I'll drink to that!

I walked into a local fast-food establishment a few weeks ago to grab a bite to eat. As I waited for my order to come up the cashier handed me my cup and I went to get my drink. When I got to the fountain dispenser a new drink label caught my eye. It was raspberry tea. Hmmm…sounds interesting so I decided to try something new. As I filled my cup I began to notice how different the selections were from the days of old. Used to be that one had only the basic drinks from which to choose, Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, etc. Not anymore. Now there are the basic sodas, hybrid sodas, lemonades, regular tea, flavored tea, energy drinks and a plethora of others.

You see the trend everywhere. Walk in to a convenience store and look in the cooler. Now you have Coke, diet Coke with lemon, Mountain Dew Code Red, Pepsi Twist, Red Bull, flavored waters, a potpourri of juice drinks, a growing number of energy drinks, a half dozen flavors of bottled tea and too many other concoctions to name. Unless you instinctually grab the same drink you have been buying for years, you will spend five minutes gazing at the wall of choices. As I began researching the beverage topic for this issue I decided to try and single out some of those drinks that seem to be a hit and highlight some that look like they may be up and coming trends.

Sodas

To shed some light on this subject I first gave a call to Greg Prince, executive editor for Beverage World, a trade magazine for the beverage business. "What's the trends these days?" I asked. "What's selling or what's coming to the market?" Some of the recent trends in sodas are crossbreeds of traditional drinks. Coke recently released the retro Vanilla Coke, which seems to have the brand buzz right now. Pepsi will be releasing the Pepsi Blue late this summer. The Pepsi Blue is sweeter and has a blue color and is aimed at a younger audience. Following this trend is Dr Pepper with Dr Pepper Red Fusion, which is a fruity version of the original. One reason the bigger soda manufacturers may be looking outside the box for new products could be the rise in success with smaller, trendier bottlers who are making waves with the younger generation. Brands like Jones Soda and Stewarts Soda who use trendy advertising and packaging are getting noticed, and purchased by the younger generation. While smaller soda companies like these do not have the mega sales numbers of the 'big guys,' their products have found a niche. This can be another facet to smaller independent pizzerias that, like these smaller soda guys, want to distinguish themselves as an alternative to the mainstream or traditional markets. If your menu has a unique line of pizzas that are anything but standard, why not finish the concept by offering drink choices that are anything but standard?

Teas

Another segment of the beverage market that has been gaining popularity is tea. When it comes to tea, you basically have two choices; those that you brew and those that are pre-brewed or bottled. A couple of the more mainstream brands are AriZona and Snapple. Both have been coming out with new products and trying to be fresh and exciting, according to Greg with Beverage World. Eighty-five percent of the tea consumed in the United States is served over ice and hot teas are not really considered a good drink choice for pizzerias. Brewed tea also offers more flavor choices and can be relatively inexpensive to produce. For about half the price of standard tea bags, restaurant owners can provide better quality drinks using loose tea.

Miriam Novalle, owner of The Tea Salon and Emporium in New York, New York, says a great choice for pizza is a fruit blend. She adds that not only can pizzeria owners offer fruit blends, they can have custom blends created for signature teas that will be unique to their restaurant. For example, some flavor profiles that are available are mango, apricot, berry blends, orange, cinnamon and plum, just to name a few. Add in teas enhanced with ginger or chamomile or a green tea and you not only have a different flavor, but also an herbal tea with health benefits.

According to Ward Barbee, publisher of Fresh Cup Magazine, a trade publication for specialty coffees, beverages and retail interest, some of the teas that are gaining popularity are estate teas from India, China, Georgia and Sri Lanka. He says this is akin to the single origin of the wine and coffee business or estate vineyards rather than blends. Another tea product that is coming on very strong from the Far East is bubble tea. Bubble tea? What's this? While it doesn't seem too complicated to make, it does take some explaining and sounds intriguing. I gave Richard Principal, national sales manager for Mocafe, a supplier of ingredients and supplies for bubble teas, coffees and teas, a call to see what this is.

"Bubble teas may have started in the East and enjoyed initial success on the West Coast, but now it's coming to America from all directions," Richard says. "Typically, it's served over ice or ice blended. To make bubble tea, you start by boiling tapioca balls and then putting them in a cocktail shaker with ice, water and flavoring if preferred. You shake and serve. The tapioca forms small pearls in the drink once it is mixed. It's like having flavored gummy bears in your drink. Kids, college students and young people are going crazy for it. Right now you can find it in coffee shops and bubble tea parlors, but the market is expanding. So much money is being made in the frozen drink segment because you're basically selling ice."

Energy and health drinks

Energy drinks appear to be a craze these days, too. The market is starting to see the likes of Red Bull, KMX, ginseng-laced teas and sodas moving off of the shelves. People are drinking them for a variety of reasons; the taste, for a little pick-me-up, as a morning drink, as an alternative to cola and as a mixer for alcoholic drinks. It has yet to be determined if these drinks are just trendy or have staying power, but right now people seem to have a taste for them.

The bottled water trend is still growing too. Adding to the list are waters that are flavored or vitamin enhanced. According to Greg with Beverage World, even Pepsi and Coke are jumping in and have plans to come out with water that has vitamins added. I have even seen one brand of water enhanced with caffeine. What's next?

Smoothies are also becoming a regular on many people's drink list. You have your choice when it comes to how to make them; i.e. using mixes or using fresh fruits. These drinks can serve as healthy alternatives to traditional drinks or as a dessert drink. Ward with Fresh Cup says they are great for seasonal drinks because you can feature smoothies with any fruit that is in season at a particular time of the year or that may represent your area. Really, all you need is a mix or assortment of fruits and a mixer to offer smoothies or you can go with something like a smoothie cart. Companies like Design & Layout Service have carts that have refrigerated compartments for ingredients, storage for glasses and a mixer that are self-contained units that can be easily moved.

Beer and alcoholic drinks

Beer and pizza. If you are looking for a drink and food that have become a clich, the title goes to these two. So, is there a 'best-match' for the two? Not really, it's all a matter of taste. One thing to remember is that a dark or heavy beer can cause a customer to feel full before you have a chance to sell a dessert.

When it comes to beer consumption, on-premise locations (which include restaurants, bars and nightclubs) account for more than 52 percent of sales and generates $33 billion in revenue and $27.5 billion in profits according to information provided by Eileen Wright, consultant for Miller Brewing. The majority of beer consumers are males aged 21 to 27, but beer is a beverage that is enjoyed by adults of all ages, particularly with foods such as pizza. Eileen also mentions that draft beer is the most profitable for the retailer because it offers flexibility in size and price.

"There are many ways to promote beer to customers in pizza restaurants," Eileen says. "Including on-the-table promotions, such as table tents advertising specials on draft beers, as well as offering 'big beer' specials for the single-beer customer. Clearly, point-of-sale materials, particularly if they feature specials on beer, have value and go a distance toward stimulating additional sales."

Amy Lorton, editor of Nightclub & Bar Magazine, says it is probably best to go with the basics; Bud Light, Miller Lite, etc. "Micro brews were hot, but sales seem to be falling off," Amy says. "Some of the popular beers right now are Amstel Light, Corona and New Castle. We are seeing an increase in draft beer sales. Another trend we are seeing are malt beverages. Everyone from Captain Morgan to Skyy is putting out a drink, but these seem to be selling better out of liquor stores."

Greg with Beverage World says, "If anything is a trend, this is the stuff. There are drinks being put out under the names of Jack Daniels, Smirnoff and a couple of hard lemonades. In the summertime, the more variety, the better. In a pizzeria, most times people are in a mood to try new things and these 'malternatives' could be a good thing to offer."

For something a little harder, there are trends in mixed drinks, too. Amy with Nightclub & Bar says the hottest thing in mixed drinks right now is martinis, especially vodka martinis. "One of the more popular mixed drinks is the Cosmopolitan," Amy says. "The characters on HBO's Sex in the City made it wildly popular because it's their favorite drink. When it comes to the vodka martinis, the flavored vodkas are very popular right now too. Another thing we are seeing are vodka drinks mixed with energy drinks like Red Bull. Both are trendy right now and I guess customers are using them as a mixed drink with a pick-me-up in the later hours of the night. The next most popular mixed drinks right now are rum drinks. Every day there seems to be a new rum that comes out. The vanilla rum is very good. People are even starting to drink the high-end rums and vodkas straight."

When it comes to wine Tim Hanni of WineQuest Solutions says that it is best to get over the preconceived notion that there is a particular wine for a particular food. "When choosing a selection of wines to offer, the choices should be geared towards the consumer," Tim says "Offer a minimum of three flavor categories; a sweet white or blush, a dry white and a dry red. Have a wine list that varies in taste and price and build from there. Get over the idea that only red wine is for pizza and let the customer decide what tastes best."

Marketing ideas

Way back in the 1970s, there was a guy who came up with an idea and made a fortune. He came up with the idea to sell rocks…Pet Rocks. If you package the product right you can sell anything, even a rock. What do you think would grab more attention and sell better, a rum drink in a plain glass or one in a coconut with an umbrella? You could probably even sell it at a higher price if it's in the coconut. Many times restaurant and bar owners overlook the packaging in mixed drinks, but it can be an important part of the sale.

One trend in packaging drinks is glasses you can take home. An article by Taylor Rau in Nightclub & Bar sheds some light on the subject. Rather than serving up drinks, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, in the standard plain glass, add a twist. There are numerous suppliers out there now that can custom make glasses with any theme. What if you created a signature drink called the Leaning Tower and served it up in a glass that looked like the Leaning Tower. It may not be a good idea to serve mixed drinks in a tilted glass, but you get the idea. In Taylor's article, the point is made that out-of-the-ordinary glassware "gives the customer something to focus on and have fun with."

The second tier to packaging drinks in creative glassware is offering the glass as a souvenir. Several restaurants are seeing the benefits to this strategy. First, if you sell the drink and glass, you can have your logo on the glass, which goes with the customer wherever they take it and serves as advertising. You also generate additional revenues from the sale of the glass, not to mention you can cut down on the number of glasses you have to replace due to breakage.

If you want to be perceived as different, be different. Offer some alternative or unusual drink choices. Offer them in a glass that makes the drink part of the dining experience. You're selling pizza. It's a fun food; so offer fun drinks in fun glasses to go with it.