Smoothie innovation

by Allison Gibeson
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Buying fruit, yogurt and milk, adding ice and even owning a blender are no longer required to enjoy a smoothie at home thanks to recent innovations. Consumers are taking note of these convenient products as demand for health and wellness increases.

“Smoothies are very versatile and can fill many needs,” said Vanessa Beltran, business manager for the frozen fruit business of Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif. “They can be looked at as not only a nutrition replacement, but a treat, a source of energy, or for moms a great way to add fruit and yogurt to kids’ diets.”

Dole recently introduced Fruit Smoothie Shakers, which contain frozen yogurt beads and fine-cut fruit and require a consumer to add juice and shake. The yogurt beads are made through a cryogenic process using liquid nitrogen. After the beads interact with the juice, they break down.

“We wanted to go beyond the commodity businesses to some-thing where we are creating value for the consumer,” said Nate Hubinger, also a business manager for Dole’s frozen fruit business. “The smoothie gives us a great opportunity to do that. It takes us away from the general fruit business and still allows the consumer to get fruit in their diet, but in a different format. It’s a way to bring excitement and something new to the frozen category and bring innovation to a category that doesn’t traditionally see a lot of innovation.”

Kerry Hopkins, brand manager of innovation with Oakland, Calif.-based Dreyer’s, a Nestle S.A. brand, said the company wanted to get into the smoothie market as many of its products are indulgent. Company executives saw an opportunity to develop a product that targets the health and wellness segment.

“There is a really big propensity toward health and wellness right now,” Ms. Hopkins said. “We saw that in society across the board from the obesity side to general health and wellness and well-being. Smoothies are a great way, especially from our perspective … to break into a more health and wellness angle that consumers are really looking for.”

Dreyer’s smoothie cups do not require a blender, and a consumer simply adds milk and stirs to achieve the consistency of a frozen beverage. Ms. Hopkins said there is a pattern of product in the cup that looks like an icing decoration as if someone took a can of whip cream and sprayed that around the cup. This gives air space and allows the milk to seep in, making it easy to stir.

“We did a lot of work from an R.&D. perspective to understand how to allow consumers to stir the product with enough ease so they could do it in the cup to get to the right flavor profiles, the right consistencies, the right calorie counts and the right nutritional benefits,” Ms. Hopkins said.

Overall, Ms. Hopkins said consumers are looking for refreshment first in smoothies as a better-for-you alternative to other snacks. Ms. Beltran agreed providing refreshment is a top priority in smoothies.

Jamba All Natural Smoothies from Inventure Foods, Phoenix, is a blender-required product on the market. The licensed product with Jamba Juice launched in early 2010 and expanded to full national distribution earlier this year.

“Our biggest challenge has been creating an ‘at-home’ version of a legendary smoothie that matches the flavors at the Jamba stores,” said Steven Sklar, senior vice-president of marketing for Inventure. “There are so many raving Jamba fans across the globe, and we’ve held a standard that mirrors the retail variety exactly. That will always be our biggest challenge, but we’re thrilled by the consumer response that indicates we’ve succeeded there.”

Mr. Sklar said future innovation in the category will be smoothies that appeal to consumers who have a strong interest in functional foods, and Inventure plans to introduce superfruit smoothie varieties in the spring.

Ms. Beltran also said nutrition fortification will be important in the future, and the Dole products already are fortified with fiber and protein.

“Consumer interest in better-for-you products is a key factor driving smoothie sales,” Mr. Sklar said. “We know that smoothies in food service are a large business. In retail grocery and club stores, there has not been a convenient, great-tasting product from a recognized brand until now. Consumers still want that fresh, cold, refreshing experience but they’d prefer it adds value to their everyday health.”

Other smoothie products include V8 V-Fusion Smoothie, made with fruit and vegetable juice, from Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J. General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, offers blender-required Yoplait Smoothie, made with frozen fruit and yogurt.

Keeping calories in check is important, and the Dole products are 180 to 190 calories per serving, the Yoplait smoothies are around 130 calories per serving, and the Inventure/Jamba products are 120 calories per serving.

Currently smoothie flavors have remained standard with many strawberry banana and mixed berry flavors. But Mr. Hubinger and Ms. Hopkins said there is an opportunity for more tropical flavors.

“When you introduce a new product, you want to make sure you are covering mainstream to get the penetration you need, and from there you can build a base with more specific or unique flavors,” Mr. Hubinger said.

Despite many smoothie product options, according to market research conducted by Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y., some consumers are still skeptical about ready-to-drink smoothies. Thirty-five per cent of consumers said ready-to-drink smoothies couldn’t taste as good as blender-prepared with 36% saying they possibly could and only 25% saying they could. Virginia Dare also found strawberry banana to be the most consumed flavor of smoothies followed by strawberry, mango and tropical fruit.

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