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QSR Drink Trends 2024

March 27, 2024

QSR Growth Trends

The rise of quick serve restaurants & fast casual dining

Fast-paced, budget-friendly and always offering something new – fast casual and quick serve restaurants show no signs of slowing down their growth.

Quick serve restaurants (QSRs) like McDonalds, Subway or Leon have seen an uptick in sales in recent years, fuelled by the challenging economic climate. In the UK, QSR’s affordability and convenience suits spending habits changed by the cost-of-living crisis. And fast casual dining outlets like Five Guys, Nando’s or Wagamama are enjoying the same strong sales.

In the US, this market is now valued at $169.92bn, and with forecasts for 10.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2023-2031, this value is expected to rise to $407.26bn by 2031*.

This won’t happen purely by chance, of course. Restaurants and brands are continuing to stay one step ahead and refresh their offerings by incorporating wider consumer or food and drinks trends into their menus and venues, to meet rising demand and high consumer expectations.

Given how much drinks are a mainstay of fast food restaurants, what drinks trends will suit, or support, this growth? Let’s look at the opportunities:

Opportunities for quick serve restaurants

Incorporating provenance into menus, by sourcing sustainable or local produce, and adding alcohol to drinks menus are two of the ways QSRs are evolving and seizing growth opportunities, each aligning with wider food and drinks trends.

The addition of alcoholic drinks to menus is helping quick serve and fast casual outlets to compete with casual channel venues like Pizza Express or Wetherspoons. Crucially, this move also meets high expectations from consumers, and recognises how drinks can complement dishes. Cocktails suit the consumers seeking more from their dining experience while own-label alcohol gives an air of exclusivity to mirror the fast food sector’s use of limited edition or seasonal menus.

The market is heavily influenced by popular culture and social media trends too. Just like Barbie-mania saw all sorts of branding, foods and drinks turned pink in summer 2023, expect to see lots more peach drinks popping up on menus, influenced by Pantone’s Colour of the Year for 2024.

The wider fashions for fusions suits QSRs too. Fusion recipes, even by just simply switching out or adding in one ingredient, can create something familiar but fresh, for example. The simplicity and style of this approach suits the category – ‘the same but different’ is key to QSRs appeal, after all.

Drinks & Flavours suited to quick serve restaurants

Using favourite flavours

Slushies, sodas, and shakes are particularly popular drinks choices in QSRs, offering a drinking ‘experience’ thanks to their flavours, toppings and aesthetics. Topping these with sprinkles, soft serve, ice cream, cakes, confectionery and more allows QSRs to blur the lines between drinks and desserts.

Street Burger's Signature Spritz

Tropical flavours are always on-trend for slushies, offering holiday feels and escapism. Fruit flavours can be elevated with shots of spirits for hard slushies, like Street Burger’s Signature Spritz, or combined with other drink types for mass appeal, like Caffé Nero’s tropical froyo frappe.

Sweet sodas, from traditional lemonade to fancy dragon fruit pops, are essential for any fast food restaurant’s menu, to complement and wash down rich foods. These tend to lean into the pink drinks trends, adding extra notes and plenty of colour from complementary berry or floral flavours.

Made with ice cream, coffee, or fresh fruit, and able to be topped with cakes, confectionery or chocolate too, milkshakes are decadent but affordable. As well as being full flavoured they can be customisable, using colourful flavoured syrups, sprinkles, and toppings. Retro-feeling cherries are the new go-to topping. Shake Shack ticks these boxes with its brownie and cake shakes in the US. Shakes are increasingly being made using local or organic milk to suit sustainability drives too.

Chilli added to drinks

Drinks like these are another way for quick serve restaurants to keep up with the ‘swavoury’ trend – blending sweet and savoury flavours. Adding extras like chilli, salt or pepper to drinks will suit meals using donuts in place of burger buns or pancakes instead of hot dog buns.

Of course, sweet drinks tend to trend best, and these can be enhanced further by using sugar as a point of provenance. The use of muscovado or black sugar will elevate and differentiate drinks – in the US, A&W promote using real cane sugar to make root beer fresh in-store each day, for example.

Keeping up with wider drinks trends

Sweet sodas, shakes and slushies needn’t miss the mark of the drinks trend for healthy creations. Healthier choices are commonplace across QSR menus now, from lower carb burger buns and low fat desserts to naturally sweetened drinks. Low sugar or naturally sweetened drinks can boast all the same flavour, helping fast food restaurants to shake off any unhealthy associations while meeting new HFSS regulations too.

KFC Collab with Dead Man's Fingers

As above, adding alcoholic drinks to menus is already popular for quick serve and fast casual dining venues. Shake Shack has added five alcoholic drinks to its UK menus, including an ale and a lager brewed exclusively for them, while Dunkin’ enhanced its US drinks menus with spiked iced coffees and spiked iced teas. This move can also align with wider trends for limited edition or exclusive serves. KFC last year partnered with Dead Man’s Fingers to create a limited edition ’11 herbed and spiced’ rum, as the fast food outlet’s first foray into serving alcohol.

Drawing on aesthetic influences

Given the fast food market’s proximity to social media trends, creating aesthetically pleasing drinks is key for QSRs. Adding layers, texture or colour to serves is another way to straddle the categories of drinks and desserts and will encourage sharing on socials to drive demand further, too.

Costa Coffee Triple Layered Coffee

Layered drinks can be made like shakes, like Costa Coffee’s triple layered whipped coffees, served in caramel, vanilla or chocolate flavours. Creamy drinks offer extra texture to hot or cold creations, and are now popular enough to be served well beyond just Autumn. And texture can also be created using Boba or tapioca pearls, marshmallows, jellies and candies, like Costa’s bubble drinks range or the McDonalds’ McFlurry topped with marshmallows and popping candy.

Work with us

Simpsons supply a range of syrups and concentrates to the QSR market, in commercial volumes. Get in touch to discuss your requirements.


Image Source: *The Food People, 2024

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