Recently, non-alcoholic beverages have been a major “wave” and have rocked the beverage industry. For 2023, the revenue projected in the non-alcoholic drinks market is US$1.45 trillion, creating an undeniable opportunity for infusions, menus and hospitality to collide with ease.
Of course, Gen Z consumers are exploring all the opportunities of this trending market. In fact, a survey conducted by NCSolutions found that among Gen Zers, 70 percent of those who identify as non-drinkers say they do not drink alcohol because they do not want to.
This choice to be abstinent from alcohol consumption has sparked the “sober curious” social movement, a term coined by Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.
Within the book, Warrington explores the relationship of alcohol and the “aliveness” that one can feel without it. This movement has stuck with younger people, inspiring them to pursue complex drinks that are still creative but are zero alcohol by volume (or ABV).
In a forerunner for creativity, tea has been incorporated into the cocktail scene by many tea industry players, growing the demand for bars and restaurants that want to expand their offerings, revenue, and customer base through tea. Of course, the ongoing health and wellness trend supports this growth, and now herbal infusions have become the next point of interest.
Businesses Are Becoming ‘Mocktail Friendly’ with Herbal Infusions
Restaurants – such as Bell Cafe in Mechanicsville, Va. – have started exploring how to be “mocktail friendly” to their consumers with herbals. All the while, the global herbal market is on the rise with blended fruits, spices and herbs that are perfect for bases in complex beverages, such as mocktails.
“We had a woman post a review commending our bartenders for accommodating her with a non-alcoholic cocktail,” shared Tiffany Ingram, co-owner and herbalist. “Wow, I thought, why aren't we offering her something really satisfying and well balanced?”
That exchange sparked Bell Cafe’s herbal flight program. This flight, made from herbs that the cafe grows themselves on their farm – Flower & Fields in Mechanicsville – opened the door to consumers who want an alternative to alcoholic drinks.
“People seem to be excited to try new flavors,” shared Ingram. “We did not think anyone would be satisfied with a little muddled fruit and some cocktail quality juice.”
Ingram used her background in herbalism and worked with her team to create a menu based on researched health benefits. Some of their more popular concoctions target immunity, insomnia and the digestive system. The beverages have been curated with sumac, lemon balm, hibiscus and astragalus, and the flights promote the functionality of the herbs.
Indeed, functionality has become a requirement within the beverage industry. Not only do the drinks (or infusions or mocktails) have to taste good, but they need to have some form of purpose to them to really gain attention, and Herban Flow in St. Petersburg, Fla. has done just that.
As the 49th zero-proof bottle shop to have popped up in the United States, Herban Flow offers completely non-alcoholic offerings for its clientele, ranging from zero proof spirits to infused ready-to-drink offerings.
“Some things just start to get studied a little bit more,” shared herbalist and customer service specialist Christina Prestero. “At the same time and as those studies come out and get released, a product comes out and gets released with it. Leading to these herbs and infusions becoming more well known.”
Prestero takes an educational approach with consumers who are looking for beverages that are zero-proof. Through her background with tea, as a former Teavana keyholder, Prestero encourages the idea behind each beverage and the function that the herbs and botanicals each have.
“I think there's a lot of room for sparking that fascination with people, if you can make a drink that looks like a mocktail and that has a function to it,” added Herban Flow Co-Owner Micheal Smith.
Smith went on to say that non-alcohol-drinking consumers have started sourcing these concoctions to not feel left out from the social aspect of drinking. This has led to a new market that perhaps hasn’t reached its full potential yet. As a result, Herban Flow continues to push for education and exploration in bars and restaurants surrounding how beverage programs can be built around herbal blends with innovative mocktail offerings.
“I think that cafes are going to be the dry bar of the future,” said Shah. “So, we developed these given the expertise that we already have with clients and verticals that we already know. If they have applications outside of the cafe channel and find legs in the restaurant and bar space, then that’s an unexpected bonus.”
Shah said he wants to see more incorporations of infusions into the overall craft beverage scene, and he encourages entrepreneurs and beverage innovators to explore and use everything that the herbal world has to offer.
“The market needs more leaders that embrace the broader definition of tea and then speak about it in a clear way,” said Shah, who noted that the industry should focus more on translating the world of infusions into simplified creations for the foodservice market.
Customers Want Unique Experiences with Beverages, Herbals Can Play a Big Role
The herbal infusion and herbal mocktail trend isn’t just isolated to smaller mom-and-pop restaurants or shops; larger players in the hospitality industry have also started to carry bespoke infusions and attract new customers who want unique experiences in beverage consumption.
Nazani Tea, a Knightsbridge, London-based company, only offers tisanes with a focus on the luxury market. Founder Arleen Ouzounian follows three pillars of luxury, integrity and elegance when it comes to assisting the hospitality world to build their menu diversity.
“Hospitality is, on the whole, lagging behind consumption trends, although there is definitely an uptick in caring about the whole menu – not just the coffee and tea selection,” said Ouzounian. "There is generally still a push for coffee and tea over infusions, however those venues who expand their offering when advised see more clientele satisfaction and a buzz around trying something new.”
Ouzounian said that the classics of chamomile and mint, along with lemon verbena, hibiscus and rose, have become the most popular ingredients when it comes to collaborations in the hospitality industry.
“There is now more of a trend to integrate ancient wisdom, experience, learning into modern life, with the rejection of processed, poor-quality ingredients – a hallmark of modern times,” said Ouzounian, discussing where the push for these herbs has come from.
Like many others seeking to discuss herbal infusions and other tisanes in the tea market, Nazani Tea has focused on interesting uses of herbs in the mocktail market. The infusion of olive leaves, an agent that is used to thicken mocktails, has shockingly made headway in their programs with hospitality, generally due to the syrupiness of the infusion.
Not only are tisane specific companies becoming involved in the development of the mocktail movement with their wholesale programs, many are promoting a regional approach for sourcing/suppling ingredients.
“High-end bars and restaurants in particular are really interested in finding ‘rediscovered' or obscure ingredients,” shared Tara Chapman, owner of Good+Ready, a ready-to-drink yaupon shop in Austin, Texas that’s expanding into local retail businesses over the course of the year.
In her community, Chapman is following a push for ingredients that are endemic and lesser known to the public, providing education to consumers looking for unique products that are obtainable.
With yaupon increasing its popularity as the only native caffeinated plant in North America, Good+Ready is starting to see it served as the primary tea option in many restaurants, in addition to being used as a flavoring in ice creams, cocktails and mocktails.
Chapman has made it her goal to go forth with a focus on native plants in North America, sharing the tag line, “Our tea traveled 80 miles. Not 8,000.” And she’s seeing a growing interest in ingredients that are easily accessible and beneficial.
“We are getting lots of questions about health benefits,” concluded Chapman. “Functional beverages that aren't just refreshment are big right now. People expect more from their beverages today.”
In the end, herbal infusions or tisanes have become a player in the tea market, and they continue to grow in the beverage industry, finding new paths into the newfound sober movement and the hospitality industry. And with consumers seeking clean and healthy living, they’re looking to plants for their beverage consumption more and more. The younger generations are also seeking beverage functionality that can aid in stress-free socialization, and businesses of all kinds can expand into this untapped style of consumption with the growing number of creative, available infusions.
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Adelaide Green is an avid tea drinker, who has worked professionally in the tea industry for five years. Living in St. Petersburg, Fla, Green attended the University of South Florida to persue a bachelor's degree in food and travel writing. She spends her days reading, drinking tea, and spending time with her cat, Pretzel.
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