Sponsored by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Cooler weather is here, and it's time to embrace heavier autumn flavors, like pumpkin, maple, and sweet potato. As the hot beverage trend gains steam, this year consumers can expect unexpected twists on old favorites. Case in point: some of our favorite summer fruits are becoming mainstays on hot beverage menus, creating unexpected but pleasing flavor combinations.
Take blueberries as an example. Seen as the quintessential summer fruit, blueberries are actually a highly versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed any time of year. The holidays, in particular, bring new opportunities for LTOs and seasonal menus, and one of the best ways to highlight this nutritious and visually-appealing ingredient is through beverage menus.
When current trends collide with the appeal of blueberries, the possibilities are endless. Try experimenting with one or more of these fun beverages to boost beverage sales with blueberries.
1. Blueberry Latte
Coffee is always on trend, and Revel Systems reports that the "Third Wave" of coffee consumption is bringing with it an interest in sweeter, creamier beverages. Operators can ride the trend early by pairing artisan coffees with blueberries to create a unique, signature beverage. For example, blueberry lattes are a popular menu item at Gazebo's in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Blending brunch with a Korean menu, the restaurant has some fun, unexpected twists on the menu, so this unique drink fits right in and is the perfect warm pick-me-up during colder months. Operators can use blueberry powder for the hot lattes, or blueberry syrup for the iced counterpart.
2. Blueberry Tea
Tea is the most widely-consumed beverage in the world next to water, and can be found in nearly 80 percent of U.S. households, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. Enticed by health benefits such as flavonoids and lower caffeine levels than coffee, tea's popularity is on the rise, especially among millennials. Combined with the antioxidants in blueberries, this fruit offers a fun way to amp up the flavor of this popular beverage. Since specialty teas can be served hot or cold, operators can simply put fresh blueberries in iced tea or offer blueberry blends for the hot version. "Dried blueberries will also rehydrate well and plump up with your liquid of choice," says chef Andrew Hunter, chef partner for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. "I soak them in tea and use them for a blueberry milk tea that's almost like a boba."
3. Blueberry Lemonade
The National Restaurant Association named gourmet lemonades as one of its "What's Hot" food trends for 2018. Operators can capitalize on this trend and keep things interesting for consumers by pairing lemon with other fruit flavors. Datassentials reports that blueberry is the fastest-growing lemonade flavor on U.S. restaurant menus, up 106 percent between 2012-2016. Last year, Sizzler menued Blueberry Lemonade in October as a unique fall limited time offer. "Having blueberries available in the off-season makes it seem like a premium product and makes people think 'Wow, I can get blueberries in October,'" says Tamara Scroggins, director of food and culture at Sizzler. Another way brands are getting onboard with the gourmet lemonade trend is to make mocktails—another trend—that are similar to lemonades, such as California Pizza Kitchen's Sparkling Blueberry Lemon Spritzer.
4. Blueberry Cocktails and Mocktails
Blueberries are an excellent way to add interest to premium beverage menus. In fact, Coca-Cola's 2016 "Away From Home Beverage Landscape" study found that customers choose which restaurant they'll dine at based on beverage options 45 percent of the time. "Blueberries are a dynamic fruit," says Napa Valley mixologist Shawn Smith. "They can give a drink dimension and add a 'cool factor' that appeals to consumers, while being a familiar favorite that can lead to an order."
Blueberries can be featured in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Two concepts doing the trend exceptionally well: California Pizza Kitchen, with their Sparkling Blueberry Lemon Spritzer (Perrier sparkling water with fresh blueberries, thyme, and lemon), mentioned above, and the Blueberry Coconut Mojito—which is made with fresh muddled mint and blueberries—at Walk-Ons.
This year, look beyond seasonality and explore the versatility of blueberries as a year-round staple on beverage menus.
By Davina van Buren