Take a sip: 10 fast casuals upgrade summer beverage offerings

I have a confession to make. At least three times a week I visit my local Sonic during happy hour (between 2 and 4 p.m.) for a half-price large Vanilla Coke Zero. Don’t judge me — at least it’s not the Route 44 — and if Sonic didn’t offer my favorite beverage, I’d hardly ever go there.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my drinking addictions.

According to research from Coca-Cola, beverages drive outlet choice in about 45% of all away-from-home eating and/or drinking situations.

“It’s important for operators to understand that value isn’t limited to the lowest price — there are significant opportunities for restaurants to provide value to guests while enhancing revenue and margin through tiered menus, limited-time offers [LTOs] and specialty beverages,” Susan Zaripheh, group director of transformational innovation, Coca-Cola North America, said in an interview with FastCasual.

She also shared the following:

  • 22% of guests said they would pay more for LTOs than regular menu items; this increases to 29% with Gen Z consumers.
  • 39% of guests said they would be interested in value-priced LTOs.
  • 46% of guests (and 56% of millennials) wanted to provide input to help restaurants create new LTOs.

Spotlighting new beverage options as LTOs or seasonal offerings is a great way for operators to determine if the beverages are popular enough to remain on the menu, Zaripheh said.

“(They) create a sense of ‘get it while it’s here’ immediacy and appeal to guests’ desire for something new and unique,” she said.

Below are 10 fast casuals who are doing just that.

It’s A Grind Coffee House
California-based It’s Grind Coffee House’s is giving mad props to the ’90s in honor of its 25th birthday. As a nod to the decade’s fashion where tie-dye made a big comeback, for its summer menu, the chain created the Tie-Dyed Electric Blue Lemonade but is also highlighting its most popular beverages of the ’90s, including the White Chocolate Mocha Iced Blended, White Mocha Over Ice and the White Chocolate Mocha, according to a company press release. Customers of the ’90s often ordered those drinks during the chain’s open mic nights, featuring poetry readings, live art and acoustic performances.

To commemorate It’s A Grind’s founding year, the brand is offering 94¢ throwback pricing on small drip coffees throughout the summer at participating stores on select days.

“We are proud to celebrate the fact that we’ve been rockin’ the local pour since ’94 and, since the ’90s is arguably one of the best decades for pop culture, we thought it would be a great anniversary theme to have some fun with our guests,” said Sam Ferreira, president of It’s A Grind Coffee House, a 28-unit brand owned by Retail Food Group-USA.

The Tie-Dyed Electric Blue Lemonade is available through Sept. 1.

Gloria Jeans
It’s A Grind’s big sister (brand) Gloria Jeans, founded in June 1979, is celebrating the big 4-0 with a few summer LTOs of its own. According to a company press release, they include:

  • Vanilla-Lime Cream Chiller, a blended beverage featuring of vanilla ice cream, cookies and lime.
  • Caramel Apple Nut Chiller, a blended treat made with Gloria Jean’s caramel apple nut toddy, featuring notes of caramel apple, nuts and chocolate, topped with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.
  • Caramel Apple Nut Latte, crafted with Gloria Jean’s caramel apple nut toddy, topped with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.
  • Caramel Coconut Macadamia Nut Cold Brew, cold brew made using Gloria Jean’s Caramel Coconut Macadamia beans, poured over ice.
  • Flavored Iced Tea Lemonades, including peach, watermelon and pineapple.

Gloria Jean’s has nearly 60 U.S. locations.

Robeks Fresh Juices and Smoothies
Watermelon is top of minds at Robeks Fresh Juices and Smoothies, where through Labor Day, customers may order the Watermelon Acai Bowl, Wailea Watermelon Smoothie and the Watermelon Shot, according to a company press release.

The Watermelon Acai Bowl includes acai and strawberries, topped with watermelon, pineapple and granola, while the Wailea Watermelon Smoothie blends watermelon, strawberries, pineapple and crushed mint. Lastly, the Watermelon Shot comes with watermelon and lemon juice, agave and cayenne on the rim.

Woody’s Bar-B-Q
Florida-based Woody’s Bar-B-Q has teamed up with S&D Coffee & Tea to debut two flavored teas: Peach Tea and Tropical Mango Tea. In addition, the barbecue chain is providing gallon jugs of tea on its to-go and catering menus.

“With a desire to attract a growing number of millennials to become the new generation of Woody’s Bar-B-Q fans, we felt this was an important move,” said Yolanda Mills-Mawman, president and COO for Woody’s Bar-B-Q. “More and more millennial-favored food and beverage outlets are placing an emphasis on the beverage sector — raising expectations for other food chains like our own. Therefore, all locations in the Woody’s Bar-B-Q system will soon be equipped with newly branded tea brewing systems that will make a great visual addition to our restaurants.”

After opening their first Woody’s Bar-B-Q in 1980, Mills-Mawman and her partner Woody Mills  have spent nearly four decades growing the business.

Wayback Burgers
Wayback Burgers’ summer drink LTO is the Caramel Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milkshake, which features caramel drizzle and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and is available in August and September. Teen members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America across the country submitted their shake ideas, and the chain narrowed them down to its top three favorites, according to a company press release. Fans voted via social media for their favorite, which came from R.W. Brown Boys & Girls Club and the Caring People Alliance in Philadelphia.

Additionally, the milkshake cups feature a logo designed in honor of the Wayback Burgers partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Smoothie King
Smoothie King is helping guests achieve health and fitness goals with the debut of its summer LTO, the Recharge Pineapple, blended with pineapple, banana, Pure Recharge apple-pineapple juice blend and nutrient blend, according to a company press release. The Pure Recharge lineup is a clean alternative to energy drinks as the “pick-me-up” is naturally derived from green coffee bean extract.

“We all hit that moment where we could use a pick-me-up, but know many energy drinks aren’t good for you,” Smoothie King CMO Rebecca Miller said in the release. “Our new Pure Recharge Pineapple is packed with clean, nutrient-rich fuel that delivers naturally derived energy. It’s perfect as a mid-day refresher, and it’s seriously delicious.”

Two Oregon-based companies, Burgerville and Coconut Bliss, have collaborated on a plant-based, dairy-free ice cream shake — The Bliss Shake — which is now available at Burgerville’s 42 locations throughout Oregon and Washington, according to a company press release.

Made with coconut milk and sweetened with organic cane sugar, Coconut Bliss created the soft-serve blend exclusively for Burgerville.

“Our guests have been requesting plant-based shakes for years,” said Becky McGrath, chef and director of food production at Burgerville. “It was so fun to work side by side with Coconut Bliss to develop this exclusive soft serve delicious shake. We’re thrilled to now be able to offer our guests both dairy and non-dairy options every day.”

For the same price as its traditional dairy milkshakes, guest may order any available shake flavor –– including Oregon Fresh Berry Shakes, which will be available in June –– by saying, “Make it a Bliss.” The Bliss Shakes are made on a dedicated Bliss machine in each location that is separate from the traditional dairy milkshake machine.

Smoothie King, based in Dallas, has more than 1,000 units worldwide.

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt
Oklahoma City-based Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt is kicking off summer with its first sour flavor — Dairy-Free Sour Raspberry Froyo made with Sour Patch Kids.

“It gives our guests a new flavor experience at Orange Leaf and expands our dairy-free offerings, making it a perfect addition for summer,” Kendall Ware, president and COO of Orange Leaf said in the release. “We can’t wait to see where this brand partnership takes us in 2019.”

Sour Patch Kids candies are also available on the toppings bar.

Bruster’s Real Ice Cream
In honor of its 30th anniversary, Bruster’s Real Ice Cream has launched two summer treats: Mango Dragon Fruit Sorbet and custom Icy Freezes, made by combining any of the chain’s Italian ices, sherbets or sorbets with Sprite to create a slushie-type treat, according to a company press release.

Bruster’s Real Ice Cream has 200 independently owned locations in 20 states, Guyana and South Korea.

Clean Juice
Clean Juice, a USDA-certified organic juice bar franchise with more than 70 stores, is helping customers cool off with its Alex’s Lemonade One smoothie and Alex’s Cherry Lemonade One fresh juice. A portion of their sales will benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which funds pediatric cancer research in the U.S. and Canada, according to a company press release.

“Our company’s purpose has always been to be good stewards of what God has given us, and partnering with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation is a small way we can give back to our communities who support us,” said CEO Landon Eckles.