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Fall Flavors Emerge on Summer Menus: Datassential

Tim Hortons drinks

Traditional autumn menu ingredients such as maple syrup have become among the most popular flavors of the summer as well, thanks to the competition among restaurants to capture fall-flavor product sales, according to Datassential.

“Restaurant chains are releasing their fall beverage lineups earlier and earlier each year, so that now we can expect to see some of these traditional fall flavors on more summer menus, especially when we're nearing the end of the summer in August,” said Jaclyn Marks, senior publications manager and trendologist at Datassential, in a webinar on summer food and flavor trends last week.

Last summer, the number of new items at restaurants shot up 67 percent over the summer of 2022, according to Datassential’s research, with a total of 1,121 new items, returning items, and limited-time offers. June was the biggest month for LTOs. 

An example of fall flavors appearing last summer—which Datassential defines as the months of June, July, and August—included the Maple Cinnamon Sugar Latte from cafe chain Tim Horton’s. The coffee beverage, which debuted last August, is made with a blend of maple syrup, brown sugar, and cinnamon flavors, mixed with milk and finished with a whipped topping and a dusting of cinnamon.

Other fall flavors that the chain introduced last August included pumpkin spice, spiced apple cranberry, and fall peach.

In addition to maple syrup, other trending sweet summer flavors identified by Datassential based on their appearance on restaurant menus include compote, white peach, orgeat, cookies and cream, raspberry lemonade, mojito, and guava.

Lemonades are one of the most popular LTOs during the summer months, appearing in 53 LTOs last summer at major chains. A standout example was the Passion Fruit Dutch Frosted Lemonade from coffee chain Dutch Bros. It gained plenty of exposure on social media thanks to a bright red layer of strawberry puree on top, said Marks.

“It’s such a unique way to showcase a beverage,” she said, noting that 54 percent of consumers gave it high scores as being unique, according to Datassential research. 

Savory Flavors and Ingredients

Trending savory flavors, ingredients, and descriptors on summer menus, according to Datassential’s research, include the term “Carolina” (as in Carolina-style barbecue sauce), herb bread, cherrywood smoked bacon, heirloom (as a descriptor), heirloom tomato, pepita, pollo asado, and snow crab.

Popular examples from last summer’s menu releases, based on Datassential consumer research about menu-item appeal, included Lemon Shrimp and Zucchini Spaghetti from Bertucci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria. The dish featured spaghetti tossed with roasted heirloom tomatoes, parmesan, zucchini, and shrimp in a savory lemon sauce.

Another example was the Carolina BBQ Burnt Ends Burger from Smashburger, which featured Certified Angus beef, Texas-style pork burnt ends (slow-smoked for eight hours in a hardwood smoker), Carolina BBQ sauce, aged cheddar cheese, and pickles, on a toasted Parker House roll.

Many of the summer holidays tend to be celebrated with food at home, according to the webinar, although Father’s Day is an exception when many customers choose to dine out in restaurants. Forty-one percent of consumers who celebrate Father’s Day said they usually go to a restaurant.

Other summer holidays that are gaining traction for potential food-and-beverage celebrations include Juneteenth, which 16 percent of consumers said they celebrate by going to a restaurant, and Pride Month (June), which an increasing number of Gen Z consumers say they celebrate. Overall, consumers who do celebrate Pride Month are almost as likely to go to restaurants as they are to eat at home.

The webinar also highlighted the influence of social media on food trends, citing some CPG products that have launched in response to viral food sensations on TikTok and other platforms. These include Coffee Mate’s Coconut Lime Dirty Soda Creamer, made to be mixed with Dr Pepper. The mix-in is a response to the dirty soda trend, originating in Utah, in which restaurants such as Swig offer beverages that combine soda, coffee creamer, and flavored syrups.