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Craft-made, sustainable and locally produced beverages top this year’s list of hottest menu trends, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey, which polled 650 professional chefs.
“At restaurants and other foodservice operations today, beverages, including wines, spirits, beers, and non-alcoholic drinks are big traffic drivers,” said Hudson Riehle, the Association’s senior vice president of research. “Offering craft liquors, wines and other beverages, allows restaurants to distinguish their drink programs from their competitors. At the same time, putting a more local, sustainable spin on beverages is particularly appealing to millennials, who, in general, are more apt to support smaller, different, more socially responsible businesses and products.”
More than 50 percent of the chefs surveyed identified house-brewed beer as a hot trend, which didn’t surprise David Fuñe, corporate executive chef at Pickled Monk, a fast casual concept in Fullerton, California, offering 30 craft beers and specialty wines via a self-service bar.
“Over half (our) brews are local,” he said in an interview with FastCasual. “Local, small production breweries and the relationships we form with them are important to the communal concept we have forged with Pickled Monk.”
Locally made and sustainable offerings aren’t only hitting booze-filled beverages. It’s also a hot trend in juice and coffee with 51 percent of the chefs polled predicting that craft/house-roasted coffee would simmer over in 2019.
It’s A Grind, a California-based coffee chain with 20 locations, is ahead of the trend with the January launch of Comasagua El Tranquilo whole bean coffee.
“The ocean-influenced region, altitude, mineral-rich soil and microclimate create a distinctive ‘sabor’ that offers bright, distinctive citrus and subtle chocolate notes,” It’s a Grind President Sam Ferreira, said about the coffee created from a sustainable co-op of coffee farmers in Comasagua, La Libertad, El Salvador.
Local sourcing is also top of mind for customers frequenting Nekter Juice Bar, which serves a variety of juices and healful food options from 100 units across the U.S.
“Produce and other ingredients retain their peak freshness and optimal nutritional content if they are sourced as locally as possible,” CEO Steve Schulze, said in an interview with FastCasual. “Nekter initiated a local sourcing program in 2018, and we will continue to build on that next year, allowing us to provide local produce from a network of farmers in each of our markets across the country.”
A ‘variety of flavor mixes’
Fuñe, who is also the chef at Salt Creek Grille, a full-service brand with three restaurants in California and two in New Jersey, said he’s also seeing a tremendous variety in beer flavor mixes.
“Our predictions are that the Bruit (like Champagne) IPA trends will start to pick up and fill in the dominant IPA market,” he said. “Dry Ciders and Barrel Aged Sours are moving quite well, too. Also, in direct contrast to the unique flavors of Sours and Ciders, the super-hyper-local breweries are moving to more traditional flavors, such as ESB (English Sessions Ale) and Dry Stouts.The trend of “flavor variety” is emerging in the juice and coffee sectors as well.
Nekter, for example, offers traditional sweet juice options, such as the Berry Banan Burst, which includes strawberry, banana, blueberry, cashew milk and agave nectar, but also has less familiar options, including the Greenie — Parsley, spinach, kale, celery, cucumber, lemon and apple — and the Buzz, made with carrot, orange, lemon and ginger.
Ferreira said It’s A Grind will, of course, always offer its traditional flavors but is also experimenting with how different brewing methods change flavor profiles.
“After decades of using cold brew as a base for many of our drinks, we know the same whole coffee bean can offer subtle to extreme flavor notes and variations depending on the brewing method (hot brew, cold brew, espresso, etc.) he said. “This is apparent with (the) Comasagua El Tranquilo beans, which produce fantastic drip coffee but manifest different tasting notes as a cold brew. As a cold brew, the chocolate notes in the coffee are more prominent and caramel flavors come forward that are more difficult to detect with the hot brew.”
For coffee enthusiasts who love single-origin coffees, different brewing methods like cold brew present an opportunity to experience their favorite coffee in different ways, Ferreira said. “Great coffee can liberate the soul, and we love helping our guests search for and find the roast, blend, coffee-of-origin or flavor that appeal to their unique tastes.”
Functional foods is another menu trend carrying over into beverages, said Suzy Badaraco, menu trends expert.
“Functional has many faces including a cognitive function which encompasses sleep, stress, anxiety, depression and focus,” she said. “It can also apply to digestion, joint, skin, bone, and hair health. A functional label must be tied to solid science or consumers will not only abandon the product, but they can also retaliate through social media and lawsuits.”
The functional halo is nothing new for Nekter.
“Functional foods have been at the core of Nékter Juice Bar’s menu since day one and as more people become aware of their amazing health benefits, we anticipate that more and more restaurant brands will begin to test and add them to their menus,” Schulze said. “In regards to beverages, we continue to discover new functional ingredients that add specific health benefits to our fresh juices and smoothies without sacrificing delicious flavor.
What’s important, however, is to make these functional ingredients easy to add into the daily regimens of guests.
“For example, by simply adding chia seeds to several items on the Nékter Juice Bar menu, we are providing our guests with a simple and delicious way to enjoy the health benefits of powerful antioxidants, fiber and other essential nutrients,” Schulze said. “And as more functional foods become more mainstream, just as activated charcoal, turmeric and probiotics have done in the past year or two, we will see consumers become more open to exploring more exotic ingredients, such as camu-camu or ashwagandha, reishi, etc.
Consumers are also realizing some foods they’ve enjoyed for years actually have incredible health benefits, too.
“It may come as a surprise to many but celery, which we’ve made the star of our new 6-Day Celery Detox, is actually a powerhouse functional food that aids digestion, helps reduce bloating and is a potent anti-inflammatory. It also can help improve mood and helps cells absorb more water effectively for longer hydration.”
Nekter is also getting on board with the Kombucha craze, thanks to a partnership with GT’s Kombucha that allows customers to now add the naturally fermented tea containing living probiotics, enzymes and natural acids to their bowls and smoothies. The Kombucha market exceeded $1.5 billion in 2017, and is expected to increase by 17.5 percent by 2023.
“Nekter Juice Bar’s new Kombucha Smoothies and Acai Bowls are the ultimate functional food that will help the entire body perform at its optimal best,” Schulze. said.