With the warm summer weather marking the return of smoothie season, restaurants — from small corner operations to national chains — are starting to order more ice, find the fruit blends and plug in the blender.
However, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep the majority of Canadians at home, operators were left to adapt to the traffic changes.
“Smoothie servings have shifted to the afternoon snacking dayparts this past year, as smoothie consumers continue enjoying their favourite beverage, despite the disruption in their morning and lunch routines,” says Vince Sgabellone, foodservice industry analyst at The NPD Group. “We’re not leaving home, so we’re not having that grab-and-go lunch or that snack in the morning. But one area in the market that is performing very well right now is those afternoon and evening snacks. And when it comes to smoothies, the afternoon snack is a key daypart and smoothie servings are performing quite well at that daypart.”
But, he warns, adding smoothies to the menu takes more than just buying a blender— it takes research into customer preferences and how it fits an existing restaurant’s diner demographic. For instance, in a diner setting, a smoothie is a great drink alternative for those looking to add the taste of fruit to their meal in a liquid, whereas a sandwich restaurant may see soft drinks or energy drinks being favoured among customers.
According to The NPD Group/CREST data, approximately 30 per cent of all smoothie servings pre-COVID-19, were served at lunch.
“Smoothies compete in the same demographic as specialty coffee beverages… especially those under 18 and under 24 [years of age], so I wonder if there is some switching going on and not everybody looking for smoothies necessarily looking for a healthy drink, they’re just looking for something to satisfy,” says Sgabellone.
The most common smoothie additive is yogurt, he says. “And I don’t know if that’s a normal addition, but we track it as an extra additive and it’s the most popular, followed by protein powder, or protein additives. Over the years, we’ve seen a little bit of an uptick in the non-dairy,” he said.
With regard to the popularity of the modern-day smoothie, Sgabellone sees its steady performance continue without interruption, but for now, at a different time of day.
“Given how smoothies have performed for the last three to five years, they’re over-indexed for the younger generations. But again, that didn’t change much this past year. So that tells me that the same people are drinking smoothies, but they’re drinking at different times of the day,” he says.
“So instead of grabbing that smoothie on the way to class or to their job, people working from home and needing a break in the middle the afternoon are going out for that smoothie, but again in the afternoon, instead of lunch or morning, because the demographics have not shifted this past year, only the overall volumes have dropped,” Sgabellone explained.
BY NICHOLAS RAHMON