Chill Out with Smoothies, Shakes and Frozen Drinks

Carbonated beverage sales are fairly flat, but smoothies, once a novelty treat, have been revived as slightly better-for-you (BFY) treats and functional, nutritious specialty drinks show up on more menus. As the market has evolved, smoothies have developed a split positioning: On one side, fruity frozen drinks are infiltrating quick-service restaurants (QSRs). On the other, functional, vitamin-boosted meal and snack replacements ride a wave of interest in BFY options like yogurt, juice and energy drinks.

Shake formulations and recipes have moved beyond milk and ice cream to bring other dessert elements, like pie, cookies and cake batter into the mix. Other frozen beverages — lemonade, coffee, teas — add to a growing category of specialty beverages that support snacking and all-day eating opportunities in foodservice.

Frozen drinks rise on menus as soda fizzles

Despite slowing and declining menu presence of many traditional beverages, the total number of beverage types on menus has risen 3% over the past 4 years, fueled by growth in specialty beverages like smoothies and shakes. Functional smoothies show 38% growth from Q4 2008 to Q4 2011, a sign of more BFY to come.

Beverage consumption patterns in restaurants

Regular soda still rules, but made-to-order (MTO) frozen drinks can tap new consumer demands and a thirst for innovation. Frozen beverages include a variety of nonalcoholic beverage types. As the market evolves, operators must continue to make clear distinctions among shakes, smoothies and other frozen beverages so consumers know how to use these beverages to meet their needs as a main meal component, dessert, healthy snack, etc. 

Mintel finds usage by restaurant-goers for frozen beverages is moderate: 26% order shakes/malts, 19% order smoothies and 10% order other frozen non-alcoholic beverages. With continuing growth in number of frozen beverages on restaurant menus, operators continue to give more consideration to premium MTOs as a way to encourage treat-based sales and to capture some snacking momentum.

QSRs getting a lot more smooth

60% of smoothies are found in QSR settings, which include both smoothie-centric concepts as well as the many drive-thrus that have entered the smoothie market in the past 2 to 3 years. Fast-casual is a distant second at 23%, though places like Panera and Au Bon Pain have added more smoothies in recent years. With most smoothies menued at QSRs and fast-casual, operators will need to develop ways to make their versions stand out.

Traditional Smoothies: A need to differentiate

Smoothies were once a specialty drink found mostly at stand-alone concepts like Jamba Juice and Smoothie King, but now the options and availability are overflowing. As more QSRs, fast-casuals and even full-service settings add smoothies, operators will need to differentiate with top-quality ingredients, BFY additions, different flavors and interesting combinations.

Wellness Sells: Health-minded smoothies boost nutrition

A look at the health-promoting attributes of the top six nutritional boosts added to smoothies (both traditional and functional) finds that increased energy and metabolism are high on the list of functions. While some of these health claims are not scientifically proven, these WebMD descriptions reflect the accepted views:

  • Ginseng: Boosts immune system and lowers blood sugar
  • Gingko Biloba: Improves blood flow to the brain and improves circulation
  • Chromium Picolinate: Controls blood glucose levels and boosts metabolism
  • Echinacea: Fights colds and infections and builds immunity
  • Iron: Fights fatigue, improves blood and cell health
  • Calcium: Improves bone health, heart rhythm and muscle function

Source: ConAgra Foodservice