THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR SMOOTHIES
In 1847 gold fever struck California and spread like wild fire across the land. Nearly a hundred and fifty years later, smoothie fever is doing the same. Everywhere you look, a new smoothie sign is going up and customers are beginning to flock with dollars in hand. Who is cashing in on this bonanza? The big chains? No. By and large, it’s the adventurous entrepreneur who staked his claim with a single outlet and now has three more in operation with dreams of franchising tomorrow. Family and friends are taking the emerging concepts to all points of the compass in hopes of homesteading their new found opportunity.
Like the pioneers in days gone by, some have charged out clad only with a discount blender in one hand and a small pouch of cash to cover the rest. Others have thought through a few of the more obvious obstacles and are much better outfitted for their journey. In order to give out readers the inside track on this industry explosion, we begin our series on what every prospector needs to arrive at his mountains of gold. Our first landmark on the map to the smoothie dream mine is drink formulation.
Perhaps the number one challenge for every smoothie pioneer is to decide "What am I going to sell?" This decision will immediately place the infant operation into one of three broad camps: Yogurt (soft-serve), fruit or syrup. An old-fashioned milk shake rehash, a trendy health-driven natural food spin, or a sugar-packed cold refresher? The ingredients alone will categorize the shop, its clientele and its marketing program.
After this initial fork in the road, you ask yourself, "Where do I go to get recipes?" To a drink consultant? Or should I just check out my competition and claim jump a few basic drinks and then add my novel twist? After all, everyone uses fruit juices, sherbets, IQF fruits and a few syrups.
For the young prospector new to the trade, the yogurt-based drink typically consists of yogurt and canned fruit blended together. The fruit based drink typically consists of 10 ounces of fruit juice (apple, orange, pineapple, cranberry), half a cup of frozen fruit (peaches, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, bananas), two scoops of sherbet or not-fat yogurt and crushed ice. The syrup based drinks generally use a sweeter premixed syrup with canned fruit and crushed ice. Drink sizes range from 16 ounces to 28 ounces, with many fresh fruit smoothies weighing in at 24 ounces.
The current "smoothie as a healthy meal" trend is occurring with the 24 ounce frozen fruit based drinks. This market niche is growing at well over 100% per year. The more traditional smoothie drinks, based on yogurt or syrups, are perceived more by customers as a dessert rather than a meal and are thus not seeing the pervasive explosive growth. The level of sweetness and fruit content seem to be the key health factors.
With his preliminary menu of drinks in mind, our pioneer must navigate one of his greatest potential dangers—a self-inflicted blender would. So often, new smoothie owners grab their trusty home blenders and set out to conquer the unknown (their drink formulations). What they do not realize is that a) flimsy blenders cannot make the long arduous commercial journey, and b) when you change blenders you also change formulations.
A high-volume smoothie operation is no place for the faint of blender. Two weeks in a smoothie bar can be equivalent to twenty years of one-a-days at home. So much for quantity, what about the quality sign up ahead: Discount blenders make discount drinks. The blender that struggles to make slush of ice and water will never smooth a frozen banana, let alone a strawberry. Your customers want sheer velvet on their tongues, not cold shards of broken ice floating on a pool of thick syrup. You need a powerful blender with the right cycles to tackle today’s demanding drinks.
Second, smart prospectors will integrate their blender of choice at the outset of drink development. The four major commercial blenders today are Hamilton Beach, K-TEC, Vitamix, and Waring. Find out before you lose precious time and money if their blenders can deliver on your drinks. As the pros will tell you, drink formulation is an interactive process. You want the some team that practiced together to perform together when it counts. Your customers will tell you that drink consistency separates the boomtowns from the ghost towns. Get it right and stick with it.
Drink formulation has another warning sign on the road to the gold fields: portion control. You cannot afford to blend 30 ounces of product for a 24 ounce drink. You’ll go broke, partner. Remember, the two sacred rules of portion control are 1) Measure, measure, measure and 2) Don’t forget rule number one. In some smoothie bars, recipes are winged, not followed. If there’s a problem, just add more product. Get the financial picture?
Along with freewheeling your drink contents, some owners still measure their drinks based on "glob" technology. Start with ten ounces of juice, four ounces of berries, and add three big globs of sherbet. Well, are Bill’s globs the same size as Barney’s? No, so I compensate by adding…get the picture again?
Well partners, we need to bring this piece of our series to a resting spot. Next time we’ll explore another route on this exciting journey of the smoothie prospector. In the mean time, take heart. Smoothies are a great business. Where else can you homogenize a dollar’s worth of nutritional products into a healthy three-dollar drink?