Many hospitals have either limited or eliminated sugar-sweetened beverages from patient menus, cafeterias, and vending machines. The move is certainly in line with healthcare’s prevailing goal of population health management, but it does present challenges. There’s a reason sugary beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas, and coffee drinks do well—they taste good and they are happily embedded into many people’s daily routines.
But there’s no getting around the studies that demonstrate how consuming too many sugar sweetened beverages contributes to obesity and related ailments such as heart disease and diabetes. Hospitals and long-term care facilities that take the initiative and implement better-for-you beverage alternatives position themselves as leaders in prevention-based care. They align their beverage program with their core mission statement of health and wellness.
But outside of diet sodas and other artificially-sweetened refreshments, what can they offer? Indeed, diet drinks do offer one pathway here, but as we’re seeing throughout food service, today’s consumers demand more. They take wellness cues from wholesome, fresh ingredients. They don’t want to sacrifice. They want to feel good about their choices—and they want those choices to taste good. Understanding this mindset can frame a better-beverage strategy for your healthcare food service program.
3 Delicious Sugar-Free Beverage Trends
These three ideas accentuate the positives inherent in their beverage builds. They deliver the all-important freshness and wellness cues while tasting refreshingly delicious.
1. Fruit-Infused Water
This category is making big moves, leaving the confines of health spas and moving into cafeterias, dining halls, boardrooms, and waiting rooms. Clear water dispensers sporting fresh fruit and herb inclusions is a great way to offer guests water in a memorable, eye-catching way, using what’s on hand, or what’s in season. Try these:
- Petits fruits
- Citrus fruits
- Fresh mint
- Fresh peppermint
- Fresh rosemary
2. Handcrafted Sodas
There’s been a surge in the popularity of housemade sodas at the restaurant level, where restaurants are featuring creative combinations of flavored syrups, chilled seltzer water with add-ins, and garnishes. Sugar-free syrups make housemade sodas an appealing addition to nutrition-conscious beverage menus. Try these (all sugar-free syrups):
- Blackberry-Lemon Soda: blackberry syrup, lemon juice, seltzer, blackberry garnish
- Old-fashioned Strawberry Soda: strawberry syrup, seltzer, strawberry garnish
- Pomegranate Soda: pomegranate syrup, seltzer, lime wedge
3. Fruit-Juice Spritzers
Similar to the handcrafted sodas, but featuring 100 percent fruit juice instead of syrup, these spritzers see chilled seltzer water with just a splash of juice. Boasting very little labour, these builds deliver a fresh, better-for-you beverage. Consider featuring a few exotic options for variety and differentiation. Try these:
- Apricot-plum spritzer
- Citrus spritzer (orange juice and tangerine juice)
- Tropical spritzer (guava, mango, pineapple…)
- Wild berry spritz