Drinking Vinegars Infiltrate Foodservice Menus

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In foodservice, drinking vinegars provide opportunities for premiumization and limited time offers

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Consumers are drinking a growing number of beverages that feature vinegar as a primary ingredient.
  • The trend of drinking vinegar is on the rise in both foodservice restaurants and retailers, incorporating various flavors and ingredients for consumers to explore.
  • In foodservice, drinking vinegars often appear in the form of switchels and shrubs, which utilize fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices for additional flavor.
  • Consumers like these vinegar-based beverages for novelty as well as perceived functional benefits, such as improved digestive health.

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With more consumers turning to products made with functional ingredients, the trend of drinking vinegar is growing. According to Datassential’s Flavor 2019 report, 18% of consumers have tried beverages with vinegar as an ingredient, likely a result of the tangy taste profile and the consumer quest for more functional options and benefits. Vinegars have many perceived health benefits. Acetic acid, which is the main active compound in vinegar, has been shows to prevent spikes in blood glucose levels if taken after consuming a meal with a high glycemic index, and drinking vinegar may also have a probiotic or prebiotic effect on the microbiome. Consuming vinegars has also been associated with being beneficial for weight loss, cholesterol levels and skin and hair health, although these claims have yet to be substantiated. All of these tie into the desire for proactive health and personalized nutrition. Although this trend is newly mainstream, the practice of drinking vinegar for various perceived health benefits, such as improved digestion, has existed for centuries. Adding drinking vinegars to foodservice menus is one simple way to capitalize on consumer interest in this trend.


Lingo Check:
Drinking Vinegar (v): The act of drinking vinegar (such as apple cider vinegar) or a beverage that contains vinegar, such as a drinking vinegar (see below) or a health drink that contains vinegar.
Drinking Vinegar (n): Also known as shrubs or switchels, drinking vinegars are tart and tangy beverage concoctions that are often flavoured with herbs and fruits.


Switchel and Shrub Drinking Vinegars

Drinking vinegars typically come in two applications: switchels and shrubs.

A traditional switchel is the more basic of the two types of drinking vinegar, featuring a fairly spartan mixture of ingredients such as apple cider vinegar, water, ginger and maple syrup. Lore has it that farmers often drank this concoction in centuries past; today its enjoyed by consumers looking for an alternative drink they perceive as boosting energy and improving digestion. Although several products on the market are branded as “switchels,” the ones that contain fruit are technically shrubs.

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Shrubs combine vinegar, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices into a tangy and flavor-forward concoction. Most shrubs are prepared as a concentrated syrup and served with sparkling water; shrubs can also used as a drink mixer in alcoholic beverages. Although vinegar is credited with giving a unique taste to a shrub, the concoction may have initially been created as a way to increase the shelf life of fruit syrups.

Drinking Vinegar for Foodservice

In foodservice, drinking vinegars can be incorporated into mocktails, cocktails, sauces and marinades, adding a depth of flavor with umami notes. Because they’re simple to make from scratch, operators can use “ugly” or seasonal produce for making shrub vinegar drinks, including limited time offers.

For example, 110 Grill, an independent chain with locations in the Northeast, offers cocktails that include house-made ginger and cranberry apple shrubs. In Charleston, South Carolina, Husk’s menu in includes cocktails with carrot, ginger and turmeric shrub, as well as a lemon shrub. At Pok Pok, an Oregon-based restaurant chain, drinking vinegar-based cocktails are on the menu and concentrated shrub-style syrups are sold by the bottle.

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Because drinking vinegars offer consumers a way to explore flavors such as heirloom fruits and vegetables while also delivering functional benefits, switchels and shrubs also provide a new opportunity for foodservice brands to add premium menu and retail items.

Vinegar-based Health Concoctions

A number of other vinegar-based concoctions have hit the market as digestive health becomes a mainstream concern for consumers. While apple cider vinegar is the most popular vinegar ingredient in such retail beverages, it is often used in conjunction with other health-minded ingredients. Vinegar shots are also growing in popularity, again for their purported health benefits. Shots often contain high concentrations of vinegar and are focused on a specific health benefit. Beverage made with vinegar may be more focused on flavor and an enjoyable drinking experience.

Ventura County, California-based beverage manufacturer KeVita, for instance, combines apple cider vinegar with ginseng extract, orange extract, stevia and probiotics for flavors such as Ginseng Mandarin. New York City-based bottled juice company BluePrint also makes vinegar-based health drinks; both capitalize on the ingredient’s cache by listing vinegar on the front of the packaging. Products such as these tie into the digestive health trend, which continues to grow as consumers turn to foods and beverages with prebiotics and probiotics for gut health.

Although not always made from vinegar, many foodservice operators also offer kombucha tea. Kombucha is a fermented beverage which delivers a similar flavor profile to drinking vinegars as well as a host of perceived health benefits. It is homebrewed globally and also bottled and sold commercially by various brands. The microbial population present in kombucha is said to be probiotic, and therefore exerting health benefits, which is one reason the beverage has become so popular. Different products tend to standout and excel through flavor or the addition of further beneficial ingredients, which lend themselves to additional claims. We are seeing both raw and filtered kombucha products on the market, which cater to different consumer sensory experiences. Sales of ready-to-drink functional beverages such as kombucha and drinking vinegars are expected to grow into 2020.

In late November 2018, Kerry acquired Fleischmann’s Vinegar, a leader in vinegar quality and innovation. To learn more about our offerings and proprietary consumer insights, or to find out how we can help your brand add drinking vinegars to a menu, contact us.

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