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Blended investment: smoothies, shakes and malts

A selection of fruit smoothies can add on-trend beverage choices to a menu and boost average checks. There are several ways to go when it comes to purchasing and operating strategies. Fresh from scratch smoothies are the most difficult to execute. Fresh fruit is not simple to select, buy, store and handle. Often you have to ripen fruit shipped green, and there’s a brief window of usability—waste can be a problem. Fresh fruit has to be peeled, pitted and otherwise prepped...

A selection of fruit smoothies can add on-trend beverage choices to a menu and boost average checks. There are several ways to go when it comes to purchasing and operating strategies.

Fresh from scratch smoothies are the most difficult to execute. Fresh fruit is not simple to select, buy, store and handle. Often you have to ripen fruit shipped green, and there’s a brief window of usability—waste can be a problem. Fresh fruit has to be peeled, pitted and otherwise prepped, which can impact labor costs. Seasonality is often a factor, too. That said, fresh fruit smoothies made from scratch are classy and can be promoted and priced to reflect that.

Many of the purchasing difficulties with fresh can be avoided by using IQF (individually quick frozen) fruit. Seasonality is no longer an issue, and fruit frozen at its peak can be better quality than fresh fruit that’s past its prime. Check deliveries at the back door to ensure that the product is still frozen solid. A good compromise is to combine IQF product with dependable fresh varieties, such as bananas and citrus, that are generally available year round.

Perhaps the easiest way to serve a smoothie is to buy one of the many mixes on the market. Powders and concentrates require messy mixing and usually don’t produce the best-quality final product. A better choice is full-strength smoothie mix, available in a huge variety of flavors. These usually come in reclosable 1-liter boxes, which are shelf-stable until opened. To use, just puree in a blender with ice. Mixes can also be dispensed from a granita machine.

A whole new category of smoothie has grown up around tea. Black tea, green tea, white tea and especially chai are all available in concentrate form, ready to blend with ice and serve. The latest entry is yerba mate, a South American tea drink that’s also being promoted as a smoothie. For a signature smoothie, add fresh or frozen fruit to these tea concentrates.

To upgrade smoothie selections add yogurt, milk, ice cream, sherbet or sorbet. Soy or rice milk are dairy-free variations. Bee pollen, kelp, soy protein, creatine, whey, wheatgrass, echinacea and ginkgo biloba appeal to the health-seeking crowd, but you’ll have to go outside the usual supply channels to purchase most of them.


Give it a shot

Shakes are given special treatment at Energy Kitchen, a five-unit chain in New York. They’re all made to order, plus all Designer Shakes ($5.50 each) have a shot of protein powder, antioxidants, chronium picolinate, carnitine or another additive. One of the most popular drinks is the Meso-Man Shake, made with nonfat milk, all-natural peanut butter, banana and chocolate protein.

Some of the nutritional additives are powders; others are in pill form and are thrown into the blender with the other ingredients. Regular food distributors don’t handle these kinds of products, so Energy Kitchen buys the supplements from a wholesaler. Some supplements do double duty—protein powder is also used to make protein pancakes, muffins, brownies and bars.

 


Milking nostalgia

The chief component of beer and Scotch whisky, malt is made from barley that’s been germinated and dried, which changes the grain’s starch to sugar. Malted milk powder—a mixture of dried milk, malt and wheat flour—was originally used in the 19th century as a nutritious food for infants. But in 1922, a soda jerk in Chicago invented the malt—a frothy dairy drink whose popularity reached a zenith in the 1950s.

Although old-time malt shoppes have largely disappeared, a number of nostalgically themed concepts still offer malts (Johnny Rockets’ shakes are made with hand-dipped ice cream and malts are made with real powdered malt).

Malt powder is the key. “We just add two spoonfuls of malt powder to a regular shake,” says George Batrus, Jr., manager of Tom & Joe’s in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which charges 25 cents extra for its malted milk shakes.
A number of manufacturers, notably Nestle, sell the dry malt powder, which comes in 40-ounce cans or one- or five-pound packages. It’s shelf stable, so you can store it next to the milk dispenser or shake machine. Malt is also available mixed with cocoa powder, but, says Batrus, the plain is more versatile as it mixes with any flavor.  He should know. Tom & Joe’s has served malts for over 40 years.

 

 

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