San Pellegrino is great, and Perrier will always be the go-to classic, but market competition for carbonated beverages is growing. In fact, a trend towards healthy, artisanal sodas is beginning to transform the foodservice industry, giving patrons access to a whole new world of refreshment.
Joel Gregoire, account manager, Foodservice, at the NPD Group research firm, confirms growth in this area of the market is beyond huge. Between August 2012 and August 2013, the market for carbonated bottled water leapt by a staggering 15 per cent, while non-carbonated bottled water grew only two per cent. It should be noted, however, that the category of carbonated beverages is broad and includes high-end specialty options with a variety of flavour profiles. Gregoire sees the most movement at fine-dining establishments: “The stats show that more than 47 per cent of carbonated bottle water servings happen at sit-down restaurants,” says Gregoire. “So, it makes sense that these venues would look to expand their overall carbonated water selection.”
The trend toward customizing soft drinks really started with the influx of ‘green’ chefs — those interested in local, organic produce and sustainable ingredients. Brad Long, the chef/owner of Cafe Belong, at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works and Belong Catering, doesn’t serve pre-canned sodas in his restaurant. “We wanted our beverages to reflect our philosophy about environmentally sustainable, local food,” says Long.
The award-winning restaurateur’s roster of sodas (created from scratch with homemade syrups) rivals the flavour profile of any canned concoction, with flavours that include carrot (yes, carrot), lemon, raspberry, lime, sweet potato, lavender, candy cane, ginger, vanilla, sarsaparilla paw and sea buckthorn. Each one sells for $3.25; for $5.50 customers can also have a scoop of vanilla ice cream added to make a float.
Jocelyn Maurice, GM of Toronto’s Auberge du Pommier, attributes this beverage buzz to two new social trends — social responsibility (people are more aware of their alcoholic limit if they are driving) and a growing health-consciousness.
In addition to using the Q-water filtration system, the Auberge du Pommier staff brews blood orange, rhubarb strawberry and meyer lemon syrups, then mixes them with Q carbonated water ($5.25). The restaurant management also imports Britain’s internationally famous Belvoir Fruit Farms cordials to mix with sparkling water. The organic, syrupy elixirs — with flavour profiles such as elderflower, blueberry and black currant as well as raspberry and rose — are prepared with fresh flowers, fruits and spices.
The diversity of water products available these days calls for expert knowledge and experience. Perhaps restaurants will soon be hiring an aqua specialist — someone just as necessary and revered as a sommelier.