Robeks Provides Stellar Business Model Example for Quick Serve Leader

Powering Up Blended Beverage Marketing is Really About Market Intelligence, Great Execution [Insights]

By Rick Zambrano

Serving up a Robeks smoothie.

Experts agree that the best way to market something is to first create a best in class product. Therefore, all the elements of putting together a successful iced or blended beverage program depend on planning, execution, product quality and training. This is, after all, the first step in powering up the marketing for cold beverages.

With regard to cold coffee beverages, Bunn-O-Matic Coffee VP of Strategic Marketing Margaret Heery says “My research and visits with customers have shown a preference for dark roast coffee beans, because a dark roast helps maintain the strength and robust flavor of the coffee. Suggestions for beans include using Guatemalans, Sumatrans, and Yemens because they take well to cream and sugar.”

Heery also recommends that operators be aware of local and regional preferences for ice in consumers’ coffee. In the South, for instance, consumer data shows they prefer ice that is chewable in their coffee beverages. “Did you know there are different types of ice, and research shows that different types of ice are preferred in different regions of the U.S.?,” Heery asks. A big part of marketing is understanding what your consumers want and delivering on a promise of an exceptional experience.

Understanding the range of consumer preferences, and having the options available to best meet them, is essential. Dunkin’ Donuts, although not known for having robust and bold coffee varieties, does offer “espresso shots” in its coffee, which can give iced coffee a stronger, more robust taste while increasing the caffeine content.

According to the company’s own research, and as reported in Fast Company magazine, the coffee chain’s iced coffee program is driven by innovation and the desire to best in class, and is in large part by its bolder selections. The use of the Starbucks’ Blonde Roast, although rolled out to meet the needs of 40 percent off coffed drinkers, which its own consumer intelligence shows desire milder cofffee, may not be appropriate for its iced coffee program.

Bunn’s data shows consumers preferences as they relate to iced coffee:

  • The younger generation in the 18 to 34 year-old category have a predominant preference for iced coffee.
  • Most iced coffee consumption occurs in the breakfast day part (morning hours).
  • New England has the highest coffee consumption in the country, and skews toward iced coffee, year-round.

“Robeks Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats, for example, rolled out Smoothie Bowls…contain hard-pack probiotic yogurt blended with fruit juices, whole fruit and a nutritional boost, which creates a thicker consistency than Robeks’ traditional smoothies.”

Liz Freier, Technomic.

The data again reinforces the need for chain and independent operators alike to understand their consumer set and deliver the best experience around iced and frozen coffee beverages, notes Heery. She says it’s no longer acceptable to use day-old, or stale coffee (as some independent operators have been taught in the past) for iced coffee beverages offered to guests.

What are some good coffee varieties for iced coffee? “Ethiopian Yirgacheffes and Kenyans are light and the bright acidity translates well to iced coffee,” she says.

Health-Halo Drives Fruit Smoothies and Fruit Blended Beverages

What are some trends to take operators to the next level in delivering top smoothie and juice beverages this summer? Just follow the leaders. “It’s all about the health-halo terms like ‘fresh,’ ‘natural,’ ‘organic’ and ‘better for you’ for fruit smoothies,” says Liz Freier, assistant editor for Technomic, Inc, a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm.

“By using fresh-squeezed juices with ingredients like kale, spinach, beets, carrots, ginger, acai and never-frozen fruits, operators can promote the healthy aspects of fruit and vegetables.”

Starbucks’ acquisition of Evolution Fresh and the natural, fresh juice chain’s recent opening of the first juice store in Seattle in March, is a signal a deep backing of the beverages in the health and wellness category. The $30M investment reaffirms that the trend in “healthy,” organic and “meal replacement” drinks is here to stay. Freier also notes that cold, healthy drinks combined with Greek yogurt or blended and probiotic yogurt are seeing an increase in demand.

Another new trend in blended beverages is smoothies meant to be eaten with a spoon, which follows the trend of consumers’ use of juices and drinks as meal replacements. Freier says “Robeks Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats, for example, rolled out Smoothie Bowls that are eaten with a spoon in November. The bowls contain hard-pack probiotic yogurt blended with fruit juices, whole fruit and a nutritional boost, which creates a thicker consistency than Robeks’ traditional smoothies.”

frozen drinksRed Mango is another chain rolling out more robust smoothie offerings, with its Spoonable Smoothies and “Mealworthy” Smoothies. Spoonables include the stevia sweetener and come in Strawberry Banana, Mango Banana and Mango Pineapple flavors. The Mealworthy Smoothies – made with filling ingredients such as all-natural peanut butter and organic pumpkinseed-flaxseed granola – come in Strawberry Banana Protein, Banana Peanut Butter Protein, Orange Pineapple Energizer and Orange Mango Protein flavors.

Arby’s Restaurants executed a limited rollout of smoothies made with Greek Yogurt in February, which are available in Wild Strawberry and Wild Raspberry flavors.

Execution is Key for Ice-Based Frozen Drinks and Slush

With frozen slush-type fruit drinks, there is an emphasis on execution, says Leslie Miller, senior beverage operations associate for Synergy Consultants, and a five-time Wine Spectator Award of Excellence recipient. Delivering the best product, she says, requires proper execution that starts with the right equipment, the right process and the right ingredients in batch form. She recommends using frozen drink machines, such as models from Island Oasis and Taylor, to reduce labor time and costs.

If blenders are used, operators should prepare the ingredients in ready-to-mix batches to reduce wait times of frozen drinks and reduce staff effort. This streamlined process will allow for the production of drinks that are speedy and efficient.

She says, “If you’re going after big sales. I highly recommend investing in these frozen drink machines.”

Whether buying or renting machines, operators can gain full access to years of useful life and high capacity production. “Again [these machines] deliver a consistent, high output, no labor product.” With blenders, she notes, definitely have enough of the machines to satisfy demand.

In the end, optimizing the marketing around cold drinks for summer is more about actual product execution and a comprehensive understanding of consumer preferences and culinary trends. That’s the way to pack QSR shops this summer and have restaurant managers seeing green.