what we value in our food. The healthy choice needs to be the easy choice.

Q: What are some important steps to modeling healthy eating and creating...
Menu Development
three sisters salad

“Everyone is doing Thai in college dining,” says Patrick McElroy, campus executive chef for Bon Appetit at Washington University in St. Louis. So he set out to “push the envelope” on ethnic cuisine and offer Native American dishes—a move that had support from the American Indian Student Association. But McElroy didn’t realize the challenge ahead. “I wanted to maintain the integrity and tradition of the food, but there were very few recipes,” he says. “I had to do a lot of research.” To develop the menu, he enlisted the help of chef Nephi Craig, founder of the Native American Culinary...

Managing Your Business
dancing fruit happy

When editor Jill Failla and I sat down to discuss ideas for this month’s cover story, data from FoodService Director’s sister company Technomic was the spark that lit the flame of conversation. She told me the most recent Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report had found that consumers are more willing to order and pay more for items they think are both healthy and tasteful. My questions: OK, what does that look like in practice? How does it factor into operators’ decision-making processes? And what the heck do we call that phenomenon?

After tossing around some ideas, we had it: the...

Menu Development
chili spaghetti

Iconic local dishes like Cincinnati chili may not be entirely healthy, but they are incredibly popular. Across the country, K-12 operators are finding ways to add these foods to their lunch menus while still meeting their nutritional requirements. How are they adapting popular recipes and bringing them to schools—and is it worth it?

Cincinnati chili has been a staple of Mason City Schools lunches for as long as anyone can remember. Located just outside of Cincinnati, the school system serves its chili in two traditional ways: covering a pile of spaghetti, or atop a cheese Coney dog...

FSD Resources