A 2016 Harris Poll found 3.7 million Americans identified as vegans. Another 4.3 million U.S. consumers are vegetarian – but not vegan. Nutrition-focused food brands began rolling out new product lines to accommodate this growing demographic.
Smoothie King first introduced vegan smoothies – mango kale and dark chocolate banana – in 2014 after increasing interest from our guests. What most people don’t know, however, is that the initial idea didn’t come from the company’s higher-ups. Instead, it originated with one of our franchisees, Jason Finley.
“I wasn’t necessarily going after the vegan market at first, but I really wanted to bring in this raw, plant-based protein powder called Warrior Blend by Sunwarrior,” Jason said. “It was a clean protein, instead of an animal-based protein, and I knew we needed to bring it in. Offering it as an option could be an incredible selling tool – you’re hitting a whole new market of consumers.”
Vegan Idea Planted
Jason first learned about the plant-based protein powder at a health foods trade show in Anaheim, California, in 2008. Being a Smoothie King franchise owner since 1992, he knew the brand inside and out – and that this protein powder aligned perfectly with our mission.
“At first, I was just thinking about how to integrate this new protein powder at my two locations in Louisiana,” Jason said. “But I soon realized this would be a great addition to Smoothie King’s international line of smoothies. Not only is it an avenue to cleaner blending, but you’re also reaching that growing vegan audience. All our proteins were animal-based, so we had nothing for people with plant-based diets.”
Rolling Out the New Vegan Smoothies
Jason had been working with Smoothie King’s Research and Development (R&D) team for several years prior to finding this new plant-based protein. The R&D department sought him out to help with improving recipes, since he was a hands-on owner who had been with the brand for so long.
“I had already been working with R&D for a while when I found the new protein powder, so I just started playing around with it in recipes that I would work on with the R&D team and realized how great it was going to be,” Jason said. “The whole process from me bringing them the idea to roll-out was about a year and a half.”
During that time period, Smoothie King was working on an agreement with Sunwarrior to figure out the costs and quantities they’d need for their whole franchise system. The R&D department was also working on perfecting recipes, and testing them out in corporate stores in the New Orleans area.
No Signs of Slowing Down
“I’m excited to see how these smoothies have taken off, four years after being introduced,” Jason said. “We’ve now added to the vegan line, and our goal is to go completely clean, including no artificial preservatives and no added sugar. I think including the Warrior Blend was the first step to get the ball rolling, and now we’re all looking forward to even more better-for-you options in the future.”
For other franchisees looking to add new innovations within their franchise system, Jason says the key is persistence, and a solid franchisee-franchisor relationship.
“One of the many things I really like about Smoothie King is how they’re always open to new ideas,” he said. “For others looking to make a change in their franchise system, hopefully the franchisor has the thought process that 100 heads are better than one – that the home-office team isn’t the only group with ideas. The people on the front lines, working with guests every day – those are the people who you really need to pay attention to, because they know best what the guests are asking for.”