February 13

Warming Up to a Frozen Beverage Program

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2_13 1-AIt is now a given to say that in today’s economy, times are tough. Coffeeshop and cafe owners are experiencing a freeze in revenue because of slow business. Therefore, they must find creative ways to not just make more money—they need to sometimes break even. But, what retailer doesn’t want to boost their revenue? They are always looking for ways to increase sales. Why not give them a boost by applying a frozen beverage program? When we talk about frozen beverages, of course, we are referring to smoothies, iced coffee, shakes, frappes, lemonades or creative concoctions designed by owners. “Frozen beverages have clearly moved from being a niche or specialty offering to a mainstream consumer expectation,” notes Russ Arnold of Blendtec. They are not only popular, but as Desiree Mimlitsch from Cappuccine says, “frozen drinks generally offer the highest dollar profit of any beverage excluding alcohol.” Also, she says, “frozen drinks are popular during slow afternoons.” And Michael Rice of Follett says that frozen beverage programs offer retailers another avenue for revenue growth.

Competition is fierce these days. Independent coffee houses and cafes are continuously contending for customers’ attention. So, if you like to shake things up and stay competitive, introducing a variety of frozen beverages can be a great way to do it. Big Train’s Frank Lindsay agrees that all retail coffee house outlets would greatly benefit by offering frozen drinks. But on the flipside, he cautions, “they risk losing core customers to competing coffee houses, juice bars, and other foodservice outlets.” Don’t let that discourage you from adding them on the menu, though. One thing to consider is location. Paul Maxwell from Beyond the Bean says that “depending on your location, frozen drinks can be a year-round menu listing.”

One way to lure health-conscious customers to frozen beverages is to advertise the health benefits of frozen beverages–many customers think of them being a healthy alternative. Mont Blanc’s Michael Szyliowicz says they are healthful treats during the warmer, spring and summer months and that capitalizing on their healthy benefits can be a plus for retailers. Another way to do this is through supplements known as “boosts”, which are packets filled with nutrient-rich powder that can be added to a frozen beverage. Ellie Gross, Vice President at Juice Bar Solution, says that “frozen and iced beverages are easily converted to healthy drinks with the addition of supplement-boosts.” Another way to emphasize healthy frozen drinks is to eliminate sweeteners, syrups and creamers. The folks at Weldon Flavoring developed liquid flavorings that are pure sugar-free, containing no sweeteners or syrups, calories, carbs, fats, sodium, creamer or caffeine. A coffee alternative is chai, a blend of black tea and Indian herbs and spices. Tipu Chai‘s Chai Now is a complete instant product that uses an organic, non-GMO soy milk powder, sweetened with organic cane juice for a healthy, vegan product.

What about the ingredients? There is a broad range—everything from from fresh fruit and vegetables, to frozen fruit and vegetables to prepackaged smoothie mixes. What you choose for ingredients depends much on your operations plan, customer expectations, and other factors. Flavor is proven to be most important to a beverage consumer, emphasizes Lani Peterson of Foodservice. Operators should pay attention to flavor above everything else. Smoothies are always an easy beverage alternative. Because of their nutritional value and ease of making, they are a very popular drink around the world. Attention to the quality of ice is also very important, as it is a staple ingredient in any frozen beverage. The fresher the ingredients, the better tasting the beverage.

2_13 1-BSteps to Smooth Success
The biggest challenge is not knowing exactly where to start. There will definitely be start-up costs, overhead costs and possible permits, licensing or franchise fees. Writing a business plan is highly encouraged, as it will give you an outline of what to expect. Estimating costs and consulting a frozen beverage firm is highly recommended. Nadine VanDeventer, of Treehouse Brands, says, “Start up costs, which are minimal, include a blender ($500 – $1,000) and cups/lids to offer your drinks.“

Training employees is also an important part of the process once a frozen beverage program has been implemented. Andrew Dun of Insight Beverages advices retailers to incorporate a comprehensive training program “to ensure that employees know how to properly maintain, fill and clean the dispensing equipment.”

Additionally, a comprehensive marketing program is required to build consumer awareness and trial of frozen beverages. It is especially important that retailers market frozen beverages outside of their stores to attract new consumers.

Here are a few additional tips from leaders in the beverage industry:
•     Michael Szyliowicz of Mont Blanc: Sampling during busy times will increase orders and encourage your employees to promote the program with every order.
•     Frank Lindsey from Big Train: Maintain consistency: loyal, repeat customers are comforted by the fact that they will get the same great tasting drink made the same way, each and every time they visit their favorite outlet.
•     Paul Maxwell from Beyond the Bean: Use POS to highlight the range that you are offering to tempt and entice customers to consider a frozen drink from your business and not from the international chain down the road.
•     Steve Christensen from Stoelting: Great customer service, great quality of food and beverage, and an interesting and unique store environment in a great location.
•     Gina Costello from Costellini’s: We suggest always sample your regulars for their input. Of course we supply the free product for sampling.

Beverage company leaders also provide tools that can contribute to retailers’ smooth success.  For instance,  Add a Scoop offers a free POS flip chart which includes ingredients and nutritional information for all 19 of our products. Foodservice provides POS, recipes, online training videos and equipment rebates. As far as mixes, Cappuccine offers a wide variety of frappe mixes that can either be used as stand-alone flavors or bases to make your own signature drinks. For businesses looking for a more customized program, PreGel America sales representatives and chefs work closely together to design products and/or recipes suited to the particular client’s needs. Treehouse Brands has training materials for product make up, posters, tubs, lids and scoops. At Stoelting, monthly classes are held for end-users to learn practical methods of making and promoting menu items including frozen beverage.

Blenders and ice machines
If you decide to offer frozen beverages the choice of which equipment to use in order to make or dispense your product can be daunting. There are so many choices! Ellie Gross of Juice Solutions believes that the right equipment makes a huge difference.  Many retailers don’t realize how many options there are beyond just a countertop blender. For example, Blendtec has a full range of blender-dispensers that offer varying degrees of automation. Equipment like this can provide great efficiency and allow multitasking, which is key for smaller crews or busy establishments. Key aspects of smoothie blending equipment include power and durability: You need enough blending power to demolish ice, frozen fruit and any other ingredients, as well as to create a smooth texture. And you need a blender that can handle dozens of blends per hour without overheating or breaking down.

Ice machines are of equal importance. Qualty ice results in quality frozen beverages. Being a supplier of ice machines, Follett can contribute to those retailers that offer blended drinks, such as smoothies or frozen lattes, as part of a frozen beverage program. They specialize in ice machines that produce Chewblet ice, a form of nugget ice that is softer than the typical hard cube-type. Additionally, Manitowoc is unveiling their new ice machine,  NEO™, an all-in-one, undercounter ice making and storage solution, that offers up to 33 lbs more of ice production within the same footprint of their existing models.

As we see, when implementing a frozen beverages program, there is much to consider. But, it can be  rewarding. It is a great way for retailers to diversify their product offerings and provide a very hot trend in the industry. There are numerous resources for finding the right program for your business.

We were not able to include all frozen beverage mix and equipment vendors in this article, for a complete listing please go to yellowpages.coffeetalk.com.

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