Fresh food isn’t enough. Now restaurants are taking beverages to a new level with house-made drinks that incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables.
Culinary cocktails — savory, herb-infused or made with fresh ingredients — were mentioned as one of the top 20 overall restaurant trends in the 2012 National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2012” chef survey.
And it’s not just cocktails that are being created with innovative ingredients.
“Beyond cool cocktail bars, we’re seeing so many restaurants in various regions offering house-made sodas with fresh and seasonal ingredients,” said Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights at the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.
In fact, chefs surveyed by NRA voted house-made soft drinks and lemonade as two of the top nonalcoholic beverage trends for 2012.
The house-made soda at We, the Pizza is an example of this growing trend, Abbott noted.
To create the sodas, the Washington-based restaurant makes its own fresh fruit purees, syrups and juices in-house and mixes them with seltzer water, according to Jordyn Lazar, the restaurant’s marketing manager.
We, the Pizza has a dozen different soda flavors such as grape, coconut, sour cherry and egg cream, each playfully named.
“Most popular is probably our orange soda which we call ‘I’ve Gotta Orange Crush on You,’” Lazar said, adding that the second best seller is “Don’t Forget Your Ginger Roots” made with fresh ginger.
The restaurant — which opened a year and a half ago — has an actual soda drip where customers can watch the “fizzician” put together the different concoctions.
“It’s a fun thing that people do while they’re waiting for their pizza to be ready at the restaurant,” Lazar said.
The handcrafted $3 sodas complement We, the Pizza’s menu — which includes unexpected pizza toppings like Brussels sprouts and highlights fresh, quality ingredients such as wild forest mushrooms, applewood bacon and free-range chicken.
Higher-end restaurants are using herbs, produce and fresh-squeezed ingredients in beverages to differentiate themselves, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, who said these drinks give customers a better-for-you perception.
“And it may be better for you, but I think there’s a perception,” said Tristano. “The word ‘fresh’ has taken on a new meaning, which has kind of a health halo around it — that it’s healthier, it’s better.”
Restaurants like McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks now have fresh-squeezed juices in its alcoholic drinks, and Starbucks Coffee Co. recently opened a retail store for its Evolution Fresh juice brand, in addition to selling juice and smoothies at regular Starbuck’s locations, Tristano pointed out.
“So the next part of this trend is the premium positioning … Not every consumer is willing pay for or pay more for fresh, but there is an affluent consumer and a more contemporary Millennial that’s willing to pay more because they perceive the value as being much higher for this type of product,” Tristano said.
Organic and higher-end supermarkets, Tristano noted, have been focusing on offering juice and smoothie bars in-house.
At Woodland, Calif.-based Nugget Markets, customers can build custom-made juices and smoothies at the retailer’s coffee and juice bars.
“We encourage our guests to mix and match splashes of apple, carrot, beet, orange, cucumber and celery juices, or any other of our fresh squeezed selections,” Nugget Markets’ Tammy Campbell said in a post on the retailer’s website last month.
The nine-unit chain also made sure to promote the vitamins and nutrients and convenience of juice and smoothies, noting that juices’ retail price starts at $2.75 and smoothies’ at $3.50.
The ability to customize the flavors in their smoothies and juices can be a significant attraction to consumers, Tristano said.
The lack of preservatives in these fresh drinks can also be appealing to specific consumer groups, Tristano added.