Fresh Food

Grocers Blend Healthy Convenience Into Juicy Profits

Meal-replacement beverages offer grocers an opportunity to profit from the promise of fresh
Photograph: Shutterstock

Americans love their smoothies. The United States accounts for the majority of smoothie sales in the global market, according to Mordor Intelligence’s report Smoothies Market—Growth, Trends and Forecast (2020-2025). It’s also no secret that Americans do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, which is why smoothies, with their drinkable form of fruit and vegetables, continue to grow in popularity as aspirational consumers play lip service to becoming healthier.

Mordor Intelligence predicts the global smoothie market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 7% from 2019 to 2024, while Technavio expects a slightly higher CAGR of 9% from 2019 to 2022.

While smoothies can incorporate dairy products, Mordor Intelligence reports that fruit-based smoothies have the largest market share in the category and are expected to be the fastest-growing segment. This is due to the combination of fiber, vitamins and natural ingredients that are very attractive to health-conscious consumers. Demand for natural and clean label also has helped boost sales of green smoothies containing fresh fruits, with kiwi, green apple and honeydew some of the most popular options, according to Mordor Intelligence.

In the past several years, the smoothie market has seen a surge in health-boosting superfoods such as acai, chia seeds and protein that have made smoothies more of a functional meal replacement given the ingredients’ purported health benefits.

“Most people are looking for the smoothies as a meal replacement, most often in the morning to late morning,” says Paula Janssen, owner of Janssen’s Market, Greenville, Del.

Customization Is Key

Build-your-own options have become an important element of any smoothie or juice bar’s go-to-market strategy. Some of the most popular add-ins, according to Mordor Intelligence, are proteins, probiotics, vitamins, nuts, minerals, grains and seeds. Other fruit-based smoothie add-ins include whey powder, herbal supplements and nutritional supplements such as post-workout, meal-replacement and nutrient-rich fruit powders, plus low-carb powders.

Appealing Juice Flavors

Apple and orange top the list of most appealing fruit juices, while grape and strawberry are still preferred by more than half of consumers.

Source: Technomic 2019 U.S. Flavor Consumer Trend Report

Jimbo’s, with four locations in the San Diego area, has been offering juice freshly squeezed on-site for more than 30 years, and the fruit and smoothie bars in the stores offer a high level of customization. For organic smoothies, customers select one ingredient for the base (apple, orange, pineapple or mango juice, or freshly made almond milk or coconut water) and then can add up to four additional ingredients (apple, banana, strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, mango, raspberry, almond butter, peanut butter, vanilla ice cream or Rice Dream) for no additional charge. For organic juices, customers can select apple (the only juice not squeezed on-site), carrot, celery, orange or cucumber as the base, and then add up to five additional juices, selecting from apple, beet, cucumber, ginger, kale, lemon, orange, parsley, watercress, spinach or tomato.

Treat Yo’self 

While many consumers are turning to smoothies as a healthy meal replacement, there are still plenty who order them as a treat. “There are different types of people coming in with different motivations,” Janssen says. “Our two most popular smoothies are opposites: a healthy Energy Boost (spinach, kale, pineapple juice, banana and Granny Smith apples) and an indulgent Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana (banana, honey, cocoa powder, peanut butter and almond milk).”

Jeremy Johnson, meat and specialty category manager for Willy Street Co-Op, Madison, Wis., sees a similar dichotomy. His top two smoothie best sellers are almost identical to Janssen’s Market’s. They are Tropical Greens, which includes pineapple juice, mango, ginger, spinach and kale, and Funky Monkey, which features banana, peanut butter, chocolate and a choice of milk.

Willy Street Coop

Photograph courtesy of Willy Street Co-op

“Flavor and an easy way to consume greens seem to be the primary reasons for the first; flavor and plant-based protein seem to be the primary reasons for the second,” Johnson says. “Tropical Greens is a new for us. You get your citrus and greens in one drink, plus it can help get you through a gloomy Wisconsin winter day. We may also be seeing part of the healthy snacking trend at play here.”

While indulgent smoothies may help chase away the winter blues, Janssen says summer is the most popular time for smoothies for her store in Delaware.

Spice and Freshness

In the past few years, savory elements have also gained a foothold in the smoothie category, with herbs such as rosemary, basil, cayenne, cilantro, fennel or turmeric finding their way into smoothies and juices, according to Mordor Intelligence.

“Ginger and turmeric are flavors that are growing in popularity for their health benefits,” Janssen says.

Mordor Intelligence also suggests retailers keep an eye on the growing trend of adding alcohol, because the blend of vegetables, proteins and alcohol is set for massive growth in the coming years.

Appealing Smoothie Flavors

Cherry and blackberry saw increases in appeal, while pineapple declined 10% in favorability among consumers from 2017.

Source: Technomic 2019 U.S. Flavor Consumer Trend Report

Freshness also plays a key role in why consumers choose grocery stores for smoothies. “We sell our smoothies in our produce department, so people know they are coming directly from the fruit and vegetables out for sale,” Janssen says. “This is a real differentiator to the powders/mixes found in most cafes. People are looking to add more fruit and vegetables to their diets, and this is an easy way and delicious way to add them in.”

At Jimbo’s, with 30 years of juicing in-store, customers are well-versed in the freshness quotient. “It absolutely brings people into the store,” says owner Jim “Jimbo” Somek. “It’s definitely a ‘need to have’ part of the store, in my belief.”

As with all segments of the food industry, sustainability also plays a role in the fruit juice and smoothie category. Consumers are concerned about the origin of the fruits and vegetables and are increasingly turning to organic ingredients that have not been exposed chemicals or pesticides. At Willy Street, 90% of the ingredients are organic and are sourced locally whenever possible, Johnson says. “These qualities are very important to our customers,” he says.

But it’s not only the ingredients that consumers want to be sustainable. Willy Street changed to compostable straws last year and is currently looking for sustainable options for cups and lids. Janssen’s Market attempted to switch to paper straws, but they simply didn’t hold up, so the store returned to plastic straws. However, customers are encouraged to bring in and use their own metal or bamboo straws.

Jansen's Market

Photograph courtesy of Janssen's Market​​​​​​​

At Jimbo’s, the juice is sold in glass bottles. “When we sell it off the shelf, it’s in glass bottles and customers can get glass bottles when they order from the juice bar,” Somek says. “They have a choice. Some people may ask for plastic, I guess, because they’re concerned it’s going to break with whatever they’re doing. But most of it, and everything off the shelf, is in glass.”

Jimbo’s is still in the process of developing a recycling program so the stores can accept the return of the bottles and reuse them.

As for the future, while the market research firms are predicting exponential growth, retailers are a bit more realistic. “We expect sales to stay steady,” Johnson says. “Added focus on sugar may detract a bit, but an increased focus on plant-based diets should counteract that.”

Janssen is just as level-headed. “Sales are growing, but not at a high rate,” she says. “It’s more of a differentiator and convenience item than a big revenue stream.”


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