Smoothie Operators

Blueberry Smoothie
Coffeehouses and teashops are looking for ways to expand beyond beverages, and offer healthful food options for today’s busy customers.

Smoothies and smoothie bowls can provide a natural, healthful extension for the food and beverage sides of the menu. The varied colors of super foods and textures of different ingredients that go into making smoothies and smoothie bowls appeals to the
Instagram crowd.

Smoothies offer portability for those who can’t easily eat on the go, while smoothie bowls appeal to those who want something they can’t prepare as easily at home.

“With smoothies, it’s harder [for customers] to justify a high expense because they think they can recreate it at home,” says Ryan Carpenter, founder of the Portland, Oregon-based açaí bowl and smoothie shop Moberi. “Recreating a bowl at home and sourcing the high-end ingredients is difficult.”

Moberi’s (clockwise from left) Fresh Prince of Brazil and Turtle Power Smoothies, Uncle Jesse Acai Bowl and Breakfast Club Oatmeal Bowl.

But while it may seem easy to throw fruit in a blender, operators need to plan their smoothie and smoothie bowl menus carefully. We talked to several smoothie experts about how to get started.

Define your Demographics

Smoothies and smoothie bowls can appeal to different types of customers, so first figure out what would make your customers order a smoothie or bowl.

• Are they seeking a sweet treat?
• A chance to refuel protein post-workout?
• A dairy-free or soy-free snack?
• A plant-based meal on the go?

Carpenter says his shop appeals to “a plant-based lifestyle audience, predominantly female, but there’s a growing number of men interested in it, especially in Portland.” The term “plant-based” is now used in place of vegan in an attempt to shed some of the negative connotations of veganism.

In 2011, when Moberi first opened with a custom bike-powered blender in front, Carpenter thought his customers would be families drawn to the interactive element of the bike. “It took a couple of years to figure out that the bread-and-butter would be people who come in on a daily basis,” Carpenter says. “People are more interested in our high-end products [than the novelty of the bike].” He says the photogenic açaí bowls took off on social media, and bowls now make up about 80 percent of products sold.

Dan McCormick, founder of Bowl of Heaven, which opened in Southern California seven-and-a-half years ago, says the time of day dictates who’s ordering from his shops. “In the morning, it’s ladies coming out of yoga and Pilates class,” he says. “At lunch, we might get our business crowd or school kids. In the two to three o’clock timeframe, kids are out of school and into their athletic events. The fun part is we get to feed kids something that’s good for them.”

Uriah Blum, vice president of operations at Vitality Bowls, which opened its first location in Northern California in 2011, says Vitality Bowls also appeals to health-conscious high school students. “The food’s so beautiful, the young kids have really helped blow it up in social media with pictures,” Blum says. “We get the pre- and post-workout gym people coming in, people with dietary restrictions and allergies.”

Vitality Bowls has its own superfood blend consisting of some of the world’s
leading superfoods like mangosteen, aronia berry, camu camu, moringa, açaí, blueberry, and pomegranate.

Consider the (Produce) Source

Once you know who’s likely to order your smoothies and bowls, you can start developing your menu with that in mind. Blum says Vitality Bowls develops its recipes through “a lot of thought and trial-and-error and tweaking.”

What started with just four smoothies has since greatly expanded the menu. When they want to add menu items, they’ll typically test it as a special of the month and then add it as a regular menu item if it proves popular.

For instance, detox bowls and green bowls—both began as monthly specials and are now regular menu items. McCormick says Bowl of Heaven typically has regular items with a few seasonal items rotated in, such as a pumpkin bowl in the fall or a tropical bowl in the summer. Seasonality and the ability to source produce should be key considerations as you develop your smoothie and bowl offerings.

“Obviously, fruits and vegetables have their seasonality,” McCormick says. “Pomegranates are more fresh in the winter. Raspberries are super expensive in the winter, so you have to be conscious of that.”

“Super foods”—antioxidant-rich fruits such as papaya and açaí—are popular in smoothies and bowls, but sourcing them year-round isn’t always easy or cheap. “It’s always one of our challenges as we want to bring in these super foods,” Blum says.

Specialty smoothie shops order larger quantities of these super foods through different vendor relationships, but for coffeehouses and teashops, which produce a smaller volume of smoothies, less exotic ingredients like bananas and berries may make more financial sense.

Energize with this açai bowl containing fresh fruit, nut butter, and seeds. Photo by Edgar Castrejon

Dare to Be Different

A recent trend that popped up on Instagram and elsewhere was cauliflower smoothies, but sane minds resist the rush to jump on the bandwagon of every new fad that comes along.

“We’ll wait until something has been proven in the market before we commit to carrying some of these more crazy super foods,” Carpenter says. “We’ve done a lot of adventurous things over the years, but a peanut butter and chocolate smoothie is still our most popular.” Customers prompted Moberi to also offer more smoothies made with almond butter.

McCormick says a key smoothie trend is greens like kale, arugula, and spinach.

“If you make it green and it tastes good, you’ll have a winner,” he says. “You can offset the bitterness with citrus or sweetness or both.”

McCormick recommends mixing mango, pineapple, or banana with greens. “It helps the green color come through,” he adds. “If you mix with strawberries or blueberries, you’ll have a brown smoothie and that looks gross, so stick with those more neutral-colored fruits.”

Waste Not, Want Not

Health-conscious consumers generally prefer smoothies and bowls made with fresh produce. But fresh produce is highly perishable. If you over-estimate how much you’ll need, it can cost you. Forecasting and only ordering what you need are key.

For instance, Vitality Bowls gets fresh produce delivered at least three times a week. Frozen produce is also your friend when it comes to minimizing food waste.

“Frozen produce is great,” Carpenter says. “It’s obviously shelf stable in a freezer and has a higher nutritional content because the fruits are picked at the peak of ripeness, as opposed to fresh fruits that are ripened in transit. Fresh strawberries are great but frozen strawberries are better for blending up a fresh base [for bowls].”

Produce like these blueberries and blackberries are frozen at peak freshness for optimal nutrition and flavor. Photo by Rezel Apacionado

Moberi’s bowls are topped with fresh product. To optimize workflow and minimize waste, Blum says Vitality Bowls tries “to utilize similar ingredients, so we already have them prepped and available in the same place.”

If you do wind up with excess produce, try to use it or freeze it before it goes bad.

McCormick offers another solution: “Whatever extras we have we like to sample to our existing customer base,” he says. Free samples can help engender goodwill with customers and prompt repeat visits.

Adding smoothies and smoothie bowls to your menu might be more than you can digest right now, but as Carpenter says, “Keeping it simple would be my best recommendation. You don’t have to get as crazy as you’d think. People want something pretty simple, and they want it to be good for them.”

Read more >> A Culture of Drinks