Smoothies, shakes, and juices saw continued menu declines throughout the pandemic. It’s been a period when restaurants shifted to only delivery and/or pick-up—and menu activity here partly can be attributed to difficulties in delivering juices, smoothies and/or shakes.
Interestingly, there are some similar attributes to the juices, smoothies and shakes that remained on menus and garnered consumer interest. They were indulgent or particularly healthy and all were difficult to make at home.
Juices saw a 14% decrease in menu incidence during the fourth quarter period, tracked from 2017 to 2020. This can largely be attributed to restaurant restrictions and limited menus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although consumers largely turned to grocery stores for their juice needs, restaurants that offered trendy and premium juice options were able to differentiate themselves throughout the pandemic. International (ethnic) juices, agua fresca, and premium options (like cider) saw menu increases in Q4 2017-20.
When it comes to juices, the top menu mentions, respectively, are “fresh,” “non-alcoholic,” “organic” and “house (made).” In addition to focusing on health, consumers are looking for a unique experience. Whether they recognize it or not, the pandemic has served to prove to consumers what they can provide for themselves at home—versus the function provided by restaurants.
Operators should try to offer juice options that are unique to intrigue and excite consumers. “House” and “house-made” is a renewed and special way to convey freshness. Consumers will be pulled in by the implications and air of exclusivity offered by “house” juices.
Smoothie references have dropped by 9% on menus in Q4 2017-20. Although this can partially be attributed to limited menus and COVID shutdowns, the trend was evident prior to the pandemic as consumers looked for healthy alternatives.
Functional smoothie mentions, however, are up by 7% during the same time period. Additionally, greens, seeds, and protein additions in smoothies are all seeing growth on menus. There is an opportunity to use smoothies as the healthy, functional treat consumers have been looking for.
Protein is key in smoothies. Consumers are looking for smoothies that can act as a meal replacements. This makes protein additions—such as like powders or protein-heavy foods—more important than ever.
Although consumers are seeking healthy and functional foods, they still have a desire to indulge. It would be a mistake to only offer functional smoothies or smoothies that are strictly centered around health.
It’s interesting to note that while healthy and functional ingredient references have grown on menus, so too has whipped cream as a smoothie ingredient. Whipped cream saw 24% growth in menu mentions in Q4 2017-20. Likewise, chocolate as a smoothie ingredient saw a 2% rise in mentions the same time period. Smoothies are toeing the line between a functional snack/meal replacement and a treat. Expect that line to continue to blur and expand dayparts and smoothie occasions.
Shake references experienced a 7% decline in Q4 2017-20, driven largely by the decline of malt shakes, which saw a 16% decline in the same period.
So where are growth opportunities? Although shakes are seeing a decline, dairy alternatives are primed to step in and offer a health-conscious version of consumers' favorite treat.
Consumers are looking to treat themselves in little ways throughout the day. Shakes with coffee ingredients and flavors allow consumers to get their daily dose of caffeine in a special, “treat yourself” manner. Coffee as a flavor grew in menu mentions in Q4 2017-20 (though directional due to a low base). The same is true of coffee as an ingredient and espresso as an ingredient.
Operators could consider formatting shakes in a manner similar to smoothies—where consumers have the option to add a shot of espresso or some protein powder will add functionality to this popular treat.