By: Rocky Gettys, Smoothie King Vice President of Product Development
At one time, it was good enough for a smoothie franchise to just be better than fast food. Then the goal was to produce the “better” better-for-you product. Today, it’s all about constant innovation to be nothing less than best in the category.
When Smoothie King started in 1973, smoothies already were an integral part of people’s health and wellness routines. Smoothie King differentiated by being more purpose driven than other franchise brands. We created and offered smoothies to serve individual purposes for guests, such as exercise recovery, muscle building, weight gain, or just a refreshing pick-me-up treat. We ask our guests, “What’s your purpose today?” because we are sure to have a smoothie to fulfill whatever that is.
It skewed that way because we started out as a health food store which started offering smoothies. It wasn’t long before smoothies became the focus. You could say we started out as a better health food store by adding smoothies, and evolved into a better smoothie company by creating smoothies with a purpose.
But where do you go from there? How do you evolve while also staying true to your core product and brand mission?
Get Ahead of Trends, but Stay on Brand
Offering a better better-for-you product and being best in category means always looking at what the trends are to stay ahead of the curve. That’s especially true in our category, because people who consume smoothies on a regular basis expect more from a health and wellness standpoint. That means looking at macro nutrients, protein, carbs, fat, sugar content, and a plethora of other things that help them achieve their specific purpose.
A strong example of evolving occurred in the mid ’90s when the Zone Diet became popular. We created a line of smoothies specifically around that type of program. More recently, we recognized sugar content would become a major concern. Right now, fat is still the No. 1 concern when it comes to diet, but sugar is gradually catching up. Within the next year or so, sugar will surpass fat as the top priority.
Seeing this on the horizon, we started working on ways to reduce sugar in our smoothies in 2012. Since then, we’ve reduced sugar by about 16 percent across our line of smoothies and continue to work on that today.
All in Good Taste
Flavor is the cost of entry. It doesn’t matter how good something is for you if people won’t buy it. You can’t make a difference in their lives if they won’t consume it.
At Smoothie King, we focus first on the guests’ lifestyle we’re trying to reach through each smoothie. We start by asking:
- What are the nutritional guidelines that will help deliver this purpose?
- What are the specific functional ingredients that will help us reach this purpose?
Then, when it comes to flavors, we look for gaps in the menu and holes that need to be filled with various flavors. We also look at seasonality.
An example would be our “hydration purpose” promotion this past summer. For the promo, we used coconut water and made sure the smoothies had a reasonable amount of potassium, that they were refreshing. We also used summer-oriented flavors. While it started with a purpose (hydration), we gave it a seasonal twist with watermelon, peach, passion fruit, strawberry and mango. We created a family of smoothies that hit the purpose of hydration with various tasty flavors relevant to the season.
If certain fruits or vegetables are known for a specific purpose, we can weave them into the recipe. An example was last fall, we introduced immune-builder smoothies with a blend of nutrients. When it came to choosing the flavors, we chose orange and mixed berries because they’re both highly regarded as having high levels of key nutrients.
At Smoothie King, we have a food scientist with a culinary background who works in our development department, giving us the best of both worlds with product development. He understands the science of how everything comes together, but with an appreciation for flavor. In addition, a nutritionist helps us with our smoothie development. We also have some strong analysts on our marketing team who help drive the information.
Creative but Practical – The Balancing Act
Part of being the better better-for-you product in the health and wellness industry is getting the product to the consumer quickly. You have to concentrate on being operationally feasible, yet hitting the purpose and being tasty.
There have been times when we worked on something in the kitchen, and it doesn’t reach market for various reasons, such as it isn’t operationally feasible or would take too long to prepare on the smoothie bar. We understand there has to be a balance; our operations team does a great job of keeping us grounded.
Our mission is to inspire people to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Every smoothie we create has to have a purpose. We don’t want to sell snake oil to anyone. It’s important to us that everything we put out there does what we say it’s going to do. So while constantly innovating to stay “on trend,” we always keep purpose, taste and operations in mind – a perfect blend of art and science.