Retail Branded or Restaurant Branded? It’s a Culinary Choice

Many menu items deserve their own identity and some are so profitable and so strategic that they should become sub-branded equities that the restaurant can own. Iced tea is a particularly compelling illustration. And, now we have data to help navigate such a vital marketing decision.

In the beverage category, restaurant operators have always faced an important choice. Do they pay the brand premium to garner instant awareness and the perceived consistent taste of nationally known retail brands, or do they create their own signature beverage with its own identity?

In soft drinks, the choice is clear. To “do it yourself” wouldn’t be prudent when iconic soda brands already own a place in the customer’s minds and stay perpetually relevant despite recent head winds on various fronts. Iced Tea, however, represents a very interesting strategic divergence from carbonated soft drinks when it comes to branding.

A recent Datassentials study (1) indicates that consumers give “restaurant branded” iced teas a slight edge in preference due to better or unique taste, freshness, unique recipe and unique brewing method. In the research those who favored “retail branded” iced teas like consistency and familiarity of taste – in other words, the right not to be surprised whether at home or dining out.

This finding wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. Over the course of the past decade, a foodservice phenomenon has been brewing. Restaurants have courageously branded their own iced teas. Now there are a plethora of examples of iced teas branded by restaurant chains, including McDonald’s’s Iced Tea, Bojangles’ Legendary Iced Tea, McAlister’s Famous Iced Tea, and Popeye’s Cane Sweeeet Iced Tea. These giant sellers confirm that customers invariably embrace restaurant branded iced teas when they are prepared consistently and supported by great messaging and graphics.

At the end of the day, it is really boils down to a culinary choice. Iced tea is prepared in the store, not unlike your food items. It holds the promise of being a destination item, delivering an experience that can’t be achieved by your patrons when they try and brew at home. Restaurant pioneers have recognized this opportunity and through the magic of marketing they have achieved a certain mystique for their signature iced teas. You should too and you’ll be surprised by the profit you’ll make by not having to pay the retail brand premium.

(1)- November 2014, Consumer Omnibus, “Iced Tea,” copyright Datassentials, LLC