Restaurants have found menu innovation as a way to showcase value to consumers outside of price points, especially during the current macroeconomic environment.

Included in that is Dutch Bros, which has kept guests engaged with the release of Protein Milk/Coffee and the Strawberry Poppin’ Boba beverage. Both began as limited-time offers, but they performed so well with customers that both products have been added to the permanent menu. CMO Tana Davila attributes these menu successes to the company’s keen ability to listen to and act upon customer feedback.

In an exclusive Q&A with QSR, Davila discusses the intricate decision-making process behind transitioning an LTO to a permanent menu item, the role of customer engagement in driving menu innovation, and the strategies Dutch Bros employs to stay ahead in the competitive beverage industry.

Can you share more about the customer feedback that led to the decision to add Strawberry Poppin’ Boba to the permanent menu at Dutch Bros?

We consistently saw strong customer adoption of Strawberry Poppin’ Boba. We also try to make sure we are always listening to our customers, and we saw an influx of overtly positive comments and feedback about the product on social media and a significant number of requests for us to keep it as a permanent menu item. 

What specific aspects of Protein Milk/Coffee and Strawberry Poppin’ Boba do you believe resonate most strongly with Dutch Bros customers?

Protein Coffee and Strawberry Poppin’ Boba were a hit with customers in ways we hadn’t seen before. We knew we had to take a second look at why our customers love those products and the gaps they fill. Protein Coffee is loved for its functionality. Protein Coffee allows customers to get their protein and boost of caffeine in one. It’s a convenient way for our on-the-go customers to get a good source of protein while not compromising on the taste of Dutch Bros they know and love.  Strawberry Poppin’ Boba is loved because it’s experiential. Boba is such a fun texture and makes any sipping experience, well, an experience! Poppin’ Boba allows customers to add an additional flavor option and creates yet another way customers can customize their drink at Dutch. 

How does Dutch Bros collect and analyze customer feedback to inform menu decisions like making an LTO item permanent?

We have multiple channels for customer feedback that we review. From social comments to surveys to phone calls to emails, we focus on keeping a pulse on what customer sentiment is. Customers are constantly telling brands what they want and how they want it. The question is: Are we truly listening? Listening to customers is more crucial than ever and we have found great success in putting our customers at the forefront. 

Could you discuss the factors that Dutch Bros considers when deciding whether to keep an item on the menu permanently or offer it as a limited-time offering?

LTOs are a great barometer for us to see if we’re hitting the mark with our customers. We’ve had successful LTOs that we bring back, like the Mangonada Rebel, which we just launched for the second time on May 1. But sometimes, we have LTOs that are so successful, it’s hard to imagine them ever leaving the menu. There are a multitude of factors when deciding when to make an LTO a piece of the permanent menu, but the main driving factor is definitely customer sentiment and adoption. The decision to keep an LTO on the menu permanently has proven to be relatively easy because our customers make it so. Their love for Protein Coffee and Strawberry Poppin’ Boba made it undeniable that we needed to keep serving up what they love.

How does customer engagement through social media or other channels influence Dutch Bros’ menu innovation strategy?

Our menu innovation team is always looking ahead at up-and-coming trends, but in addition to trend forecasting, they place an emphasis on looking at product-related feedback from our customers. Is there a flavor or previous LTO that is always mentioned in the comments? Or a flavor/product we’ve never had before but continues to be on our customers’ thoughts? We take a lot of pride in engaging with our customers and keeping track of the most talked about products or trends. In addition to customers, we also lean into our broistas and their feedback. They’re engaging with our customers every day and have amazing insights we love to tap into. Recently, we brought in some broistas to test out some of our upcoming, new beverages. Their feedback helped confirm that our menu innovation team is on the right track. Our hope is when customers and broistas ask for something, we take that feedback and, if we do our jobs right, turn it into something they’ll love even more!

Are there any particular trends in consumer preferences or behaviors that Dutch Bros has observed recently, which have influenced the decision to add new items to the permanent menu?

Taste is always going to be king in our industry. At the end of the day, if it’s flashy but doesn’t taste good, then you’ve already lost. We’re always looking to find the balance of unique, flavor-forward drinks that don’t compromise on quality or taste. Our Protein Coffee tastes great because if you did a blind taste test, odds are you can’t tell if it’s a Protein Mocha or just a Mocha. Our Strawberry Poppin’ Boba is flashy and fun but it also tastes pretty amazing.  We do quite a bit of trend spotting work and take inspiration for other food and beverage categories as part of our holistic innovation process and try to couple that with more quantitative research and concept testing. We’ve found that successful innovation has to be a blend of art and science.     

Are there any plans for future collaborations or innovations based on customer demand that Dutch Bros is currently exploring?

Oh, absolutely! While I can’t share details, we’re very excited about what we have in store for the rest of the year and into 2025. We’re leaning into innovation across the company, which obviously includes menu innovation. We deeply believe innovation plays a large role in the next stage of growth and our customers have a hand in that.

Beverage, Fast Casual, Menu Innovations, Story, Dutch Bros