The line between food and beverage is blurring, giving rise to inspired menu innovation, said Maya Zuniga, Ph.D. As director of product innovation for S&D Coffee & Tea, a South Concord, N.C.-based national supplier of coffee, tea and extracts, Dr. Zuniga tracks beverage trends and develops concepts and solutions for the food service industry.

 “One of the newer trends we (are seeing) this year is a fusion of food and beverage, where you’ve gone past the state of pairing coffee and tea with a particular food to combining them into one where you’re drinking the food,” Dr. Zuniga told Food Business News. “We did a coffee crawl where they were taking donuts, soaking them in milk, and using the liquid that came out of that after it steeped and combining that into coffee. Imagine having your Fruity Pebbles in a latte. Marry a cinnamon roll into a coffee, and how good would that be?

“So, you’re literally seeing the food being turned into a beverage offering.”

At the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 21-24 in Chicago, S&D Coffee & Tea showcased several new offerings inspired by emerging beverage trends.

“From an overall development or innovation standpoint, I think it’s really important to tap into different aspects of the industry through different channels,” Dr. Zuniga said. “You have the standard trend searches that are done by the Mintels and Euromonitors of the world, which I think are great reference points, but depending on what you’re looking for, it’s taking those trends and figuring how they fit best with your customer needs…

“One of the great things about S&D is we have numerous inputs. We have an expansive sales force. They cover different channels. Convenience stores, mom and pops, national accounts, all of the major restaurants. As they come in, one of the key things we look for is if we start seeing very similar requests from the different channels, then something is definitely brewing here.”

Cold brew coffee is one such trend that has been percolating in retail and food service, she said.

“As we heard the buzz on cold brew and what it was doing for the product quality, bringing out inherent sweetness in the coffee without having to add sugar, tie that in to a society that’s starting to be very aware about obesity and caloric intake… This trend has legs to it,” Dr. Zuniga said.

S&D developed a shelf-stable cold brew coffee extract that may be customized with a number of flavor profiles and dairy or non-dairy additives.

“We are a coffee and tea producer, but we are also a complete solutions provider,” Dr. Zuniga said. “We can offer the full gamut of, ‘Here is the product, here is the equipment, and here are all the supporting ingredients,’ depending on their needs.”

Another new beverage concept driving recent innovation at S&D Coffee & Tea is sparkling iced tea. Like cold brew coffee, the concept came out of the craft beer movement, Dr. Zuniga said. The company offers a range of sparkling tea options that includes raspberry, pomegranate, peach and green tea with honey.

“Fresh brewed is great, but somehow the sparkle adds a little more allure,” she said. “You could potentially sparkle any flavor you want. Add some fruit and you can really build a handcrafted or upscale offering.”

Coffee and tea remain trendy as ever and continue to evolve to meet consumer needs, Dr. Zuniga said.

“These are beverages that have been around forever; they are staples in certain countries,” she said. “But we have moved so far beyond just that classic tea bag or classic black hot cup of coffee in the morning.”