CHICAGO -- The holiday season is prime time for convenience stores and restaurant chains to develop promotional and limted-time dispensed-beverage programs. It's a marketing and menu strategy that takes place every year, and it effectively captures consumers due to a core positioning around cravings, comfort and indulgence. And each year it's worth noting the mix of perennial beverage favorites being brought back to the menu, and the new entrants that reflect emerging flavor trends.
At both c-stores and restaurants, some of the overarching seasonal beverage trends for this year's fall and winter seasons include:
- Beyond pumpkin—It's still a staple autumn ingredient, but maple, apple and cranberry also reveal their appeal.
- Mint as the main draw—It's a flavor profile that's increasing in incidence on winter drink menus, according to Technomic.
- Caramelized and candied ingredients—These depth-of-flavor preparations bring out more robust notes and textural elements in sugar as a topping.
- Dessert-style drinks—Showcasing cheesecake, cookies and creme brulee in the cup instead of on the plate.
- Creative tea offerings—More operators are warming up to tea presented in innovative ways.
Here's a look at 10 c-store brands and restaurant chains that are promoting on-trend limited-time sips for the season ...
Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s has brought back peppermint-flavored seasonal beverages to its recently revamped McCafe coffee line and created new cup designs to go along with the 2017 promotion.
The McCafe Peppermint Mocha and Peppermint Hot Chocolate returned to menus at participating locations this month. Both drinks are made without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and the Peppermint Mocha is made with espresso beans that are sustainably sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified farms.
Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa convenience stores have introduced a wide range of pumpkin-flavored offerings this season; a standout product again this year is its Pumpkin Cheesecake Smoothie LTO. While most pumpkin-flavored drinks tend to be of the hot, pumpkin-spice coffee variety, this dessert-style beverage pairs the distinctive tastes of pumpkin and cheesecake in a cold-blended smoothie topped with whipped cream.
3. Family Express
Family Express, Valparaiso, Ind., debuted two seasonal beverages that recall the flavors of apple and sugar cookies. Its Spiced Apple Cider features 100% all-natural apple cider flavored with cinnamon and a touch of mint, while its new Cookie Butter Latte features espresso, steamed milk and a buttery, vanilla-accented flavor of cookies.
4. Caribou Coffee
Caribou Coffee has debuted its line of holiday beverages.
This year, guests can choose from three specialty drinks: the Ho Ho Mint Mocha (peppermint white mocha with candy cane topping), the Fa La Latte (eggnog latte with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg) and the Caramel Chocolate Truffle Mocha (white chocolate and creamed milk steamed together with espresso and caramel sauce, and topped with chocolate whipped cream and chocolate chips).
The chain’s Reindeer Blend, made with coffee from Central America and combined with rich flavors from Indonesia, is also back.
5. Top Star Express
Emmaus, Pa.-based Top Star Express is a small regional player that operates in a hotly competitive mid-Atlantic market. But the c-store retailer's BeanTime coffee program has a loyal following, and the chain keeps the program fresh with seasonal LTOs that flaunt interesting flavors.
One such example is its new Cinnamon Vanilla Nut Cappuccino, featuring a fall-centric flavor combination that is warm, spicy, sweet and nutty at once.
6. Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Tropical Smoothie Cafe has brought seasonal beverages back to its menu, featuring cranberry as the flavor highlight. Available until Dec. 31, the seasonal menu once again features the chain’s Naughty or Nice smoothie options. The naughty drink, a Cranberry Truffle smoothie, is made with Ghirardelli white chocolate and yogurt, while the nice beverage, a Very Berry Cranberry smoothie, features a blend of cranberries and strawberries.
Starbucks has brought back its popular Peppermint Mocha and Caramel Brulee Mocha, and introduced a new Toasted White Chocolate Mocha, featuring caramelized toppings. The drink showcases espresso, steamed milk, caramelized golden-brown white chocolate, whipped cream and candied cranberry sugar sprinkled on top.
7-Eleven Inc. is teaming up with Nabisco to launch a limited-time mint-flavored product lineup this fall and winter, anchored by an Oreo Mint Hot Chocolate beverage. The limited-edition flavor will be exclusive to 7-Eleven convenience stores.
“Our customer research indicated that mint chocolate was a wanted winter flavor,” said Shawn Barnes, senior category manager for 7-Eleven, Irving, Texas. “We worked with our supplier to make sure we were the only ones to have one of the most recognized brands in our mint hot chocolate.”
10. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
New interpretations of tea is an on-trend movement at both c-stores and coffeehouses. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf's Winter Dream Tea Latte and Ice-Blended drink presents hot and cold concoctions of winter-themed black tea, rooibos, sweet spices, vanilla and steamed milk.