Creative juices: fresh squeezed sections are adding theater and dollars, even in some inner-city stores
Retailers are finding improvements to juice machines are reducing labor needed for fresh squeezed programs.
That is according to produce executives polled by SN. The fresh squeezed juice sections, sometimes called juice bars, can add drama to produce departments by offering consumers fresh juice, sometimes squeezed before their eyes, according to retailers.
Although still requiring significant manpower, juicing machines have become easier to maintain and sanitize over the last several years, retailers said.
“It’s a lot less labor-intensive,” said Ray England, director of produce operations for Tom Thumb Food & Drugs, Dallas. “They are easier to operate.”
Harriet Adams, vice president of marketing for Juice Tree Inc., a Westminster, Calif.-based juicing machine manufacturer, said equipment has improved steadily over the years.
“There have been many, many improvements on our equipment, and our competition’s, over the years,” she said. “They are much easier to clean now.”
She said retailers have responded positively to the improved equipment, and juice bars are becoming more popular.
“We see this as a continuing trend. You can’t get any fresher than squeezed on-site,” she said.
Charles Sealock, director of produce for Homeland Stores, Oklahoma City, said more than 100 produce departments out of the chain’s 111 units boast an in-store, freshly squeezed orange juice program.
Within the next year, Homeland plans to offer other types of freshly squeezed juices. Sealock said improved machines are one reason he’s adding different types of juices, where only orange juice is offered now.
He said the newer machines are easier to clean, which is important because the machines have to be cleaned every time a different type of juice is squeezed.
“We’ve got some old clunkers in some of the stores that are kind of cumbersome to break down,” he said. “We plan to purchase some of the most up-to-date models.”
Despite the newer equipment now available, for A&P, Montvale, N.J., the juice bars are still too labor intensive, said William Vitulli, vice president of community and government relations.
“We’ve virtually phased out our fresh squeezed orange juice programs,” Vitulli said. “At one point, we had it in a couple hundred stores.”
Vitulli said there was not enough consumer demand to warrant the freshly squeezed juice program.
“We gave it a good shot,” he said. “It was an innovation, and people will try anything once. It’s the repeat business that’s important.”
Retailers also said improvements in refrigerated cases for the juices were nearly as important as the processing equipment. Several said they have moved away from refrigerated ice tables and are using refrigerated cases now.
Hugh Williams, director of produce operations at Rice Food Markets, Houston, said he has used customized, refrigerated cases since he introduced the juice program about five years ago.
Williams said he adds ice to the cases, but mainly for aesthetic reasons. “We keep them refrigerated, even though we put ice in them,” he said. “I’m scared of somebody getting sick because the juice isn’t as cold as it should be.”
Like several other retailers, Williams said his freshly squeezed juice operation is part of a value-added section, which features fresh-cut produce and fruit and vegetable party trays. He said he had to have cases custom-made for the precut produce to maintain the proper temperature.
Joe Rulli, a produce buyer at Rainbow Foods, Hopkins, Minn., said hsi chain recently abandoned ice beds completely. He said that, aside from the benefit of more reliable temperature control, he actually gets a better presentation without ice.
One Southeastern retailer, who asked not to be named, said his chain continues to use ice in the juice presentation. He said he is very careful, though, to keep the ice around the bottles of juice, so they are maintained at the proper temperature.
Homeland’s Sealock said he uses ice beds because of their visual effect. He uses the ice on top of refrigerated tables, which keep the juices colder, he said.
He also merchandises precut fruits with the juices. “Anything that’s really perishable, I’ll put it on the ice bed and tie it in with the juices,” he said.
Retailers disagreed about which markets best support full-service juice bars. While several retailers said they carefully chose the locations for the full-service operations, others said almost any location can support one, provided it is promoted properly.
Tom Thumb’s England said the best location for a juice bar is in a market with young, single consumers or older, retired consumers.
Sealock of Homeland Stores swears by demonstrations. “Let people taste it, and it sells. Demos will overcome any economic or geographic interest,” he said.
Squeezing to Success: New Machines Are Juicy
Juicing machines today are less complicated, easier to clean and work faster than they did five years ago, according to several leading juice manufacturers.
And juicers today produce higher yields, according to an executive of a juice machine company based in the Northeast.
While the changes may not be revolutionary, the machines have been fine-tuned over the years, several manufacturers told SN.
“The industry has been working hard to improve its designs,” said the executive with the Northeast company. “There has been increased quality in the last five years.”
A marketing executive with a West Coast company said she has been improved equipment, not only with machines her company manufactures, but throughout the industry.
Due to easier maintenance, retailers not interested in devoting a lot of time to a widescale fresh juice program now have the option of offering a limited program, with less effort, she said.
An executive with a major, Midwest juicing machine manufacturer said today’s machines are also more durable than the ones built five years ago.