Minimal shifts in top beverage varieties by restaurant segment confirm that there's little movement on the beverage menu. And, more specifically, there's little deviation from core coffee menu items. A somewhat static menu means that most patrons will fall into a habitual ordering pattern. Thus, one of the challenges for restaurant operators is encouraging customers to consider other beverage options beyond the "usual."

Packaged Facts recent report Foodservice Coffee Market Trends in the U.S. analyzes industry and consumer trends shaping the U.S. market for coffee sold in restaurants. Among the findings in the report are opportunities that exist for restaurants and industry players to leverage coffee drinks as away to encourage exploration of the beverage menu. The incremental growth in foodservice establishment visits that would inevitably stem from piquing consumer interest with new and novel offerings will help grow restaurant food sales through at least 2018, according to the report.

6 key trends important to foodservice coffee expansion are:

  1. Market coffee to specific consumption occasions: While innovators have readily developed a range of coffee flavors suitable throughout the day, they need to be more clearly marketed to specific meal or snack occasion. Suggestions include dessert-inspired sweet coffee flavors and lightly roasted, sweet iced coffees.

  2. Limited-time and seasonal menu items are the essence of beverage menu innovation. While this isn't a new trend, it remains an important one. Limited-time and seasonal offerings create a sense of anticipation and urgency. Restaurant operators are conditioning customers to expect seasonal favorites, encouraging a shift in their "usual" beverage choice. Limited-time offers allow operators to experiment with flavors and formats that are trendy.

  3. Sourcing offers opportunity for storytelling: Sourcing can play a significant role in coffee beverage menu innovation with upside sales potential as a result of premium pricing. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, for example, is dedicated to sourcing, and features a variety of single-origin coffee.

  4. While single-origin coffee is no longer a novelty, it provides additional room to not only help justify premium pricing but also incent customer interest and knowledge. If the product delivers, both can sow the seeds of loyalty and return visits.

  5. The locavore trend could also provide an interesting marketing opportunity. Local sourcing is more prominent in marketing alcoholic beverages like wine, but there's opportunity for coffee beverages to feature local roasting and to create blends and specialty drinks that play to local preferences and pay homage to the community.

  6. A continuing trend in the beverage category is cross-pollination—such as tea + energy drinks and carbonated soft drink + water. "Beverage blends" enable restaurant operators to offer an extremely large choice set—incorporating drinks that range from health to indulgent drinks. Opportunity exists to create "coffee + …." beverages to obtain functional benefits and drive quality/premium associations—and justify higher prices.