Au Natural: Consumers Embrace Juice and Pop Based Drinks

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Juice and pop selection is evolving as consumers embrace healthier, more flavourful concoctions

Long gone are the days when patrons and bartenders would snicker at an adult ordering a Shirley Temple. Well, perhaps there might be some muffled laughter at the Shirley Temple part, but ordering artisanal juices or soft drinks is becoming de rigueur as diners embrace healthier, more flavourful beverages.

The trend “can be attributed to the health movement,” says Scott McMaster, a Toronto mixologist who has tended bars at Colborne Lane and the Thompson Hotel in the city. “People want to know what’s going into their food and drink. There’s a value aspect as well as it’s offsetting the fact that juice and pop are sometimes cheaper than water.”

And, bold and creative flavours make the switch from booze to fruit and fizz easy. “In the summer, people love refreshing and cool drinks like lemonade, which you can infuse with mango, raspberry or blackberry flavour. At Colborne, we made a plain Koi drink, with orange juice, ginger syrup and berry cells.”

But, McMaster has another trick up his sleeve. He loves Chasers Juice, a Toronto-based supply company that produces custom-made juices for more than 190 local bars and restos, including the Thompson Hotel and Oliver & Bonacini restaurants. “All we do is take fruit, with no additives, and make it into juice,” says Richard Chase, who founded the juice company in 2004. “We offer more than 90 lemonades, including basil, thyme and strawberry basil. We also do a spicy one made with cayenne pepper.”

Chase, like McMaster, acknowledges today’s informed drinkers are demanding bolder combinations. For example, “We do a watermelon and lychee blend,” says Chase, “as well as lychee tangerine, mango mint and chilli blends. For the Thompson Hotel, we do a tomato juice with horseradish, chili pepper and a secret ingredient that gives it extra oomph.”

When it comes to soft drinks, Renata Clingen, a Toronto-based mixologist for the café at the city’s Evergreen Brickworks establishment, has homemade ginger ale, cherry, lemon, hibiscus, lavender and cardamom soda, on her menu. “Most [of our] pops will be made in-house,” explained Clingen, days before the café was slated to open. “When you break down soft drinks, they’re always just a simple syrup and a soda, but ours won’t have any chemicals or preservatives.”

For those who can’t make their own pop, Boylan’s Old Fashioned Pops are must-haves, according to McMaster, “It’s one pop company that’s coming to the forefront,” he says. In fact, the Toronto-based Penrose Fish and Chips is just one spot that serves the drinks, which are available in birch beer, orange cream, black cherry and cream soda varieties.

And, while soft drinks have never been noted for their nutritious value, some major companies, such as PepsiCo., are working to create pop with a healthier kick. “We are making great strides in transforming our portfolio to create products that fit into healthy, active lifestyles,” a company rep reports. “Many existing products  have been reformulated to improve the nutritional profile, and we continue to launch new products to help consumers make healthful choices.”

Trend Alert:

Experts agree: sweet, artificial flavours are a thing of the past. “People seem to want stronger cranberry flavours,” says Chase. “They’re moving from sweet to sour, and, on the health side, they want to know what they’re putting in their bodies.”

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