Of all the foodservice beverage news over the past year, the most unexpected may have been a pairing between the Coca-Cola Company and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The drink giant partnered with CIA to design specialty beverages that combine unusual flavors that can be paired with foods. The desired approach is similar to the selection of different wines to complement a meal, a practice that had even spread to similar serving suggestions for beer in recent years. Now, Coke believes it is high time to implement such an idea for soft drinks and the menu.

Coke and the CIA experimented with foods to create 19 new recipes featuring a wide variety of the Coke products as key ingredients in items for appetizers, breakfast foods, dinner entrées and desserts, as well as beverages. Among the suggestions were Lemon-y Honey Glazed Pork Chops, made with Diet Lemon Coke; Oven-baked Chicken Wings with Sweet & Tangy Mustard Sauce, made with Barq's Root Beer; and Light Lime Cheesecake, made with Minute Maid Limonada.

“We are taking a look at traditional beverages and what flavors work well with different kinds of foods,” explains Ron DeSantis, director of industry solutions with the CIA. “Some chains will likely have drink specialists,” he foresees. “A lot has to do with training about flavors and the types of foods and drinks that go with them. It is not just about soda.”

Furthermore, the partnership will design specialty beverages combining unusual flavors that will pair well with foods. Fresca Pomegranate, for example, blends Fresca, Odwalla PomaGrand pomegranate juice and Seagram's Club Soda with a pinch of pomegranate seeds. The Coca-Cola Hot Tamale mixes Coke, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, fresh lime and black pepper--living proof that the recipes run “from the tame to the exotic,” to quote Chris Lowe, president of the Coca-Cola Food Service and Hospitality division. He notes that the recipes are available only in restaurants for now, but that could change if one becomes “a runaway hit.”

Responding to the notion that consumers are skipping meals, Dunkin' Donuts debuted Smoothies, a three-item line that promises a filling and nutritious replacement.

In from Afar

The move was only one of Coca-Cola's foodservice initiatives this year. Another saw the company introduce Far Coast, a brand of premium brewed beverages. Coca-Cola said the brand will “empower retail customers--premium restaurants, entertainment venues and other high-end outlets--to offer a variety of freshly brewed espressos, chai teas, cappuccinos and lattes with a high degree of operational ease.” The Coca-Cola Company developed a proprietary pod-based brewing technology, providing customers with “an operationally easy system to offer barista-quality brewed beverages,” while ensuring consistency and that the product is fresh for each individual consumer.

Promising a total range of non-alcoholic beverages, Far Coast offers coffees, teas and other brews and infusions inspired by different cultural “adventures” in music, art and legends from around the world. A Far Coast “Concept Store” in Toronto gives customers a chance to try the range of blends, which Coca-Cola believes will help operators “quickly and conveniently tap into the fast-growing specialty coffee and tea market.”

To complement Far Coast, Coca-Cola debuted CHAQWA, which was oriented more toward the convenience-seeking consumer (the CHAQWA name comes from a combination of cha, the Mandarin name for tea, and qawah., the name for coffee in many Arabic languages). CHAQWA was designed to allow convenience stores and quick-service restaurants to serve authentic cappuccinos and chai teas. According to Coke, “CHAQWA is designed for people 'on the go' who do not have time to wait in a queue at a typical coffeehouse but who, if given the chance, would upgrade to a coffeehouse beverage if it were available conveniently in a quick-service restaurant. In contrast, Far Coast is designed to be more experiential and 'relaxed' and will be made available in upscale hotels and fine dining establishments, where consumers have the time for a more 'immersive' experience.”

Coca-Cola sought to make premium-quality coffees, teas and blends a little more user-friendly with the launch of Far Coast.

Grading Down

It may be bad news for the soft drink manufacturer, but more school systems abandoned soft drinks in favor of beverages perceived as more nutritious. The moves followed the development of new School Beverage Guidelines by the American Beverage Association and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“As parents, teachers and school administrators, we know that children may not always be thinking about nutrition. That is why we all need to work together to teach our children the skills they will need to grow up healthier than ever—to balance calories consumed with calories burned,” explains Susan K. Neely, president and chief executive officer of the American Beverage Association.

A part of a “comprehensive wellness approach,” the guidelines followed and built upon the school vending policy that the beverage industry adopted in August of last year (and referenced in the Prepared Foods' 2005 Foodservice Annual).

“The beverage industry has a long-standing belief that school wellness efforts must focus on teaching kids to consume a balanced diet and exercise more,” Neely says. “That is why we joined with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to develop new School Beverage Guidelines that provide more low-calorie and nutritious or functional beverages.” (See the sidebar “Cool for School.”)

An analysis of beverage consumption in schools suggests young people already had begun to abandon carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) prior to the new guidelines. “Measuring the Purchases of Soft Drinks by Students in U.S. Schools” found student school day purchases of traditional (sugared) CSDs in 2004 averaged at most 12.5oz per week for high school students, 3oz per week for middle schoolers and 0.3oz weekly for those in elementary school. So, the American Beverage Association reasoned, “The typical high-school student purchased at most about one 12oz can of traditional CSD per week at school. The typical elementary school student purchased at most only about one can of traditional sugared CSD per school year.”

In terms of ounces purchased at schools, beverage consumption fell 5.7% from 2002 to 2004, fueled in large part by the 24.3% drop in purchases of traditional CSDs. Other beverages, however, noted sizable sales increases: diet CSDs were up 20.7%, waters jumped 22.8%, sports drinks increased 69.5% and 100% juices grew 15.4%.

Naturally Smooth

While the analysis fails to mention smoothies, these beverages are making an increasing dent in schools. “As more school districts move away from carbonated beverages and are looking for healthful alternatives, there is a big opportunity for smoothies,” observes David Henkes, principal with Technomic Inc. In the wake, chains like Inta Juice, Jamba Juice and Smoothie King have ventured into schools to offer what parents perceive as a more healthful beverage.

The companies are doing nothing to discourage those notions; Jamba Juice, in fact, already has moved to counter some concerns about the calorie and sugar content of its products. The company launched four all-fruit smoothies with 45% fewer calories and 51% less sugar than its average smoothies. The 24oz All Fruit Smoothies contain five fruit servings; the USDA's Dietary Guidelines recommend five to 13 servings daily.

Smoothie consumption certainly has grown in recent years; Henkes projects the segment will grow 10% over 2006, boosted in no small part by the arrival of major chains into the smoothie-making business. According to NPDFoodworld CREST, the quick service restaurant industry serves 296 million servings of smoothies a year—for sales totaling $1.2 billion, based on smoothie servings for the 12 months ending in February of 2006.

Dunkin' Donuts, for example, added a Smoothies line made from yogurt and real fruit. The Wildberry, Mango Passion Fruit and Strawberry Banana promised to be an excellent source of vitamin C and calcium—25% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of the latter and 80%-190% of the former. The line was a response to consumers who increasingly skip meals.

“Consumers are living increasingly more hectic lives, often running between home, work and school with little time left. As a result, many people find they do not have time in the day to fit in three square meals. According to Information Resources, one-third of Americans regularly skip meals, often grazing on snack foods as a substitute,” says John Gilbert, Dunkin' Donuts' vice president of marketing. The move into smoothies was only a sampling of Dunkin' Donuts' endeavors over the past year. The company announced plans to add cookies and even such meal-type food as mini-tacos, hot dogs and sandwiches—and, incidentally, more beverages— including Turbo Hot coffee, the latest addition to its line of espresso-based beverages. “We saw great success after rolling out Turbo Ice coffee last summer and found young-adult consumers really enjoyed a refreshing drink that also gave a pick-me-up,” Gilbert recalls. “We noticed a growing demand for this concept to be combined with our hot coffee.”

Dunkin' Donuts announced plans for a notable expansion in the coming years, expected to triple its number of outlets to 15,000 nationwide by 2020. Meanwhile, its chief competitor in the coffee business, Starbucks, continued its impressive growth this past year and recently announced plans to further that success: it will more than double the number of its stores in the U.S., envisioning 15,000 locations. Commenting on the target, company chairman Howard Schultz notes, “We believe the saturation opportunity in the U.S. is not 50% there.” He further believes the company's plans for 30,000 global stores “will prove to be significantly light over time.” As of August, there were 12,142 Starbucks around the world, with roughly 70% of them stateside.

That is not to say that the company can do no wrong—far from it, in fact, if last year's disappointing Chantico rollout is any indication. The drinking chocolate was a decadent, premium-chocolate beverage claimed to be dramatically different from simple hot chocolate. The delectable drink had one drawback, however, that proved fatal—it was not adaptable to differing consumer tastes. The drinkable dessert, as it was described, was available without any variations and only in a 6oz version. Starbucks' patrons are accustomed to dictating the size and makeup of their selections, and Chantico lasted barely a year before falling off the chain's menu. The idea of an indulgent chocolate beverage is not completely dead, however. Alan Hilowitz, a spokesman for the company, says the chain is testing other forms of chocolate beverages and food offerings, though any introduction is unlikely to resemble Chantico. “I would not say (the new developments are) a replacement for or a Chantico-like product. I would say it is kind of the next evolution of what an indulgent product would be at Starbucks.”

Cool Spell

Just in time for summer, the company unveiled a cooler line of concoctions, all capitalizing on the blending trend. Pomegranate Frappuccino features Tazo green tea and a blend of pomegranate, peach and a hint of mint. Furthermore, it promises as many antioxidants as an equivalent amount of orange juice and is claimed to provide 40% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement. The Tangerine Frappuccino blends Tazo Passion tea, tangerine, a splash of lime flavor and a touch of hibiscus.

The company also added a cool beverage with a South of the Border feel. Iced Café con Leche was described as “the classic Latin summer cooler” and featured Starbucks Terraza Blend coffee, a classic syrup and a touch of whole milk.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) reports Americans consume more than 300 million cups of coffee per day, and 12% of those are poured over ice. Starbucks' Terraza Blend is only one of a number of such products on the market capitalizing on this growing trend: Baskin-Robbins mixes coffee, ice and ice cream in its Cappuccino Blast; ice, caramel, chocolate or vanilla syrup, whipped cream and drizzle on top blend in Caribou Coolers from Caribou Coffee; and Dairy Queen features Colombian coffee, soft-serve ice cream and flavored syrups in its MooLatté offerings.

These coffee options are a concern for some groups, precisely for the reasons CSDs were run out of schools. High calorie content and caffeine intake prompted the Center for Science in the Public Interest to single out certain Starbucks beverages. According to the NPD Group, only roughly 4% of all domestically consumed coffee goes to teen drinkers; however, Bob Goldin, Technomic's executive vice president, notes “rising concern about the nutritional content of (some coffee chains') products, especially related to children.” Will coffeehouses be the next battleground against children's obesity? The fight seems to be brewing.

Website Resources:

www.PreparedFoods.com --Prepared Foodsmagazine
www.technomic.com -- Technomic Inc.
www.menuinsights.com -- Mintel's Menu Insights

Sidebar 1: Cool for School

The School Beverage Guidelines drafted by the American Beverage Association and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation mandate elementary schools provide students with: bottled water; up to 8-oz servings of milk and 100% juice; low- and non-fat regular and flavored milk with up to 150 calories per 8oz; and 100% juice with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories per 8oz. In middle school, beverage choices will be the same as elementary school, except juice and milk may be sold in 10-oz servings. High school students will have a variety of beverage options, including bottled water; no- or low-calorie beverages with up to 10 calories per 8oz; up to 12-oz servings of milk, 100% juice, light juice and sports drinks; low- and no-fat regular and flavored milk with up to 150 calories per 8oz; 100% juice with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories per 8oz; and light juices and sports drinks with no more than 66 calories per 8oz. In addition, at least 50% of the beverage selections in high schools must be water and no- or low-calorie options.