The Mojito recently went into test phase at the Fox & Hound Restaurant Group. Even though the cocktail has been on the chain’s menu for some time—prepared with fresh mix ingredients—Fox & Hound beverage pros are testing a prepared mix. “It’s quicker to make with the mix. It saves time,” says COO Ken Syvarth.
Fox & Hound locations
use mixes to quickly
prepare flavorful drinks such as this Raspberry Lemonade.
If the test phase proves successful, the Finest Call Mojito Mix will join the Finest Call Bloody Mary and Margarita mixes already in use behind the bar at Fox & Hound locations. Syvarth says he hopes the convenience and speed of making drinks using mixes leads to an increase in sales of cocktails, which currently represent 38 percent of bar sales, lagging behind beer, which enjoys 60 percent of sales at the 92-unit Wichita, Kan.-based chain.
Beverage pros have long recognized that prepared mixes provide convenience behind a busy bar, but many are finding that today’s mixes also deliver on flavor variety and quality as well. Although a variety of mix brands are used at the 123 Cheesecake Factory restaurants, Perfect Puree of Napa Valley is the main supplier, “and the line’s quality is exceptional,” says Russell S. Greene, senior vice president, beverage and bakery operations for Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, headquartered in Calabasas, Calif.
And the versatility is there, too. Just three of Perfect Puree’s products—More Mango, Red Raspberry and Positively Pomegranate—are used to create a repertoire of at least eight different cocktails, Greene says, including the Mango Margarita, Pomegranate Margarita, El Diablo, French Kiss, Tropical Martini, Red Raspberry Martini and The Ritz.
Michelle Pae, director of beverage strategy at Olive Garden, the 597-location casual Italian chain operated by Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants, underscores the importance of the consistency that prepared mixes deliver. “Consistency is so important, because at Olive Garden, we want to be sure we’re serving a guest in Florida or New Jersey the same exact flavor profile,” she says, noting, “We get that with Island Oasis mixes.”
Pae also points out that a mix flavor can multi-task and be used in many ways behind a busy, space-conscious bar. For example, Island Oasis Wild Berry is used in non-alcohol drinks like lemonade and iced teas as well as in Margaritas and Daiquiris, she says. The chain uses Island Oasis peach, strawberry, ice cream mixes and sweet and sour for Margaritas on a regular basis. “We use the mango quite a bit, and while the Margarita is the number one selling drink, we’re also proud of our Bellinis, as they’re linked to Olive Garden’s Italian heritage.”
Mixes ensure consistent flavor profiles for drinks such as the Strawberry Margarita and Strawberry Mango Margarita served at Olive Garden locations.
Briad Main Street Restaurant Group, a franchisor of 18 T.G.I. Friday’s locations based in Phoenix, Ariz., has developed “great line extensions using pre-made mixes, like the Mango-Berry Daiquiri and the Wild Berry Sangria using the Island Oasis products,” says Tony Garcia, senior manager of beverage R&D. “Pre-made mixes have given us great tasting drinks that are easily executable without sacrificing price or ticket times,” he notes.
Although flavors in mixes are all the rage, a consistent top-seller is sweet and sour, the basis for many cocktails, like the ever-popular Margarita. However, the debate continues as to whether prepared or fresh is the better choice for this bar staple.
Tim Johnson, vice president of purchasing and beverage for Littleton, Co.-based Champps Entertainment, Inc., is evaluating the prepared versus fresh sweet and sour issue at the chain’s casual sports-themed eateries. “We’ve been using United Citrus Products Corp.’s freeze-dried sweet and sour mix for our Margaritas, and it offers not just convenience but very high consistency,” he says. “However, I’m strongly considering switching to fresh. We use fresh lemon in our lemonade and we have fresh squeezed lime [behind the bar], so why not use it on our Margaritas? It’s not a cost issue, as cost is secondary to taste and flavor.”
Johnson says his “concern in switching to fresh lemon juice for the Margaritas is consistency. With a very large chain, the mix is about the only way to go.” At 50 locations, Champps could go either way. If the decision to move forward with fresh is made, a test would precede a roll out over the next six to eight months, Johnson says. For its frozen cocktails, including its Strawberry Margarita, Pina Coladas and all Daiquiris, Champps has used Island Oasis mixes for the last 20 years; the Major Peters’ line of mixers is the brand of choice for its Bloody Mary cocktails.
But back to that sweet and sour conundrum. “Sweet and sour mix is by far our biggest selling product,” says Bill Hinkebein, director of marketing and sales for American Beverage Marketers, maker of Finest Call, Master of Mixes and Coco Real, a cream of coconut product. “Our sweet and sour mix is great for operations—it’s quick and, let’s not forget, profitable. Pre-made is the standard at bars and restaurants,” says Hinkebein. “The percentage of fresh usage is so small because in order to do it, an operation needs three things: a large bar area, a master mixologists and a commitment from the owner to do it that way. It’s just not always practical.” Finest Call offers 30 different flavors to both on- and off-premise markets.”
Another major mixer player, Daily’s, recently added four new flavors: Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Mango Daiquiri/Margarita and Pomegranate. The line now consists of 18 flavors, including three Bloody Mary varieties, and bar ingredients such as grenadine and non-alcohol triple sec.
New mix flavors are indeed coming to market at a fast and furious pace these days. World Harbors’ Angostura Drink Mixers recently launched seven: Mojito, Blood Orange, Green Apple, Daiquiri, Pina Colada, Mint and Strawberry Daiquiri, rounding out its already extensive portfolio.
Coastal Promotions, marketer of Taste of Florida mixers, recently launched Wild Olive Real Fruit Martini Mixers, and will soon launch the Mojito Republic line of Mojito mix products. Of the Wild Olive line, CEO Doug McWhorter says that “Pomegranate [as a flavor profile] has risen in popularity over the last few years, making it an easy addition to most venues. Chocolate Cherry and Carmel Apple [other flavors in the line] are traditional favorites that work well in almost any environment, and our Asian Pear is gaining in popularity with the more trendy locations.”
Fever-Tree, a line of all-natural mixers from the United Kingdom, launched in the U.S. last month. Charles Rolls, managing director, says his inspiration comes from a desire to create a high-quality tonic water to match up with Plymouth Gin, a brand he ran in the late 1990s.
“For our tonic, we started with a clean sheet of paper and thought about every element—from small, single-serve glass bottles to ensure freshness and fizz, to all natural ingredients including natural quinine from the original plantations and some ingredients which none of the big guys could ever aim to include, such as small batch production of bitter orange oils, hand pressed by one family in the wilds of Tanzania,” Rolls says. The line also includes ginger ale and bitter lemon.
When considering a mix product, several key elements should be examined. “At Fox & Hound, we look for three factors in evaluating mixes: ease of operations, consistency of product and [implications] from a cost standpoint,” says Syvarth. “We chose Finest Call because they are very good products with high consistency and they simplify operations.”
Sangria and Margarita served at TGI Friday’s operated by Briad Street Restaurant Group.Criteria are similar at Briad Main Street. “When evaluating mixes, we stay focused on quality, ease of execution, shelf life and of course—cost,” says Garcia. “We have found these qualities in Fat Tuesday’s, Island Oasis and Finest Call, all of which we use.”
Pae points to several salient selling points of the Island Oasis program used at Olive Garden. “Once you open the product, it has a seven-day shelf life. Look for something easy to use that’s consistent. The products we use do not require mixing and don’t need to be diluted—they go from freezer to refrigerator. Also, operators need a mix that blends well with spirits.
“We also look for the right equipment, not just the right products,” Pae continues, “and Island Oasis delivers on that. From a procedural point of view and the service of equipment, it’s also easier with one vendor. Handling the complexities of the operations team is so important—that makes it easy for bartenders to promote and sell drinks, which delivers a better experience for the guest.”
A better guest experience—in saving them time and offering fresh tasting, creative drinks at reasonable cost—is the bottom line when operators integrate prepared mixes correctly into their beverage programs. And with the ever-expanding variety of flavors today, the case for mixers just got stronger.
Ellie Van Savage is associate editor of Cheers.