It’s time for the café trade to get into smoothies


Oli Wilson-Fish in cmpetition action

Smoothies are back in growth for the café trade – after the sector put in a great sales performance five or six years back, business dipped very sharply indeed, but is now recovering again. And yet, at exactly the same time as the weather turns for the better, it is reported that the catering trade still isn’t doing as well as it should do from the smoothie business.

In a survey undertaken by the Coffee Boys business consultancy, working with the Caffe Culture show, a very surprising finding has emerged – that 36 per cent of coffee house operators still do not sell smoothies at all.

However, there is going to be some practical encouragement for them soon – at the Lunch! Show in London this September, the importance of smoothies to the café sector will be highlighted by the latest running of the British Smoothie Championships.

For those café operators who have taken up the smoothie business, it has turned out to be a profitable business proposition – in the Coffee Boys research, the average selling price of a medium-sized smoothie was found to be around £2.50, with ten per cent of respondents reported achieving between £3-£4. Apart from a handful of respondents, most coffee houses certainly charged £1.80 or more for the item.

For café owners who have not taken up the smoothie trade, the big doubt is of whether the effort required to make a decent smoothie is worth the return. In an interview with Coffee House magazine recently, even Coffee Boy researcher Johnny Richardson remarked that ‘there is consumer demand for smoothies, but it is remarkably difficult for the trade to make money from them’.

Why?

“The problem is that smoothies are relatively time-consuming to produce and, in many cases, a relatively high cost to the operator,” he said. “People have a tendency to look at the smoothie and juice market and think – that’s the next big thing, the ‘new coffee’. That couldn’t be further from the truth – they are much more expensive than coffee to produce.”

However, the competitors in the annual Smoothie contest at the Lunch! Show all say that the effort of making a smoothie from scratch is very much worthwhile.

The reigning champ is Sylvie Parcot from Crussh, the chain with a couple of dozen stores around London, and the runner-up in last year’s event was Oliver Wilson-Fish of Juicafe in Lancaster, who also took second place the year before.

Both Sylvie and Oli are sympathetic to the problem that coffee-houses and tea-rooms may not have room or budget for an army of blenders, or storage space for a vast amount of fruit. Nevertheless, they argue, for profitability and credibility, it is best to be seen to be making ‘made to order’ smoothies, so far as is possible, rather than selling pre-made bottled products.

Always make sure your ingredients are in full view of your customers, advises Sylvie. It’s exactly the same ‘perception’ theory as having an open kitchen in a restaurant.

“You might invest in frozen pre-portioned fruit, although you might find the profit margin not so good,” she suggests. “But you must invest in a powerful blender.”

(The top prize at the smoothie contest is just such an item – a Vitamix blender, provided by the midlands supplier Magrini.)

Oli, who has been second in the contest for the past two years and will be making his third attempt at the crown this time, argues forcefully that it is very worthwhile for even small cafes to be seen craft-making smoothies. Even in competition, he says, he opts for simple, uncomplicated and quick recipes, the kind that even a small cafe can make, and the argument exists in the selling prices – his 12oz winning recipe sells in his own cafe for £3, the16oz is £3.60 and the 20oz is £4.10.

“Some competition entries can be too complicated – there were two smoothies last year that I wouldn’t dream of trying commercially, for cost or time reasons. I’m trying to sell things, so mine are ‘commercial smoothies’. We don’t over-complicate things – my own favourite smoothie at the moment is just two fruits and a juice.

“We opened Juicafe because we were sick and tired of only being able to get ‘either’ a good smoothie or a good coffee in some establishments. There really is no logical reason why you can’t do both properly.

“Five years on, I still cringe every time I see a plastic cup of chemical muck being sold as a ‘real fruit smoothie’. Smoothie bases look like chemical and taste like chemical. Smoothies are a premium product, and if you cringe at the idea of instant coffee, you must hate instant smoothies.”

Doing it properly has unexpected additional business benefits, he adds.

“Remember that a big advantage of doing it properly and making every smoothie from scratch means that you can quickly tweak your ingredients and your recipe – this means you can accommodate different requests, and also that you can handle allergies and similar requirements.”

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The British Smoothie Championships will be held this year at the Lunch! exhibition at the Business Design Centre, London (20-21st September). It is sponsored by Magrini, who provide the prize of a Vitamix Quiet One Blender worth over £1,000. http://www.lunchshow.co.uk/

The Coffee Boys are business consultants to the coffee-house trade, and have published the two best books on how to start up a coffee-shop business.
http://thecoffeeboys.com/

This story comes from Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, the main news medium for the coffee-house trade.
http://www.coffee-house.org.uk

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