Dannon reformulated its Light & Fit Smoothie to contain 65% fewer calories, compared to other dairy-based smoothies. The sucralose-sweetened smoothie also contains 0% fat.

Everybody loves smoothies. In fact, smoothies may just be the most perfect food. Certainly, Smoothie King founder Stephen Kuhnau thought so, when he started the first smoothie company in the 1960s. Indeed, the zeal of many early smoothie company founders was so great that the industry thrived on mostly single-owner chains for three decades. The proprietors were not interested in selling out, because they did not believe they were selling a drink: they believed it was a lifestyle. Now, it seems, a significant part of America has come to agree.

Demonstrating the rapidly growing market for smoothies in just the past several years, a Mintel survey conducted in January 2004 (when consumption would be expected to be near a low ebb) found only 14% of adults said they had drunk a smoothie or a yogurt drink in the past 30 days. Just four years later, in December 2007, Mintel’s survey found 31% of respondents had consumed a smoothie.

Odwalla’s line of smoothies has two sub-lines: “Flavor” focuses on the flavor of the smoothie itself, while “Monster” (as seen in the Citrus C Monster Smoothie) indicates a nutrient-boosting fortification. Pepsi’s line of Naked Juice, all-natural juices and smoothies, uses the slogan: “A pound of fruit in every bottle.”

What is a Smoothie?

Backtracking a bit, the exact definition of a smoothie is a matter of debate in the industry. Many pioneer/purists only consider a beverage a smoothie if it is made purely from fresh fruit and juice, but many products now contain thickeners such as frozen yogurt, sherbet, milk or soymilk. Further complicating matters, the smoothie moniker is now placed on everything from veggie drinks to purely dessert-based drinks. Smoothie “enhancers” and “boosts” come from a list as long as the dozens of flavors available, from the old stand-by wheatgrass to the hottest “antioxidants” to probiotics to those claiming cosmeceutical benefits, such as skin enhancers.

Smoothie companies are doing much more to encourage new consumers than just adding new chains at a rapid pace. Also note that this is one of the few supermarket categories still dominated by non-CPG companies. Sort of like Starbucks and coffee, at least to date, consumers agree with the smoothie chains that smoothies are all about freshness and the experience that goes with watching while it is made.

Indeed, supermarkets themselves seem to be developing a taste for fresh smoothies. Jamba Juice bars have appeared in Whole Foods Markets in the past few years, but now they also have popped up in a handful of Safeway, Vons and Pavilions grocery stores, as well as some Target food courts. Similarly, Maui Wowi Hawaiian’s new relationship with the H-E-B supermarket chain allows the smoothie providers’ franchisees to open stores-within-a-store throughout Texas and Mexico. In addition, Planet Smoothie is exploring expansion via strategic partnerships with big-box and other retailers.

Naturally, with all of this growth, the products are not standing still, either. Purveyors are sticking with the healthiness of their product, but updating their message to be in sync with today’s eating trends.

San Francisco-based LightFull Foods develops products based on The Science of Satiety, “a dietitian-recommended strategy for eating foods that create a sensation of fullness.” LightFull Satiety Smoothies (five varieties in 8.25oz bottles, four in Tetra Paks) contain 5g of fiber, 5g of protein and 90 calories per serving. The high concentration of fiber and protein--compared to anything with similar calories--means the consumer will feel fuller for a longer time.

London-based Innocent Drinks says its Superfoods Natural Slow-Release Energy Smoothie boasts “low GI for a slow-release energy advantage.” GI refers to the Glycemic Index, which ranks foods based on their effect on blood glucose levels. Low-GI foods maintain energy and blood sugar balance and promote a feeling of fullness.

Jamba Juice has taken a new direction with its breakfast lineup, which is currently in test markets, with a “meal-in-a-cup.” This is the chain’s first smoothie intended to be eaten with a spoon--and to be more than just a smoothie. Both the Granola Toppers and Chunky Smoothies are made with crunchy organic granola. The company says the products address the industry trends favoring texture and satiety. As Jamba Juice enters breakfast, it might not be a coincidence that McDonald’s is testing a variety of concepts with smoothies in a number of countries.

Meet the Smoothie Drinkers

As mentioned earlier, a large number of Americans have accepted smoothies as a part of their lifestyle. Among those who drank a smoothie in the past month, Mintel found the average number they had consumed was 3.6--nearly one a week, and 19% of them drank six or more.

In accord with such a loyal consumer base, it is no surprise that the reasons given for drinking smoothies are very consistent. Over the years, Mintel surveys have persistently shown that, when asked for the main reason why people drink smoothies, other than taste:
  • 30% say “they are good for me.”
  • 28% say because they are more refreshing/cooling than other drinks.
  • 14% like the convenience.
  • 13% drink them for energy or a “pick-me-up.”
  • 10% say because “they fill me up.”
  • 5% have another reason.

    These attitudes and behaviors provide both the solid base that has propelled the growth of the industry, as well as the conversation points that companies can use to continue expanding. Some say a market cannot get much better than this (fast growth and loyal consumers with a complete understanding of the product), but they might be surprised to find many non-drinkers appear to be potential converts.

    When asked why they do not drink smoothies, fully a third of non-drinkers say it is simply because they did not think of the products, and another quarter said there were not any stores nearby. Any such barrier there is disappearing, as smoothie locations are popping up in new places every day. Consumers who worry about high calories or sugar (which some smoothies certainly contain) are a relatively small group, and hardly anyone says that they dislike the taste. About a third of non-drinkers say smoothies are too expensive, so it appears everyone loves smoothies these days. pf

    This article contains information from the Mintel report “Smoothies & Yogurts--U.S.--February 2008.” Visit http://reports.mintel.com for more information or call Mintel at 312-932-0400.

  • Links