Unique beverage options can drive traffic to cafes and bakeries.

No combo meal is complete without a tasty beverage. New research from Technomic sheds light on innovative beverage options that are driving traffic to foodservice operations across the country.

One fifth of today's consumers (21 percent, up from 16 percent in 2012) say that beverages play a very important role in deciding which restaurants to visit for meals. This increase is primarily driven by consumers aged 18-44, who tend to use beverages for a wide variety of occasions, including snacks and social visits.

Interesting findings from the Technomic report include the following:

  • Fast-food concepts dominate: 89 percent of consumers purchased food and/or a beverage in the last month at a fast-food restaurant, more than for any other segment.

  • Convenience and speed are strong beverage traffic drivers: 44 percent of consumers say they are more likely to visit concepts with than without a drive-thru for beverage-only occasions.

  • More than two-fifths of consumers (44 percent, up from 39 percent in 2012) call for healthier beverages at restaurants.

  • At least two-fifths of consumers strongly agree that full-service restaurants (46 percent, up from 42 percent in 2010) and fast-food concepts (40 percent) should offer greater beverage variety.

Operators are maximizing potential beverage occasions by promoting off-peak dining hours and launching innovative, custom beverages that get people in the door. Consumer demand for variety and customization will lead to even more innovation in terms of beverage type and flavor, and an increasing focus on health and natural ingredients will inspire drink development.

"Operators must focus on increased consumer demand for variety and health when they are developing or revamping their beverage menus," said Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of Technomic. "Restaurants with strong beverage programs can play into health and variety by offering customization options for core drinks."

The Cookie DDough Dark Roast on ice at Dunkin Donuts.

Driving product development and marketing plans at the chain are several strategies developed to deliver continued growth through the remainder of the fiscal year and beyond. Executives of Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Brands Group discussed the initiatives during the company’s investor and analyst day on September 17, 2014 in Dallas.

A key component of Dunkin’s six-fold plan is protecting its critical breakfast day part and growing its afternoon business through consumer-focused innovation. Dunkin’ introduced more than 40 products last year and plans to launch more than 40 over the coming year.

Beverages generate 57% of Dunkin’ Donuts’ sales, while bakery products account for 23% of the business, and food represents 16%. Two-thirds of Dunkin’s food products are sold in the morning and a third are sold in the afternoon, but all menu items are available all day long.

In hot coffee, the chain’s most important category, new blends provide a buzzworthy platform to attract new users to the brand. The chain is set to launch a dark roast nationally in September.

Dunkin’ leads the high-growth category of iced coffee, which is popular among millennials.  Recent innovation includes a launch of limited-time flavors inspired by ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, which Dunkin’ Brands also owns.

Capitalizing on its popular Coolatta line of frozen beverages, Dunkin’ is testing a new blender platform “that enables an entirely new class of beverages,” including the chain’s first ever smoothie offerings.

Tea is another growing category for the brand. Dunkin’ offers sweet tea in southeast markets.