The restaurant industry has been struggling to get customers through the door for well over a year now and famous franchises have been making every change you could imagine to win people back. New AI based tech has been deployed, stores have been remodeled and menus have been overhauled. Despite the struggles and changes in foodservice, there has been one constant of popularity, drinks. Customers may be unwilling to shell out for a $15 burger, yet they can’t resist customized sodas and teas. This has caused major chains to develop new beverage options and in the case of the world’s largest fast-food chain, McDonald’s, they created a brand-new spinoff dedicated to it. Yes, CosMc’s is a brand-new restaurant with only a few locations, yet they are already a goliath with the backing of their billion-dollar parent. Before these iconic brands jumped in on the drink bandwagon, Swig was mixing dirty sodas and slowly expanding their reach. Can Swig double down on their unique concept and win over customers looking for a custom beverage?

CosMc’s debuted earlier this year to the surprise of everyone and has already established itself as a future heavyweight. The menu relies heavily on custom drink options with only a few food offerings like sandwiches that have been deemed “snacks”. There are strategically placed McDonald’s favorites like the McFlurry and McMuffin amongst other completely unique offerings. The goal for McDonald’s was to boost the late afternoon daypart that is typically unprofitable for fast-food chains. Customers in that timeframe are usually looking for sugary drinks or quick snacks as a boost of energy in lieu of a full-sized meal. The other part of this strategy is that drinks are still appealing to customers who believe that inflation has driven regular menu items to unreasonable prices. Customized drinks have been gaining popularity over the last few years as they offer value to both restaurants and consumers. Most of the drinks are teas, lemonades, or sodas with fruit or dairy infusions that can be made quickly and keep costs low. They are also cheap for consumers who are still feeling like they are getting their fast-food treat fix without an eye-popping bill.

Major chains may be running with the popularity of customized beverages, yet the Utah based Swig has been tapping into the market for over a decade. Utah is a state know for temperance and founder Nicole Tanner was looking to provide people with a place where they could hang out and get a drink that didn’t involve alcohol and also didn’t just serve soft drinks you can get anywhere. The idea of dirty sodas was born, and Tanner developed soft drinks that were infused with any combination of syrups and dairy creamers that you could imagine. The result was a creamy and sweet beverage that was unique to Utah. She opened her first location across from Dixie State University and the brand was a hit with cash strapped college students who quickly spread news of the brand. Over the last decade the company has exploded in popularity and expanded beyond Utah. The company has trademarked their “dirty soda” name, yet it hasn’t stopped other brands from attempting to copy the idea. Sonic, a major fast-food chain known for their large menu of custom drinks, just recently debuted dirty drinks that bear a striking similarity to those offered at Swig. It can be intimidating with major chains trying to move in on Swig’s territory, yet the brand has shown staying power. Consumers are avoiding typical fast-food fare and Swig already has the menu and branding that consumers are looking for right now. If they can seize the moment, then massive expansion will be in their future.

How restaurants will battle rising prices and lower traffic is still a work in progress, yet it is clear that customized beverages are here to stay. Dedicated brands like Swig are in a solid position to increase their market share with minimal changes to existing items. However, you can never count out a goliath and McDonald’s willingness to create a brand-new restaurant to target beverage enthusiasts shows how much they believe in the product. The real winners in this battle are consumers who will be getting more options at affordable prices no matter where they are.