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Datassential 500: The Buzzworthy Trend We’re Talking About

Beverage Trends, CPG & Retail, Innovation, Menu Trends, Restaurants

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We hope you’ve had a chance to take a look at our recently-released Datassential 500 preview report. Even before the full report is released next month, there’s so much more to say. 

If you didn’t catch it, here’s a (very) quick overview: 

The nation’s largest chains grew sales by 7.5 percent in 2023 to $417.13 billion, as price increases helped sales in a year of modest unit expansion. And the fastest-growing chain in the U.S. is Arkansas-based 7 Brew, a drive-thru coffee chain, with annual unit growth of 373.7% in 2023 compared with 2022. 

There are plenty of storylines contained in this report that can inform food foodservice strategies in the months ahead, but we’d like to take a moment to talk about one buzzworthy trend in particular: Coffee. 

Many consumers got fairly accustomed to making their own coffee at home during the pandemic, and as prices rose in recent years, many chose to forgo their daily latte for either a less expensive brewed coffee or opted to lean on those pandemic-forged skills of making their brew at home more often. 

But before you start doubting that America’s love affair with the caffeine bean may be changed forever, consider this: 

There are three coffee chains in the Datassential 500 Top 10 list of fastest-growing restaurant chains by units  – 7 Brew, mentioned above, Winter Park, Fla.-based Foxtail Coffee Co. and Brentwood, Tenn.-based Just Love Coffee Cafe, coming in at No. 5 and 6 on the list, respectively. 

And what else do these brands have in common besides serving a cup of Joe? They put heavy emphasis on value and convenience (7-Brew is a drive-through operation and the others have apps for easy ordering), but there’s another tie that we’ve seen in our research for years: Consumers reward operators with values that align with their own, and they also put strong emphasis on responsible sourcing practices. 

7 Brew, a drive-through coffee chain, says it’s been “cultivating kindness since 2017” and asks customers to “come for the coffee and come again for the people.” Foxtail Coffee says it is “dedicated to responsibly sourcing some of the finest coffees from around the world,” adding that it upholds strong ethical and quality standards throughout its supply chain, including a focus on environmentally-friendly farms that are paid fair wages.

Just Love Coffee Cafe puts its values right in its name, and encourages customers to “put some love in your day.” 

“Our mission is to ensure that every guest experiences genuine and sincere customer service that warms their heart and makes them feel better,” Just Love says on its website. 

Three-quarters of consumers in a Datassential’s New Food Values report in 2021 said that their values are a huge part of their identity. Sixty-four percent of consumers say they dine at foodservice establishments that have values at least mostly aligned with their own. 

But consumers are also focused on the product – and beverages are clearly having a moment. Also notable in this category is that hot brewed coffee has rebounded this year after several years of decline or stagnation. 

And there’s another beverage story in the Top 10 fastest-growers: “Dirty” soda proprietor Swig, based in American Fork, Utah, made the list at No. 8, bringing its flavorful soda combinations to more consumers throughout the West and Midwest U.S. 

What lesson will you take from the fastest-growing restaurants in the U.S.? Whether it’s adding a new and exciting beverage to your menu or taking the time to talk to customers about kindness, you can’t go wrong with following the leads of these fast-growing chains. 

There are many more insights to be found in the 2024 Datassential 500. To secure your copy, click here

If you want to know what else Datassential can do for you and your business, go here.