Coffee has long been a quick-service menu staple. For a long time, that simply meant the tarry stuff that comes out of a pot, served piping hot with a couple packs of creamer or sweetener. Then came the flavored, frozen iterations, which embraced decadent coffee-house-style dessert beverages complete with chocolate drizzles and whipped cream and were in vogue across segments through the early 2010s. But now? There’s a new brew that’s heating up, and it’s expected to have serious staying power.
“Cold brew is up 500 percent on menus across the country,” says Polly Johnson, owner of PSJ marketing services and a consultant for KanPak and parent Golden State Foods. “It is by far the fastest growing item in the coffee category and it’s something that a lot of operators are excited about.”
Differentiated from standard iced coffees—which are brewed hot, refrigerated, then poured over ice—cold brews are made using room temperature or cold water, typically over a 12 to 24-hour period. The process results in lower acidity and a mellower taste than most coffees, meaning it appeals to a wider audience, from consumers who might otherwise find the drink too bitter to coffee connoisseurs seeking out the best flavor.
“These days, people want their drinks to be different,” says Byron Georgeff, director of marketing for KanPak. “They want something unique.”
For operators, menuing cold brew has the potential to be a huge sales driver—but there are some challenges associated with implementing a cold brew program. First, there needs to be clear messaging around what the product is.
“A lot of people have seen the words ‘cold brew,’ but it’s up to operators to make sure they understand it,” says Kevin Grow, KanPak’s product development manager. “Menuboards are the best way to communicate efficiently to quick-service customers the benefits of cold brew over other, less-premium products.”
For example, the majority of cold brew enthusiasts report they like the product for its flavor and smoothness, according to KanPak’s proprietary research studies. These keywords should be called out in descriptions to effectively communicate and educate guests.
In addition, cold brew appeals to the current shift of consumer habits trending toward better-for-you foods and beverages.
“Frozen coffees are falling off the menu because people are becoming more health conscious,” Grow says. “They’re moving away from high-sugar content drinks toward healthier—or at least perceived-healthier—drinks.”
The second challenge in menuing cold brews is with the brewing process itself. Many quick-service operators have shied away from implementing this trend due to the perception that it takes too long to make. However, the return on investment for these products is high, and there are solutions available to make menuing cold brews efficient and extremely worthwhile.
For example, KanPak provides ambient aseptic packaging for all of their products, meaning an operator can have a completely customized cold brew base which is shelf-stable for up to 9 months, and can be refrigerated for up to 30 days after opening.
“The technology used makes it as fresh as if it was brewed today,” Johnson says. “That’s a boon for quick-service operators.”
By having a cold brew base that’s already been brewed through a quality process, restaurateurs and back-of-house staff can provide a premium coffee product at high ticket values while maintaining—or even improving—efficiency and speed of service.
“Some operators don’t realize this, but just because you’ve found a way to do cold brew faster, doesn’t mean it isn’t a quality product,” Grow says. “Aseptic bases are simply a way to keep flavorful coffee shelf stable for longer periods, to ensure profitability and return on investment.”
By implementing a cold brew program, quick-service operators can ensure they’re on top of the current trend, both by meeting consumer demands and also educating guests who might be less familiar with a growing menu item.
“Cold brew is an innovative product,” Johnson says. “It’s a more unique and differentiated beverage rather than just another new flavor variation, as has been the trend in recent years. For this reason, it appeals to a more sophisticated coffee consumer and has the potential for high profitability.”