Consumers, especially millennials are now not only more health-conscious when it comes to their meal selection, but also when choosing their beverages. According to the government, about 1/3 of added sugars in American diets come from soda. Today’s consumers are more aware of what ingredients make up mainstream soft drinks, often including aspartame and high-fructose corn syrup. Sales of soda moguls (Coca-Cola and Pepsi) are declining as the negative effects of these ingredients come to light.
As an alternative, restaurants are appealing to health-conscious consumers by adding craft sodas to their beverage programs. Previously, this was seen as a way for brands to compete within the crowded marketplace. But, today more of these gourmet sodas are being offered, especially at fast casuals. Craft sodas were born from the craft beer trend and are often used as craft cocktails mixes. Now that craft beers are readily available on most restaurant bar menus- are consumers going to start to expect to see craft soda options at restaurants like they do craft beer? There is no better time to consider adding these gourmet sodas to your beverage programs.
Let’s take a look at the most popular craft sodas-
This all natural soda line was created a few years ago by Boundary Waters Brands. Founder Bob Safford was formerly a marketing executive for General Mill and Kraft. He was enjoying a flavorful cocktail when he decided that there should be also sodas that feature distinctive flavors. Thus, Boundary Waters Brands was born. Today, there are six different Joia All Natural Soda flavors, including Pineapple, Lime, grapefruit, Black cherry, Orange and Ginger. They contain no preservatives, stabilizers, or artificial flavors.
The sodas was first sold at primarily gourmet markets, such as Wholefoods but also in a few local restaurants, such as Heartland Restaurant and Republic at Seven Corners. However, now these sodas are being offered at more restaurants, especially within the fast casual segment– including Rubio’s Coastal Grill.
Grown-Up Soda: GuS
This handcrafted soda company has been around since 2003. They are 100% natural, have no caffeine, and are sweetened with natural cane sugar. These sodas have 40% less sugar than mainstream sodas and are low cal with only 90-98 calories in each 12oz. bottle. With almost 10 different flavors- including Dry Blackberry (newly introduced this month,) Dry Cola, Dry Pomegranate, and Dry Root Beer. This brand appeals to adults by having nostalgic classic american flavors such as root beer, cola, and ginger ale.
GuS sodas are available at gourmet markets such as Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, and Wegmans but also at several restaurants including Cali’s The French Laundry and NYC’s renowned Per Se.
This gourmet soft drink manufacturer was founded in 1891, the founder William Boylan created an elixir serum known as the Boylan’s birch. This was later used in their popular birch beer but the brands transitioned to hand-crafted sodas in 2000s.
Today, the brand has three categories of sodas– Cane Sugar, Diets and Seltzers. The 11 cane sugar sodas include black cherry, creme, creamy red birch beer, cane cola, sparking cider, grape, and Shirley temple. Their diet soda options are the zero calorie versions of their black cherry, cane cola, creme soda, and root beer beverages. Lastly, Boylan produces four seltzers flavors- classic, lemon, orange and raspberry.
With a cult following, the handcrafted beers are available at restaurants such as Live Basil, Salsa Fiesta, Bun and Buns, and Burgerfi– to name a few. At Burgerfi, Boylan sodas are less expensive than the fountain soft drinks from Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine.
Maine Root Sodas
These handcrafted beverages have been around for six years. This company started with the birth of the root beer flavor, after the founder, Matthew Seiler was sick of serving bad root beers to customers while working at Flatbread Pizza Co in Portland Maine. So he started to brew his own and offered it at the restaurant. The root beer became wildly successful and the brand now manufactures five other soda flavors that are all organically sweetened- including mandarin orange, ginger brew, blueberry soda, lemon lime soda, and sarsaparilla. Note from the editor- when I worked at an art’s theater a few years back- these Maine Root Sodas out sold fountain sodas every day.
Maine Root sodas are not only available as bottles, but also as fountain sodas. Making it even more convenient for brands to offer these gourmet sodas. Maine Root is sold in five countries and is available at various gourmet markets and restaurants, such as Greenleaf Gourmet Chophouse, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, and Torchy's Tacos.
Soda Brand Moguls Plan to Compete
But what are the beverage moguls Coca-Cola and PepsiCo going to do to counteract these gourmet sodas taking their sales? Well, apparently they will be promoting lower calorie drinks and water and are aiming to cut the beverage calories in the America diet by 20%. So should we expect all-natural beverages from these major brand moguls in the near future? or perhaps a major investment in handcrafted beverages?
The Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine has become rather popular at fast casual and quick serve restaurants. These dispensers have catapulted Coca-Cola above the competition. Appealing to millennials, they allow them to customize and control their beverage selection in a way that has never been done before. Consumers can choose over 100 different flavors. The brand plans to continue to enhance the dispensers with an app, where as it allows for drinks to be pre-mixed on cellphones. The user will hold their phone up to the dispenser and it will dispense the exact mixed drink created.
With innovations like Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine, we certainly don’t see mainstream sodas disappearing anytime soon. However, by providing both handcrafted beverages and mainstream sodas– this would only enhance your beverage program.