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Easing the way to smooth sipping

The definition of a smoothie has been blended as much as the drink, but basically, smoothies are fruits and juices whirred with ice until thick and smooth. Enterprising operators began blending milk, frozen yogurt and even ice cream into smoothies. Today, there’s also plenty of crossover into the functional beverages category in chains like Jamba Juice, Freshens and Smoothie King.

The definition of a smoothie has been blended as much as the drink, but basically, smoothies are fruits and juices whirred with ice until thick and smooth. Enterprising operators began blending milk, frozen yogurt and even ice cream into smoothies. Today, there’s also plenty of crossover into the functional beverages category in chains like Jamba Juice, Freshens and Smoothie King.

Smoothie sales have increased over the past few years and the number of smoothie items appearing on menus is growing, according to Mintel Menu Insights. Those gains are attributed to the category’s “healthy halo” as well as an increase of MTO (made-to-order) smoothie outlets and the array of RTD (ready-to-drink) products. The line between MTOs and RTDs is blurring too, as operators take advantage of convenience products to deliver “housemade” smoothies.

Simplifying the process, for example, is Dole’s Smoothie Starters. These 7-ounce single-serve pouches contain real IQF fruit ready to blend with six ounces of any liquid for a fresh-tasting smoothie; they are available in three flavors: mixed berry, strawberry-banana and mango- peach. Dreyer’s/Edy’s offers a new Pour, Blend & Serve smoothie program—from freezer to smoothie in 30 seconds. Minute Maid Smoothies come in six fruit flavors, including strawberry-banana; a new line of shelf-stable mixes is available, as well. Another beverage-making tool is Monin’s Fruit Purees. Available in seven flavors, including Wildberry and Superfruit, the naturally flavored purees are shelf stable with no refrigeration needed before or after opening (good for 30 days). For its part, Torani offers dairy-friendly orange and raspberry syrups that can be blended with milk without curdling for a super-smooth drink.

The most avid consumers of smoothies are 18 to 24 year olds; 54 percent of this age group are likely to have consumed a smoothie in the past month, according to Mintel research. Among racial/ethnic groups, Hispanics are far and away the biggest smoothie drinkers.

The Hispanic market has translated into the rise of a subcategory: licuados. Also called aguas frescas, preparados or batidos, these Latin-accented smoothies mix tropical fruits with ice and sometimes milk. Two unusual licuados are flor de jamaica, brewed from the hibiscus flower, and horchata, made from ground rice and almonds spiced with vanilla and cinnamon.

Smoothie champion

The Aguas Frescas bar is a huge part of our concept,” says Catalina Sanchez, marketing coordinator for El Gallo Giro. “The drinks are authentic and freshly made; that’s what distinguishes our restaurants from all the rest.”

Based in Downy, California, El Gallo Giro (translation: Champion Rooster) is a 12-unit Mexican marketplace concept. Scattered throughout the restaurants are stations where guests can watch carnitas stewed in a giant cazo (kettle), tortillas prepared from fresh masa dough and a working panaderia bakery. Just like in a traditional Mexican market, the Aguas Frescas bar shows off its colorful drinks in big glass vitroleros. Seven varieties of the juice drinks are available, changing seasonally, but three are year-long mainstays: horchata, jamaica and tamarindo. Aguas frescas are available in three sizes, priced at $2.39; $3.39 and $3.89. El Gallo Giro also sells aguas by the gallon.

Horchata is the top seller, according to the marketing coordinator; another favorite is mamey. “All the aguas frescas are made in house from scratch,” says Sanchez. The horchata is made from ground rice and almonds, and cinnamon sticks bob in the vitrolero as portions are dipped out. The drinks are so popular with customers that El Gallo Giro may soon add more choices to the vitrolero lineup. “We pride ourselves on the freshness, because you can taste it in the flavor,” concludes Sanchez.

Not so smooth

Sales of smoothies in the United States reached $2.45 billion in 2007, according to Mintel, a 139 percent five-year increase from 2002. But the research company revised its earlier, sunnier sales forecast for the smoothie category of 12 percent growth in 2009.

U.S. sales of made-to-order smoothies at current prices.
Year    Sales    Percent
        ($billion) change
2005    1.50      —
2006    1.90    26.7
2007    2.29    20.5
2008    2.35    2.6
2009*  2.26   (3.8)
* Forecast
 

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