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The National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show took place in Chicago from May 21 to 24. The show and its BAR event hosted attendees from around the world who saw the latest in alcoholic drinks, hot and soft drinks, packaged foods, cooking equipment, and software for the restaurant industry.

Below are the top 4 beverage trends that the Euromonitor research team of Mark Strobel, Matthew Barry, and Virginia Lee observed.

Fountain Sodas Go Premium

To counteract the continued decline of CSDs (carbonated soft drinks) in the US due to health concerns and migration to other beverages, carbonates producers are taking action to bring more excitement to the soda fountain and replicate the success of craft soda. Demand for craft soda has been rising among adults who like its use of real cane sugar, natural ingredients, unusual flavors such as elderflower, and attractive glass bottles. The Coca-Cola Co (TCCC), PepsiCo, and Reeds’s Inc introduced new premium fountain sodas at the NRA Show. The three premium soda lines have in common: no high fructose corn syrup, use of natural ingredients, and unique flavors. For Reed’s, the largest craft soda company in the US, launching its refrigerated BIB (Bag In Box) Natural program allows the company to capitalize on rising interest in craft sodas such as its Reed’s Ginger Beer. Reed’s promoted BIB Natural as natural brewed sodas with no sodium benzoate and exciting new flavors. PepsiCo’s Stubborn Soda used an ingredients story by emphasizing the use of Fair Trade Certified cane sugar and real vanilla extract in its agave vanilla cream soda. Stubborn Soda seeks to create a unique experience that millennials will talk about and share on social media through unusual flavors such as black cherry with tarragon, a proprietary fountain soda machine that has taps reminiscent of craft beer, and specially designed glasses designed to enhance the flavour of the soda.  TCCC’s Blue Sky is likely to appeal to millennials and older as the company emphasized the heritage and natural positioning of the Blue Sky brand at the NRA Show with a sign stating, “Blue Sky EST 1971 Beverage Co made with 100% cane sugar, flavoured by nature”.

Continued Focus on Mixology

Found Infused Sparkling Water

Premium craft sodas and mixers made from high quality ingredients and complex flavours continued to make a big appearance as in prior years. To further their appeal, and to expand consumption occasions, the makers of these premium beverages strongly promoted their use in making creative cocktails. If the majority of your cocktail is the mixer, why use an inferior product?  Found Beverage Co’s Found, a naturally sparkling water-based infused water, actively promotes the pairing of its cucumber mint flavour with gin. Novamex’s yet to be released Tepachito Craft Pineapple Cider was featured with mescal, the fast growing spirit from Mexico. Further, Jones Soda’s new non-carbonated Lemoncocco could be mixed with a variety of different alcohols, including vodka and rum. Other products, like the Fever-Tree Naturally Light Ginger Beer, took the opposite approach: first positioning their beverages as a premium mixer, only to find a wider appeal among consumers in drinking them “neat”.

Tea is also finding a bigger place in alcoholic drinks. Rishi Tea promoted matcha mojitos and turmeric ginger dark & stormies. Brands like Owl’s Brew and Teafresco are finding that their liquid tea concentrates and flavoured iced teas can work well with a variety of alcohols, which both gives bartenders options when creating cocktails and allows consumers to feel that their cocktail is healthier.

Convenience and taking the guess work out of the mixing process also boosted the appeal of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages. Joia All Natural Soda displayed a line of craft spirit-based RTDs, including a Moscow Mule, Cosmopolitan, and Grey Hound. However, according to several exhibitors at the BAR, hard sodas are already on their way out and spiked sparkling water is the next big thing, like Truly Spiked & Sparkling from beer maker Samuel Adams and NAUTI Seltzer from Craft Cocktail Company.

Tea Goes Upscale

Tea Pigs

Consumers who want to indulge themselves but at the same time want to feel healthy and responsible while indulging are increasingly turning to tea. Premiumization and new uses for tea were both trends visible at the NRA Show. Tea is following the path of wine and coffee in becoming less of a commodity and more of a product where consumers are interested to learn about origin stories and the nuances of teas of different types and from different regions. This goes in hand with an effort to turn tea into a more premium product. Numi Tea, for example, is producing hand-sewn cotton tea sachets to replace the more mundane tea bags as a way to help tea to make inroads at higher-end establishments from which it was previously absent.

Virtually anything outside of standard black tea bags is growing in popularity. Green tea is becoming more popular, especially matcha, because of green tea’s claimed health benefits. Other teas like pu-erh are also becoming more prevalent in the American market. In terms of flavours, brands are trying out lots of new things. At the Art of Tea, for example, popular flavours this year included hibiscus and coconut.

Cold Brew Heats Up the Coffee Category

The biggest trend in coffee at the show was cold brew, which was being served by a large variety of exhibitors, including Chobani (whose CEO is the majority owner of La Colombe Torrefaction), High Brew Coffee, S&D Coffee & Tea, Truebrew Outfitters, and Vittoria Coffee. Although cold brew coffee takes a long time to properly make, needing about 12 hours to brew properly, properties such as low acidity and smoother taste are helping to make this a big growth area in coffee, especially among millennials. Many exhibitors emphasized how cold brew’s naturally sweet taste translates into a reduced need for sugar and cream, therefore, creating a healthier beverage. Both foodservice operators offering iced coffee and makers of bottled RTD coffees are increasingly using the cold brew method to reach millennial consumers who are looking for a high quality coffee experience. There is even talk that packaged cold brew could represent the “fourth wave” of coffee.

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