Smoothie Operator | NACS – Magazine – Past Issues – 2010 – June 2010
Sign In Help

Advancing Convenience & Fuel Retailing

Skip Navigation LinksNACS / Magazine / Past Issues / 2010 / June 2010 / Smoothie Operator

Smoothie Operator

By Pat Pape

Colleen Brady’s customers call her "the Smoothie Queen." The shift leader at Tiger Farms Market in Burleson, Texas, is famous for whipping up 23 different flavors of smoothies, all of them made to order in the store’s deli. "It takes two-and-a-half to three minutes," said Brady of preparing the drinks, which typically combine fresh fruit and protein powder. "All of them are healthy."

Tiger Farms customers may enhance their smoothies with additives, such as antioxidants, bee pollen or multivitamins. A 12-ounce cup sells for $2.79, a 20-ounce goes for $3.99 and a 44-ounce beverage is $6.99. "I have a few regulars at breakfast," Brady said. "But most [smoothies] are ordered for lunch or dinner. They’re very popular."

Smoothies are a versatile product, serving as a meal, a snack or a between-meal treat. They can be whipped up from a mix, milk, ice cream or yogurt. When fruit or energy-boosting products are added and preservatives, artificial flavors and high-fructose corn syrup are deleted, customers perceive them as a healthy indulgence. Best of all, they are portable and great for on-the-go consumption.

While sales at leading smoothie shops including Jamba Juice, Smoothie King and Orange Julius, were up almost 49 percent between 2004 and 2008, market research firm Mintel predicts those retailers will see flat sales during the current economic climate. But that has not dissuaded McDonald’s from rolling out a new line of smoothies this summer as part of its McCafé beverage line.

"McCafé Real Fruit Smoothies are made to order with real fruit, fruit juice, and low-fat yogurt and then blended with ice," said Ashlee Yingling, McDonald’s spokesperson. "They are made with real fruit combinations of strawberries, bananas, blueberries and blackberries and can also be ordered without low-fat yogurt."

Worth the Wait
Consumers who enjoy smoothies are willing to wait while their creamy beverage is prepared, according to Tim Sheehan, director of purchasing for High’s Dairy Stores, the Maryland-based chain with approximately 70 units.

With a long history in the dairy business, High’s is known for its ice cream products and its old-fashioned milkshakes, which combine three scoops of ice cream with half-a-cup of milk. "We started with the milkshake program, and people started asking 'What about smoothies?’" said Sheehan. As a result, customers can now order smoothies in mango or strawberry at most locations.

Not all convenience store operators have the space and staff to provide customers with made-to-order smoothies; however, for those retailers, other options are available. Orinda, California-based f’Real Foods manufactures frozen real fruit smoothies and frozen cappuccinos, as well as old-fashioned milkshakes, which are held in a mini-freezer near the beverage bar and whipped up by the customer in a proprietary blender that sits on a counter. "They are extremely well priced, and customers have reacted favorably to them," said Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for QuikTrip, the 500-store chain based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The mix-it-yourself product has been a boon for Kwik Trip convenience stores, with headquarters in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The chain removed most of the frozen carbonated beverages from stores, but kept the smoothies "because they do much better," said John McHugh, Kwik Trip spokesman.

Other convenience retailers offering the f ‘Real smoothie-and-shake line include Sheetz, the Altoona, Pennsylvania, operator with 300-plus stores, and Wawa of Wawa, Pennsylvania, with approximately 560 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Space-challenged retailers who want to offer smoothies can select from a wide range of bottled drinks for their vaults, including products from Odwalla, Naked Juice and Bolthouse Farms. Jamba Juice recently announced a new line of make-at-home smoothies that are available for sale through retailers, primarily in the Western United States.

Keep It Cool
Another smoothie option is to add a licensed yogurt operation to the interior of the store, according to Michael Ward, CEO of TCBY, a yogurt retailer with more than 800 operations worldwide. "We’ve had in excess of 500 non-traditional locations," he said.

While franchisors can provide customers with a full-blown smoothie or a simple cup of frozen yogurt from behind the sales counter, Ward believes self-service is the easiest and tidiest way to merchandise the product. "You can sell it by the weight or by the size of the cup," he said. "Yogurt has become more accepted in America as a healthy treat, and it also works as meal replacement. It’s a great opportunity for the c-store operator."

No matter what form —made-to-order, machine-dispensed or bottled —smoothies are popular with the younger crowd. A Mintel survey found that 18- to 24-year-old consumers were more likely to have enjoyed a smoothie within the past month compared to other age groups. But the research organization adds that there are opportunities for retailers to use better-for-you products, such as smoothies, to attract older customers and others concerned about eating healthy.

"It’s for adults as well as children, women as well as men," said Sheehan of the smoothie beverage. "It’s for anyone with a sweet tooth."

Pat Pape worked in the convenience store industry for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time writer.