Smoothies spur healthy sales
Smoothies are becoming ubiquitous on quick-serve and fast-casual menus due in no small measure to convenience, delicious flavor combinations and the perception of healthfulness that these fruit and vegetable beverages command.
Carol DeNembo, Vice President of Marketing for Juice It Up!, an 80-unit juice and smoothie chain based in Irvine, Calif., says smoothies are great carriers for a host of healthy ingredients.
“We are definitely seeing the trend towards more healthfulness in the smoothie segment to include raw smoothies and “green” or veggie-infused smoothies, as well as functional smoothies designed with specific health benefits or ingredients, such as protein or superfruits like acai and pitaya which focus on fitness, energy or detoxification,” she says.
Tropical flavored smoothies top the list for most appealing, according to the Technomic Inc. beverage report. Other flavors that score high on the preference list include strawberry, banana, pineapple, mango, berry, blueberry, exotic fruit, wildberry, peach, raspberry, pomegranate, coconut, kiwi, tangerine, and apple.
Mike Weinberger, Chief Executive of Maui Wowi Hawaiian, a 450-unit smoothie and coffee franchise, says tropical flavors and fruit combinations are indeed in vogue. “Tropical flavors seem to be on the rise across the board,” Weinberger says. “Our Mango Orange Smoothie along with our Pina Colada Smoothie have seen an increase in recent years.”
Ric Scicchitano, Senior Vice President of Food and Beverage of 185-unit Corner Bakery Café, agrees tropical flavors are gaining traction.
“The flavors that are trending now are all things berry, like our Four Berry and Strawberry selections, as well as tropical fruit flavors,” he says. “Outside-the-box flavors with exotic ingredients are slower on gaining traction.”
Erin Berg, Brand Manager — Beverages and Catering for Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Inc., which has more than 700 Einstein Bros. locations across 40 states, says smoothies are popular with women. “We do see that smoothies appeal more to women than men and often a younger demographic overall.”
Juice It Up!’s DeNembo says creativity is crucial to brand extension and keeping current with the wants and needs of different demographic groups. “Developing smoothies allows us to introduce different taste, color, ingredient, and nutritional profiles that appeal to different demographics,” she says.
“The younger generation seems to gravitate towards fun flavors and names like our Strawberry Wave, Melon Madness or Pina Cool-Ada, while the healthier, active-lifestyle consumer wants more nutrition or functional characteristics such as protein or energy for a pre- or post-workout regime.”
Smoothie King, the New Orleans-based franchise company with more than 700 units worldwide, offers a customizable flavor line in order to appeal to a wide range of demographics.
“We are trying to fulfill a purpose with each smoothie — such as weight loss and fitness goals, wellness needs, or boosted energy,” says Rocky Gettys, vice president of product development at Smoothie King. “We have smoothies that are good for you — no matter who you are — and we strive to offer our guests satisfaction and enjoyment with a smoothie that is good for you and healthy.”
Additionally, Smoothie King and other operators continue to innovate their smoothie offerings by introducing Greek yogurt. Greek Yogurt Smoothies offer the health benefits of added probiotics, protein and calcium.
Kruse says the health factor is crucial but savvy operators know taste and convenience also drive sales. “Yes, I think smoothies score high on the health scale,” she says. “But just as important is the fact that they're convenient and can be consumed on the run. And the fact that they taste good is important to category growth as well.”
Berg agrees smoothie purchases are not all about making the healthy choice, saying, “Our guests do tell us that smoothie purchases are driven by health considerations, but they tell us that the craving and need for refreshment are bigger purchase drivers.”
Operators looking for convenience as well as balance, texture and flavor often turn to all-natural smoothie mixes, which can be quickly prepared by simply adding to ice and blending.
Scicchitano says consumers are looking for fresh ingredients and vibrant ingredients while restaurant companies know it’s important to keep things simple for ease of operations. “Guests want clean ingredients made from real fruit and vegetables. Vibrant colors matter, too, especially when they are natural. We do not use any ingredient with artificial food colors,” he says. “We also need to keep the recipes simple to execute for operational consistency. Two or three steps is all it takes to make a great smoothie at Corner Bakery Cafe.”
Blender ready fruit smoothie mixes can also work double-time as a natural fruit base. Operators can easily expand their beverage menu by adding a splash of this fruit base to iced tea, lemonade or sparkling water for the natural refreshment that customers crave.