3 beverage trends for summer menus

iced beverages

From Smuckers Foodservice.

Beverage consumption patterns have changed from tidal waves of carbonated beverages to small, steady streams of specialty beverages coming onto the market. Nowhere is this more apparent than in colleges and universities, where dining halls, cafes and convenience stores combine to offer a full array of cold-beverage options to a captive audience that is open to experimentation and tasting the next big thing.

Water, Water Everywhere

According to April 2016 research from Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) and conducted by Fluent Group, a Boston-based college marketing and insights agency, bottled water is the top beverage purchase among Gen Z college students, with 43 percent consuming it seven or more times per week. Forty-two percent plan to drink more water in the future. To capitalize on this opportunity and quench students’ thirst, operators can offer a variety of flavored or infused waters as well as specialty waters such as aguas frescas.

Ingredient Experimentation

Beyond water, younger consumers prefer highly flavored, custom-made beverages. This is a group who grew up with pumpkin-flavored lattes and drive-thru smoothies, and they are bringing these tastes to campus. For the past year, colorful, customized cold drinks at Starbucks have been appearing all over social media—and the brighter, the better. First, there was the "pink drink" made with acai tea and coconut milk. This buzz was followed by purple (blackberries), green (matcha tea and vanilla flavor) and orange (orange-mango) varieties.

This is the kind of ingredient experimentation that Matt Fasano, account director at Fluent Group, finds college students embracing. Some of the latest on-trend flavors include mango, pomegranate, peach and watermelon-and students want these flavors in natural forms. More than 40 percent read beverage labels on drinks regularly, with “all-natural” being the top descriptor influencing purchase decisions, according to Fluent Group. Half of students surveyed say they try to avoid artificial sweeteners, flavoring, preservatives and high–fructose corn syrup. Low–calorie, organic, vitamin–enhanced and zero–calorie are also important claims, and students are willing to pay a premium for better ingredients, says Fasano.

Beverages with a Buzz

“When the temperatures rise, iced drinks fly, and we need ice machines wherever drinks are served,” says David Bullock, assistant director of retail operations for dining services at University of Maryland. Both Fasano and Bullock see iced and frozen coffee on the rise. Bullock finds that some students come to campus with tastes for the latest cold-pressed trends and interest in local brands. Fasano says that dairy-free milks are also rising in demand, with soy, almond and coconut milks the first to emerge, both in plain and flavored varieties such as vanilla and chocolate.

Students are also interested in other forms of caffeination and energy boosts, according to Bullock. “I see specialty cold tea drinks and tea combined with lemonades or other ’ades‘ and fruit flavors are popular, and things like matcha are emerging. We plan to add more hand-crafted tea drinks next March,” he says.

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