Old habits are hard to break and Americans’ addiction to soda is deeply ingrained. Foodservice companies can take a leading role in changing behaviors by providing healthy choices in commercialized environments, such as corporate and hospital dining facilities. The good news is that thoughtful changes in beverage offerings can yield positive results in employee health and dining profits, according to Serge Roche, Unidine director of field retail experience.
“People are more open to healthy options today, but in many cases foodservice operators are not providing alternative choices at comparable price points when it comes to beverages,” Roche explains.
Clear hydration station self-serve beverages are the foundation of Unidine’s Refresh for Health approach. The welcoming clear glass dispensers are filled with fresh fruit and herb infused waters, homemade lemonades and teas, as well as homemade juices, at Unidine’s locations in 25 states across the country.
Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, began working with Unidine in 2016 and, in just four months, the Refresh for Health program has grown to four flavorful daily offerings. Daily sales of infused beverages are more than double fountain beverage sales and each month infused beverage sales have increased.
The following are Roche’s suggestions to break customer reliance on soda fountain drinks and increase profits:
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Roche stresses the importance of featuring healthy beverage choices near the entrance of the café in a high traffic location. He explains that while soda companies rely on their brand name for marketing, a successful transition to healthy beverage sales calls for the enticement of fresh fruits and cold tea on ice as a visual billboard. “It’s the What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get sales approach, which can be much more powerful than a soda fountain logo on a machine,” he explains.
VARIETY IS KEY
Variety is the spice of life and Roche believes rotating flavors and beverage options is critical to changing behaviors. He encourages his teams to experiment with vegetable, fruit and spice infused waters, like mint-cucumber, strawberry- fennel or tomato-basil. He says it’s very important to infuse the same seasonal approach to the beverages that a culinary team uses on the food menu, for example, using cherries in May and cinnamon in October.
Equally important, however, are different types of beverages. He encourages teams to include sparkling options by adding club soda to the base. “This helps wean people from soda by providing something sparkling,” says Roche. He is a proponent of fresh juices as well, but cautions culinary teams to use a juicer versus a blender when using fibrous fruits and vegetables. “The fibers are harder on the palette so it’s better to use a juice extractor and serve a pure liquid.”
PRICE IS RIGHT
Roche suggests pricing healthy house-made beverages the same as soda fountain drinks but offering meal specials and bundles that exclude soda. When determining a sandwich, side and drink package price, he reminds his teams to put themselves in the customers’ shoes and make it worth it. “You want the perceived value to be that one item is free with a bundle to really drive trial and behavior change,” he suggests.
Last but certainly not least, Roche stresses the importance of sampling – whether a team member is handing out samples or the small sample cups are always present for self-serve sampling. “You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it,” he explains, “If you’re asking the customer to buy something new that they’re not familiar with, let them try it and decide for themselves.”
Research suggests it takes 66 days to change a behavior. Create a strategic plan to introduce enhanced fresh beverages and commit to 60 days at minimum to start. With a rotating selection in a high traffic location, the net result will be happy, healthy customers and more profits. Everyone can drink to that!
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