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Supercharging smoothies: Message in a glass

Smoothies blend nutrition with full disclosure.

As evidenced by the sheer number of “veggified” green smoothies sprouting up across the market, better-for-you blends are top of mind for consumers and operators, alike. Nearly one-third of all smoothies sold at Freshii are the “earthy,” nut-and-veggie-packed varieties, says Alex Blair, a franchisee of the 100-unit, healthy fast-casual chain based in Chicago. At his location in the city’s affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood, that percentage is even higher: wholesome smoothies with kale and other nutrient-rich ingredients make up nearly 60 percent of all smoothie sales.

But operators simply adding spinach and kale to hop on the vegetable-smoothie bandwagon are missing the point, and those just marketing drinks as low-calorie are behind the times. “Consumers have become more educated. There’s a heightened awareness of what they’re putting into their bodies,” says Lisa Wenda, chief marketing officer at Atlanta-based Tropical Smoothie Café, referencing the growing attention to more-nuanced details such as sugar, fiber, protein and vitamin content. Consumers want to understand the health and wellness benefits of their food—and are demanding to see those benefits called out.

Freshii uses its menu to explain and promote health. In addition to disclosing all ingredients, it uses its beverage names, such as Powerhouse Smoothie and Life Support, as an additional cue to point out the item’s health benefits. “It makes it easier for the consumer to see what it’ll do for them,” says Blair. And, based on the sales of these heartier options, consumers are getting it.

The 400-location Tropical Smoothie Café uses menu categories such as Get Nutrified and Supercharged for the same purpose, but it also has built education into its marketing efforts. For its upcoming pumpkin-and-peach LTO, the chain will stress the benefits of using real pumpkin versus the pumpkin flavoring often seen during the holiday season. It did the same for its current beets, berries and banana special (that is accounting for 2 percent of the chain’s total sales), turning to Facebook as well as print and television “to talk in detail about how it’s better for you,” says Wenda. One recent post touting the UnBEETable Berry blend, explains that it’s “using whole fruits and veggies that can help lower blood pressure—skin is in!!”

The addition of good fats and lean proteins into the mix through ingredients such as avocado and nuts has taken smoothies from a sugary treat to a satiating, functional fuel, says Blair. Does this mean that they’re moving outside of the traditional breakfast and snacking dayparts into lunchtime meal replacements? Not quite yet, he says. Freshii’s peak smoothie sales still come in the morning and midafternoon. For Tropical Smoothie Café, sales do pick up at lunch, but smoothies, which vary in price across the country, often are an add-on to flatbreads or wraps. In fact, about 70 percent of guests who purchase meals add a smoothie to their order—but they don’t drink them right away, says Wenda. “The 24-ounce smoothies last from lunch through midday,” she says, so buying a smoothie to keep for a later snack (and energy pick-me-up, in place of a coffee break) tends to be the trend.

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