Alcohol sales are of course an essential revenue generator for most hospitality businesses. But soft drinks, smoothies, freshly squeezed juices and non-alcoholic cocktails could in fact generate even higher margins for more diligent businesses, especially if they are effectively upsold.
The soft drinks market has really taken off over the past five to 10 years and, although many restaurants and food-led pubs have spotted an opportunity to upgrade their offerings, most businesses seem to stumble when it comes to the upselling of soft drinks.
Could pairing them with food be the answer? The first thing that must be said is that this is not a very popular concept in the UK. A quick search on Google for food and wine matching returns over 200,000 results, but replacing the word wine with soft drinks returns no results at all. But this is not to say food and soft drinks can’t or shouldn’t go together.
Trek across the Atlantic and you’ll find a number of outlets incorporating non-alcoholic beverages into their menus. Chicago fine dining restaurant Charlie Trotter's offers a non-alcoholic beverage tasting menu and the nearby Green Zebra offers the likes of pink peppercorn thyme soda and iced hibiscus tea on its menu.
And then there’s Noma, the restaurant in Copenhagen that has been voted the World’s Best Restaurant for two years running. Owner Rene Redzepi offers diners the option of a matching juice menu which includes Nordic exotics such as apple pine and sea buckthorn juices. But these businesses seem to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to matching soft drinks with food.
Gabriel David, head of Luscombe Drinks, explains: “Restaurants don’t appreciate how much it could mean to their business if they started offering more soft drinks.
Missing a trick
“If 10 per cent of the population don’t drink alcohol for health reasons and many other people don’t want to drink it at lunch time, restaurants are certainly missing a trick if they’re not offering something non-alcoholic to go with a meal.”
David – whose soft drinks business has released its own set of tasting notes for its entire range of fruit-based beverages, with food matching ideas for each – believes the concept of marrying food and soft drinks is overlooked by operators who choose to stick with stocking the lower GP, more mainstream brands.
“When you think of soft drinks, the first thing you will think about is probably Coca-Cola and you might think about a J2O. Nobody in their right mind is going to offer either of those as a food matching proposition.
“It is possible to match soft drinks with food, but you’ve got to put in quite a lot of effort trying to convince people of that in the first place. You can’t just match any old soft drink with a dish, but you could match the more premium soft drinks.
“We sat down with a number of experts to generate the tasting notes and food matching list – it’s not just something I dreamt up. There are some fairly obvious matches. For example, you have pear and apple-flavoured drinks which would go really well with belly pork and roasts, and apricot-flavoured drinks would go well with oriental dishes.”
Food matching credentials
Fellow premium soft drinks brand Fentimans, which is enjoying some success in the restaurant market, is also promoting the idea of matching soft drinks with food and is set to release its own recipe booklet, detailing the food matching credentials for its range of botanically brewed beverages.
“A large proportion of Fentimans growth in the past five years has come in the on-trade,” says operations director Tiffany McKirdy. “Many licensees are demanding premium soft drinks; they may be selling less volume but achieving more profit by encouraging their customers to trade up.
“Fentimans products can work really well with food. For example, our recently launched Botanically Brewed Cool Ginger Beer would be a great match with a spicy curry, because it would help to combat the heat.
“With this heightened interest in Fentimans beverages, we are also planning to bring out our own recipe booklet which will identify one or two recipes that feature each of our drinks.”
It’s not just the premium soft drinks arena that advocates the idea of matching soft drinks with food. The more ubiquitous brands, which yield a considerably higher GP than imported or premium quality alternatives, are pushing for operators to incorporate their products onto their menus and upsell them through their food matching credentials
“Restaurants and pubs should make the most of the ‘with food’ opportunity,” says Martin Sampson, shopper marketing controller at Coca-Cola Enterprises. “Soft drinks are bigger than the cider , wine and spirits categories, and like food are playing a crucial role in the changing pub environment.
“What’s more, the rise in popularity of eating out and a new breed of gastropubs and restaurants offer an ever growing opportunity to increase soft drink sales. Soft drinks are often the preferred choice for many customers and are a big opportunity for licensees to increase sales particularly in summer when more people are socialising outdoors.”
So… thinking of giving it a go? Follow these tips:
- Make soft drinks visible. Sampson advises: “You should dedicate 30 per cent of chilled space to soft drinks to reflect their value to your business. In tests across 250 pubs last year we saw category uplifts of between 5-9 per cent, simply by activating Soft Drinks on the menu.”
- Start with the basics.“If you’re considering matching up different drinks and dishes, you have to start with the basics,” advises David from Luscombe Drinks. “Make sure you are offering something decent. If you make a fuss about your wine list and your beer list, then also spend some time on your soft drink list.”
- Offer diversity. McKirdy from Fentimans adds: “Make sure you tailor your range of soft drinks to suit your customer base and occasion. A diverse range with new and different products will give you credibility, sets you apart from your competition and adds value to your customers. For food-led Outlets, a good variety of premium packaged soft drinks works best.”
Five potential soft drink and food matches to get you started:
- Elderflower fizzy drink with party nibbles, canapés and cakes, could be served as a replacement for Champagne
- Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer with barbeque chicken or Caribbean-style grilled fish
- Fentimans Botanically Brewed Cool Ginger Beer with spicy curry
- Apple/pear juice with roast pork belly
- Appletiser with warm apple cake or oat biscuits. Alternatively, with korma-style curries, couscous or baked sweet potatoes.
Read all of our articles on food and drink matching trends here