With consumers increasingly seeking more healthful beverages when dining out, tea — both hot and iced — is steadily gaining popularity, and different variations of the drink are proliferating on restaurant menus.
SLIDE SHOWA look at the hottest tea concepts
In 2012, iced tea was offered on 74 percent of menus from restaurants that sold beverages, second only to soda among nonalcoholic beverages, according to research firm Datassential’s MenuTrends platform. Hot tea also saw a strong presence on menus, with 63 percent of restaurants offering the beverage in 2012, making it more prevalent than lemonade, milk, premium coffee, hot chocolate, iced coffee and several other beverages, Datassential found.
The beverage’s increased exposure and growing popularity can be attributed to several factors, says Nancy Kruse, menu trend analyst and president of the Kruse Company.
“First, the beverage category as a whole is super hot,” Kruse said. “Second, and related to the first, is that beverages offer superior margins. Plus, tea is very versatile and mixes well with a range of flavor treatments. I also think that tea benefits from the halo of health, and patrons like better than to feel virtuous while indulging in something they truly like.”
In addition to adding traditional hot and iced tea to menus, restaurants are more frequently offering fruit-flavored versions of the beverage. Raspberry-flavored iced tea was the most popular variety of iced tea in 2012, appearing on 13 percent of restaurant menus, Dataessential found. Other fruit flavors that cracked the top 10 in terms of menu penetration were peach, lemon, mango and strawberry.
Restaurant brands across all segments took note of the growing consumer demand for flavored iced teas with a variety of new menu item rollouts. In 2012, Arby’s rolled out a Passion Fruit Iced Tea, Wendy’s introduced Wild Berry Tea, Ruby Tuesday began offering a Blackberry Handcrafted Fruit Tea, and Peet’s Coffee & Tea added a Berry Pomegranate Tea Freddo, which is a juice-infused iced tea beverage topped with whipped cream.
Datassential also identified the top growing flavors of hot tea, with green, herbal and chai appearing most on menus. Other popular flavors included Earl Grey, chamomile and jasmine. Last year, California Pizza Kitchen introduced Zen Tea, a Chinese pan-fired green tea with mint and lemon grass. And Teavana, the Atlanta-based chain that was recently acquired by Starbucks, introduced a Sweet Fruit Garden Herbal Tea, a blend of sour cherries, apples, candied, papaya, raspberries, grapes, rosehips and hibiscus.
With restaurants continuing to experiment with different flavors and offering creative tea concoctions, and major brands like Starbucks getting more involved with the tea-shop segment, Kruse says the trend has staying power.
“I think the tea trend will pick up steam as operators innovate around flavors,” she said. “I think the tea-shop niche will evolve and grow. I don’t think it will ever really threaten the primacy of the coffee chains, Americans are still dedicated coffee drinkers, but I do think smart merchandising and appealing products will allow some specialists to flourish.”
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