Better-for-you beverages boom on college campuses

healthy beverage college

From WhiteWave Away From Home.

The health and wellness trend that’s sweeping the college and university market is about more than just better-for-you foods. It also includes healthier beverages.

For operators, there is tremendous variety in this wide-ranging category as well as opportunity to bolster sales and satisfy growing demand for exciting beverages beyond soda or tap water.

In fact, according to FoodService Director’s January 2016 Menu Trends Survey, only 1.4 percent of C&U operators predicted growth in carbonated soft drinks over the next two years, compared with an astonishing 50 percent who expected enhanced bottled water sales to boom. Operators also expected to see growth in smoothies (named by 41 percent of operators) and tea (25 percent).

Some of these types of beverages may also satisfy an underlying consumer desire for food and beverages that are free from hormones or artificial colors and flavors, as indicated by Technomic’s 2014 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. The report also shows that consumers equate healthy foods and beverages with such attributes as natural, unprocessed, organic, clean and real—many of which also describe the better-for-you beverages that are gaining sales traction.

Beyond that, with more college students embracing vegetarian, vegan or even flexitarian diets, demand for plant-based beverages such as soy milk, cashew milk and coconut milk is growing. These options also address concerns about lactose intolerance and about unwanted substances in dairy milk, without the empty calories or artificial flavors students want to avoid. The category is expected to post continued growth, especially as new varieties such as cashew milk and flavored soy-based creamers enter the field.

At Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, the old Boyd Dining Hall has been completely renovated into the multi-concept West Green Market District, designed to offer students an opportunity to stick to a nutritious—but also delicious—diet. One of the new options is Smooth Moves, the campus’s first juice and smoothie bar.

Located adjacent to a fresh-food market, Smooth Moves offers a variety of real-fruit beverages, available with and without protein powders and other supplements. These juices and smoothies are meant to be enjoyed as healthy meal replacements, rather than as dessert, to encourage students not to skip meals or turn to something unhealthy when they’re on the run and hungry. In addition, large market-style reach-ins provide access to dozens of different kinds of bottled beverages such as kombucha, flavored ice tea, fruit and vegetable juices, and more.

Here are some other ideas for offering healthier beverages on your campus:

  • Invite students to enjoy plant-based beverages by installing self-service dispensers for several different varieties and/or flavors
  • Stock hydration stations with water flavored with fruits and vegetables such as lemon slices, melon cubes, blueberries and muddled cucumber
  • Promote dairy-free menu items as alternatives for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike
  • Feature a special beverage of the week or month, such as a summertime iced tea with pink lemonade and watermelon syrup or a warming spiced cider
  • Offer iced coffee flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, and finished with agave nectar and soymilk or almondmilk
  • Consider serving individual pots of specialty tea; committed tea drinkers are very particular about quality and preparation
  • Consider serving kombucha (a chilled fermented tea beverage) on tap for a differentiated approach to this healthy and on-trend refresher
  • “Superfoods” beverages such as kale smoothies and pomegranate juice hold great appeal for the college-age cohort

Want more ideas for menuing healthier beverages on your campus? Visit the Wellness Beverage Experts here.

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