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Should You Serve Smoothies? What Are Your Options?

by Ilaria Merizalde Chiaruzzi, Marketing Manager @ Monin Gourmet Flavorings

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It’s clear… Americans love smoothies. Lately, these sweet blended beverages have been especially popular, with an 80% increase over the past five years. With our population’s ongoing quest for great tasting, drinkable snacks plus a general interest in health, experts say that the smoothie trend will continue to grow - as much as 70% in the next five years*. With all the popularity of smoothies, it is not surprising that outlets of all kinds (ice cream chains, fast food restaurants and several others) have recently initiated smoothie programs.

What’s a Smoothie? (It Depends)
Since the beverage is now served in a wide array of places, the term is used for blended drinks that differ widely from each other, from drink size to ingredients to health attributes. Yet within specialty beverage operations, generally speaking smoothies refer to a frozen fruit beverage with no ice cream.

Smoothies Then & Now
It’s hard to say what the “original” smoothie was made of or when it was created. We do know that in the 1960s, fruit-based, health oriented drinks started to grow in popularity among the health conscious.

Several decades later, coffeehouses and cafés finally have the opportunity to enter the smoothie realm and establish themselves as purveyors of premium smoothies. New Monin Fruit Purées were created with the operator in mind, offering all the premium taste of top quality fruit, while also providing ease of use and numerous operational advantages.

Smoothie Flavors: Today and Tomorrow
In smoothies, fruit flavors reign, with strawberry, banana, mango, raspberry and peach among the top favorites. New, on-trend additions include antioxidant-rich Pomegranate, Acaí, chocolate and others. Indulgent chocolate may be used to accent berry flavors, banana and more. Pineapple, blueberry, orange and coconut are also popular choices*.

Planning Your Smoothie Program

Your Beverage Menu
With a wide choice of ingredients, it’s easy to go overboard with menu items. But to keep things easy to manage, start with about five different smoothies to familiarize yourself and your staff with this new beverage type. You can always add custom blends or more flavors after listening to your customer requests. Cross-utilize whenever possible: if you combine two or more flavors, you may not only create a new, enticing blend unique to your store, but also cut on the amount of new items you bring in. For flavor combinations and ideas, smoothie ingredient manufacturers usually have a database of recipes that they can provide as a springing board. The Advanced Monin recipe search located on the Monin website - www.monin.com - features dozens of delectable recipes with Monin Fruit Purées. Just search “puree” in the keyword box.

Coffeehouse and café operators are known for their dedication to quality of offerings and ingredients. In addition to great quality, operators seek products that offer them ease of use and consistency.

In a coffeehouse setting, smoothies are generally made of a fruit ingredient (either fresh, frozen or pureed), a “base” and ice. If using fresh or frozen fruit, some type of liquid sweetener such as syrup, honey or agave is also used.

Although fresh or frozen fruit are appealing, they are not commonly used in a coffeehouse as they require refrigeration, prep time and considerable storage space. Seasonal flavor variations and spoilage issues are common. Fruit purees come in many varieties, some requiring refrigeration, some not. Shelf-stable purees are pre-sweetened and may be more concentrated than their refrigerated counterparts. Monin Fruit Purées offer all the advantages of being shelf stable, pre-sweetened and highly concentrated for less storage space. Additionally, Monin Fruit Purées are highly versatile and can be used in a variety of beverages from smoothies to lattes and teas to lemonades.

Smoothie bases can be grouped as powders and liquids. Many coffeehouses have dairy or non dairy smoothie powders on hand. Although these products offer creamy texture and consistency, they vary widely in sweetness, so it is important to find a good match between your fruit base and your smoothie base. Liquid ingredients include soy milk, water, low fat milk and yogurt. Powders and/or liquid ingredients are generally added to a fruit mix. Ready to blend smoothie bases that include fruit are available, although those limit the choice of smoothie flavors and do not allow customization.

Considering the health aura of smoothies, it is sensible to include low-fat, non-dairy and Kosher options.

Last but not least: ice. The correct shape and consistency of ice are essential for a smooth smoothie. The only way to obtain good ice is through a commercial ice maker. When shopping for an ice maker, keep in mind the amount and type(s) of frozen drinks you plan to serve (smoothies, shakes, slushes, etc), as that might change the kind of machine you need.

Equipment & Supplies
For reliability, speed and quality purposes, invest in a commercial blender. Many excellent, durable options exist; decide what your target blended drink volume is and invest accordingly. Another piece of equipment to have on hand is a long iced tea spoon for scooping out any remaining smoothie from the bottom of the blender.

Also necessary to serve smoothies are serving cups, as well as domed lids - if you plan to offer whipped cream as an option. Don’t forget the straws! Wide “turbo” straws are the best choice for easy smoothie sipping.

Preparation & Serving
Smoothies are among the easiest beverages served in a coffeehouse. To ensure correct consistency every time, just measure all ingredients, combine in blender cup (ice goes in last!) and blend. With a commercial blender, 25 seconds are usually enough.

Marketing & Promotion
Like all specialty beverages, smoothies greatly benefit from visual marketing. Strategically placed, high quality counter cards and posters of exciting blended beverages are a great way to attract customer attention. Monin offers merchandising kits, as well as a database of high-resolution premium quality beverage images. Upon request, retailers can access the Monin Image Database and download the images to create customized point of sale materials for their store.

To keep interest high among regulars, promote one or two drinks at a time and rotate them on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Beside the enticing visuals, remember that taste buds don’t lie, so regularly sample your featured smoothies in 2 oz. cups, perhaps topped with a tiny dollop of whipped cream. Also, loyalty programs tied to your new beverage program are a great idea: e.g.: buy 9 smoothies, get the 10th free. To differentiate yourself, don’t forget to create and name a Signature Smoothie after your store!

In Conclusion…
Define your smoothie goals. Carefully research the equipment and ingredients best suited for your business. Remind your staff about proper execution. Price your smoothie right for your market. Promote effectively!

*Market Research Source: Mintel Menu Insights