Aside from diversifying coffee and espresso-based beverages, coffee café owners have been enjoying success from the frozen and blended beverage category. In fact, it is now considered an essential staple for coffee cafes, and why wouldn’t it be, the “frozen beverage” category sales continue to grow, with Mintel reporting category sales are expected to increase 68 percent between 2007 and 2012, with most of that growth occurring in 2010.
Planning for Success Across the board from convenience stores to quick service restaurants, operators are making room for frozen beverages and smoothies on their menus. And, what makes it so appealing to café owners, is that customer interest is high, and so are profits. “Since its inception, the iced blended drinks have always been one of the highest profit margins in a coffee house,” explains Lynn Merriam of Java Frost. “The average margin ranges between 65 and 70% for a $3.50 to $3.99 frozen beverage. And, they have a proven track record for all seasons.”
The chill of February may be here, but now is the time to start thinking and planning for warm weather months. To make the most of this category, start thinking about updating your selection now, by testing new products well in advance of the warm weather. “Don’t wait until the weather changes and then start scrambling to get your frozen and blended beverage selections finalized,” says Desiree Mimlitsch, director of marketing for Big Train. “By testing products earlier in the season, you can finalize your offerings well before the season arrives. Through sampling potential new flavors and frozen beverage combinations, you can get customer feedback early enough before the season hits.”
Hot Trends in Frozen Beverages There is no doubt that adding cold, frozen beverages to the menu will grab the attention of a broader demographic and boost sales during a summer season. Izzy Griffith, buyer for Visions Espresso reminds retailers to be sure to “understand your clientele and region before you begin to create your offerings.” Just like the coffee and espresso category, frozen beverages and smoothies offer café owners the opportunity to speak to a broad range of consumers.” Some like blended or iced beverages because they are looking for indulgence; others are looking for an indulgent experience that is a bit less indulgent on the calories. As for what to offer, Griffith suggests to “stick to the best sellers, and then promote exotic, seasonal and healthy blends to grab the attention of a broader demographic.”
While frozen beverages made with organic and Fair Trade ingredients are growing in popularity, it is the fresh and flavorful taste combinations that draw consumers to the category. “In the specialty beverage industry, we see the fresh or frozen fruit is preferred over the powder or syrup based mixes,” explains Griffith. “The growing awareness of living healthy will continue to steer the market in this direction. And, the availability of single serve fresh frozen fruit packages tells us portion control and convenience are also trends.”
Mimlitsch points to retail establishments such as the Pinkberry yogurt shops, based in Los Angeles, that are helping drive consumer interest in healthier beverages made with fresh ingredients – as well as a tart flavor profile (Pinkberry’s signature taste). To that end, Big Train recently introduced the Tart Smoothie Mix. In addition to the refreshing light citrus flavor that is perfect alone or when paired with different flavors, the line has probiotics, which is good for healthy digestion plus no trans-fat or hydrogenated oils. The inclusion of probiotics in the line touches on the growing trend of frozen beverages made with functional additives. “More traditional good-for-you ingredients will continue to be in demand,” explains Mary Toohey of America’s Food Technologies, Inc. “Ingredients with established benefits consumers understand will be popular. However,” she warns, “retailers must be careful with the claims they make regarding functional additives.”
But healthful offerings won’t sell themselves. “This is where consumer education is very important,” explains Mimlitsch. “Consumers can read labels at a retail store to find the nutritional content of a product, but with frozen beverages, it is the operator who must do the explaining so that customers can understand the differences in more natural choices.”
The Right Equipment To make it all happen, operators are searching for all the right pieces, from product and equipment, right down to marketing materials. When it comes to equipment, operators are looking for high performance and low maintenance options. Whether it is the new Blendtec 15 AMP Extreme, with its 2 jars and blades, The Blending Station® Advance from Vita-Mix, or the latest from Waring, today’s generation of blenders and other frozen beverage dispensers are quite intuitive to use, cutting down on operator error, while increasing speed of service and consistency.
For instance, The Blending Station® Advance lets you blend any recipe to perfect consistency at the touch of a button. With 93 speeds and 34 different blending programs, each combining the right speed and timing, the machine helps eliminate guesswork and allows café operators to customize their blenders to produce signature drinks all with a simple programming chip.
Island Oasis has spent the past few years developing a product line specifically for the specialty coffee industry. The turnkey system includes the line of Barista Fria products that can be used in a variety of coffee beverages and fruit smoothies. Adding to the ease of the program, Island Oasis offers marketing materials to help drive sales along with equipment designed to make preparation of the beverages fast, easy and virtually fool-proof. ‘The wonderful thing about this program is that it offers retailers everything they need to build a successful frozen beverage business,” explains Matt Brandenburger, who heads up the Barista Fria division for Island Oasis. “We bring the company’s 25 years of experience as a leader in the restaurant and bar business, to the specialty coffee industry, and offer a program that will help raise the bar for retailers. The Barista Fria beverages are extremely easy to create. Simply add the mix – in flavors ranging from strawberry to mocha to spiced chai – then hit the button and the machine shaves the ice and blends a drink in 8 seconds, a pitcher in 10.”
Reinvent Your Café Destination beverages are a sure-fire way to boost sales, especially in this economy. Retailers must open their minds to new ideas, be creative and reinvent existing drinks by adding flavors you already have on hand.
“Delivering value to the consumer is the key to increasing sales, and value can be created by offering a product the consumer perceives as being difficult to prepare at home, and offer it in a convenient form,” explains Toohey.
“Whether that is decadent offerings, such as delicious chocolate and ice cream blends; light offerings using yogurt or fruit blends with green tea; or quick energy with an extra shot of espresso and protein, building custom frozen beverages with signature recipes that meet the needs of a variety of consumers is the key to success,” adds Toohey.
Then, once your menu is set, make sure your communication plan is well integrated. Toohey notes the various ways to connect with current customers as well as those who have yet to venture into your café. “Explore your options,” she says, “update your website, blog, sample your new offerings at community events, pass our fliers and coupons to local businesses. Have a plan! Reinvent your café!” CT