When it comes to beverage purchases at restaurants, Technomic generally finds that an appealing taste and flavor is most important to consumers. But a good number of people (40%) cite a wide variety of options as important, according to the recently released “Beverage Consumer Trend Report.”

More than two fifths of consumers (46%) say full-service restaurants should offer greater beverage variety, which is a slight increase since 2010 (42%). And 40% of consumers want a wider variety of beverages at fast-food concepts. Notably more consumers aged 18–44 than their older counterparts say both full-service and fast-food restaurants should offer greater beverage variety.

A smaller percentage of consumers (12%) say the ability to customize their beverage is important. Again, that percentage skews higher for younger consumers.

Foodservice operators are learning that offering a wide variety of beverage options can help meet consumer needs for different items, flavors and occasions, and can satisfy a more diverse customer base. Additionally, offering new, unique and customizable beverages can help drive traffic among younger consumers.

Beverages that consumers can’t get elsewhere or make at home may be especially appealing and can likely drive restaurant traffic or tempt customers to purchase beverages with their meals. For example, consumers who drink lactose-free lattes or enjoy a soy-milk flavor may choose Starbucks over Dunkin’ Donuts, since Starbucks offers soy milk and Dunkin’ Donuts does not.

At restaurants, consumers often have the ability to customize their beverages in a variety of ways. For example, customers can create their own soft-drink flavors with Coca-Cola Freestyle and Pepsi Spire soda machines or add protein and vitamin enhancements to smoothies. A fifth of consumers overall (19%), and 31% of those aged 18–34, say they have added a “boost” or “flavor shot” to a beverage in the prior month.

Some consumers also customize beverages at home, even more so today than two years ago. More consumers today (21%) than in 2012 (17%) say they often add flavor to their beverages at home. And, again, interest in adding beverage flavor is highest among those aged 18–44.

Foodservice operators face competition from retail products that enhance non-alcoholic beverages for home consumption by offering options that are hard to find at retailers or stock at home, such as “mocktails,” which require a range of oftentimes premium ingredients and preparations.

Consumers, particularly young consumers, indicate substantial interest in adding boosts and flavor shots to their beverages. If it fits with the concept, operators may also offer enhanced smoothies, with add-ins such as protein, probiotics, immunity or weight-loss boosts; specialty coffees with chef-crafted flavor blends; and soft drinks, such as iced tea, lemon-lime sodas and aguas frescas with seasonal fruit juices.