How the Blended Beverage Lifts Profit and Demand
Article by Stephen Hosey, blending application manager, Vitamix®
Customers can be fickle. So keeping up with their taste for beverages can be a tricky proposition. You have to find a way to maintain their interest, even as it shifts with the trends. At the same time, you want to attract new customers.
So new beverages, new toppings, and new flavors are a must. Today’s beverages need to be on-trend and eye-catching, but they also need to yield a good margin for your business. With inflationary pressures, this combination of demands may feel daunting. It’s like you need a magic solution.
Fortunately, there is one: You can use your blending equipment to create a beverage filled with unique ingredients, flavors, functional benefits, and even entertaining qualities that customers will go out of their way for. And yet, if skillfully designed, blended beverages are usually a high-margin category.
Blended Beverage Components
Why is the blended beverage such a win-win proposition? Let’s review the basic elements of the category, noting the costs and availability of the ingredients.
Ice: A large portion of most blended beverages is ice, which is already on hand at most restaurants and therefore not an additional expense. Ice may be fully processed, as in the case of smoothies or slushed drinks. Or, it may remain whole, as in the case of fruit-infused beverages that are quick-chilled and muddled with fresh or frozen fruit in the Aerating Container by Vitamix® Commercial.
Liquid Base: Every blended beverage begins with a liquid “base,” which may be water, green tea, iced coffee, black tea, fruit juice, or coconut water. Often the base is determined by the purpose of the beverage: Is it an energy drink, a hydration beverage, a sweet treat, a refreshing fruit-based drink, or an aid to one’s health? Most liquid bases are low-cost and easy to obtain, although brewed loose-leaf tea or specialty iced coffee may require special effort.
Fruit: Most blended beverages contain fresh or frozen fruit. Frozen fruit or frozen fruit purées last longer than fresh fruit, cost less, deliver stronger flavor, and are often equal to or better than fresh fruit in vitamins and other nutrients, according to multiple research studies. Given its flavorful contribution, frozen fruit delivers a great value.
Other Flavors: Blended beverages also typically feature one or more high-flavor ingredients that are added in small quantities and will go a long way toward increasing the flavor, sweetness, and/or aroma of the blend. In many cases, these flavoring agents might well be ingredients you already stock. The most cost-effective options are shelf-stable additions that are easy to use, don’t require refrigeration, and will last a long time. They should also be versatile ingredients that you can use in multiple items. You might look no further than the array of coffeehouse syrups already on your shelf. Other low-cost options include powdered ginger, which offers plenty of potent flavor in a very convenient form, as well as instant espresso or cocoa powders, and peanut butter. When selecting these ingredients, look for easy-to-store ingredients that can be purchased in bulk and that you can use in a number of ways.
Powders and Supplements: The functional food trend has created an expectation among consumers that beverages will serve a purpose. It’s helpful to label or describe your beverages accordingly, noting a focus on some purpose (e.g., protein-builder, energy infusion, workout recovery, meal replacement, vegetable superfood, special treat, etc.). Many ingredients that help to define a beverage in functional terms are available in shelf-stable powdered form, including proteins, energy boosts, creatine, multivitamins, grains, etc., which makes blending easier, contains costs, and avoids the challenges of keeping fresh ingredients from going bad.
Treats and Inclusions: A simple, low-cost way to add color and flair to your blended beverages are ingredients added toward the end of the blending process, so they remain only partially processed. Small pieces of fruit, nuts, or even a leafy green suspended in the beverage – we call these inclusions – can be appealing visually and remind your customers that they are consuming something with healthy ingredients. Alternatively, for a treat, you can add sugar-coated candies, cookies, or brownies to a blended beverage. Bottom line: A small amount of one ingredient added at the end can raise the appeal of your blended beverage and possibly justify a higher price point.
Keep an Eye on the Trends
If you’re running a business, it can be hard to keep your head up and follow the trends – but it takes less time than you might think. A once-a-month glance through the trades, a quick look at competitor menus online, or a report from Mintel or Technomics is enough to keep you up-to-date and ahead of the next seasonal beverage or limited time offer (LTO).
Acting upon the trends is relatively simple in the realm of blended beverages. It’s often a case of working in a couple new ingredients. For example, last summer, pink drinks were all the rage with younger consumers, according to market research company Mintel. Food brands launched a new crop of brightly colored products to the delight of these audiences.
What’s required to make a beverage pink? It could be a frozen passion fruit purée, watermelon, Dragon fruit, strawberries, or even a powdered drink mix. In other words, the execution can be simple and the cost relatively low.
When it comes to creating new recipes – or altering existing ones – blending is a kind of magic because all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and no longer decipherable to the eye, which gives the creator a certain latitude.
On the other hand, a small amount of a strong-tasting ingredient can push the recipe in a certain direction. Therefore, to get the effect you want, it is sometimes helpful to think about balancing stronger and weaker flavors.
Some flavors are also good carriers of other flavors, even if they are not strong flavors themselves. For example, banana is a good carrier of strawberry, but it is also a good carrier for chocolate.
Sometimes, one strong flavor is enough and, in general, a simple recipe with fewer ingredients is better than a complex recipe with many ingredients, even if it turns out to be popular with customers. In fact, one of the worst situations is a beverage that turns out to be very popular but is hard for your staff to make.
Finally, a reminder: Shelf-stable, simple ingredients can be highly effective at delivering flavor, and they are almost always lower-cost than fresh ingredients.
From a profitability standpoint, your blending equipment is just as important as what goes into it.
Naturally, you want the equipment to last and to hold up under heavy use, including back-to-back blending during peak hours of operation. That already narrows the field of blender candidates.
But, in addition, your blender should expedite speed of service. A blender with built-in programming, like The Quiet One® by Vitamix Commercial, enables your staff to touch one button and walk away while the blending occurs. With 34 optimized programs, The Quiet One® is equipped with a program that will blend virtually any beverage in the most efficient time frame, cycling automatically through the range of required speeds.
Finally, a high-performance blender with optimized programming ensures that the beverage recipes you have prepared with care come out the same way every time, just the way your customers want them. That will keep your customers coming back for more.
Stephen Hosey is blending application manager and culinary team member at Vitamix, where he assists commercial customers with kitchen and bar efficiency, recipe creation and menu development. Contact him at [email protected].