Juices & blenders
Plain old fruit juice out of a bottle doesn’t appeal to today’s sophisticated tastes. Artificial flavors are out and customers are demanding the real deal.
Often times there is a food fad that catches on and becomes a big hit with consumers and foodservice patrons. Once in a while one of these fads stays around long enough to be part of a trend and spawn specialized equipment well-suited to making the product.
By all indications fruit slushes and smoothies have stayed around long enough to become one of those trends. We are seeing smoothies being added to menus and even stand alone outlets open up. Also, bars are now offering a variety of slush drinks and fruit juices that we didn’t see several years ago.
The trend toward fresh fruit juicer and blender items has come about as a natural part of three other major trends in the public’s eating and drinking habits. First, there are more consumers Interested in healthful foods and beverages. Plain old fruit juice out of a bottle doesn’t appeal to today’s sophisticated tastes. Artificial flavors are out and customers are demanding the real deal. When you can see a fresh peach, for example, being sliced, put into a blender and then served up to you with a mix of ice, milk and other ingredients, it is appealing. And not only is it appealing to the consumer, it can command a high price tag and more profit than a more traditional beverage.
The second trend helping the juicer and blender business is the demand for variety. Consumers today demand more variety than ever. Blenders are versatile in that any number of combinations of fruits, vegetables and other ingredients can be blended in different ways to make some interesting concoctions. Many places offer “customized” drinks by offering vitamin or protein enhancers that can be added to a combination of other ingredients, making one-of-a-kind drinks or signature items. As an operator, your blender menu can easily change depending on seasonal availability of various fruits and vegetables.
The third important trend, this one aiding the success of bar blender drinks, is the focus away from traditional cocktails at bars. Bars need to provide appealing, interesting drinks for non-drinkers and “designated drivers.” Operators still maintain the check average and profit enjoyed from alcoholic beverage sales for the growing number of non-drinkers. Elaborate slush drinks is a way bar operators are finding to maintain profits and even lessen some liability exposure with alcohol-free drinks.
Alcohol-free drinks are not the only application for bar blender drinks, however. Younger adult drinkers also like the slushy fruit drinks with alcohol. The sweet fruit flavors help sell well to the younger bar patrons.
Since it looks like blenders and juicers are here to stay for a while here are a few things to know about selecting the right equipment for your needs.
Juicers are used strictly to extract juice from a fruit or vegetable by crushing or reaming the item. The basic is the manual lever type which squeezes juice from the fruit. next step up is an citrus fruits. These units work well to extract the maximum amount of juice and then pour it through a spout into a waiting container or glass.
If you need high production, several manufacturers make automatic juicers. The automatic citrus juicers remove the manual labor from the task and are able to process between 12 and 24 oranges, tangerines or grapefruit per minute. All the operator needs to do is keep the unit’s hopper full of whole clean fruit and the machine does the rest, including disposing of the pulp and peel. Most units operate by slicing the fruit then automatically extract the juice into a waiting pitcher or its own reservoir. The juicers can be used to merchandise the process and your product as they are interesting to watch. If you use one of these juicers, you should have a fairly high production requirement since the machine will need to be dismantled and cleaned shortly after running a batch of fruit.
Non-citrus juicers are also available. These units use a different mechanism to cut, then press the juice out of fruits like bananas, apples, grapes and kiwis. Vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, celery, and tomatoes can also be pressed for healthful food-style drinks. There are also specialized juicersavailable for items like wheatgrass and sugarcane which are typically used in health food stores.
Blenders come in a variety of sizes and styles to serve different needs. Some have stainless steel mixing containers which are durable and long lasting. Others have polycarbonate containers making it easy to watch the product inside. Container choice is a matter of operator preference. Several manufacturers produce an extra quiet mixer which has great application in an intimate bar setting. Several manufacturers also make their own version of a super-powered blender specially made for rapid smoothie production.
Let’s look at the basic blender categories to determine which is right for your application.
The basic machines are the type that have been around for years. They have a one quart to 44 ounce capacities and are good for mixing drinks in relatively low quantities. Most units are 1/3 horsepower and most have a two speed motor. Costs are typically in the $100 to $200 range. You can even do some of the repairs on the blenders yourself. A few years ago these models were the only choice, but with the popularity of frozen drinks, manufacturers have responded with higher horsepower units designed for ice based drinks.
The next level up in blender speed and production capacity are the machines made to deliver fast, consistent mixing good for smoothies. These super models generally have one to two horsepower motors and are able to blend ice, ice cream and fruit to an extremely fine consistency without chunks or separation of ingredients. In addition to being more powerful, these units are also built with more heavy-duty construction features, like all metal drive gears and stronger cutting blades. The added speed and strength come with a much higher pricetag, at about $300 apiece. These mid-level machines will cover the needs of most users, however, some need the ultimate blenders, the super models.
The most powerful machines are the three- and five-horsepower monsters costing $600 to $900. High production is what these units are made to do. These models will produce a perfectly blended smooth drink every time in a matter of seconds. Some of these machines have computerized controls that sense the strain on the motor and adjust blender speed accordingly.
Some of these super units and a few of the less powerful machines have features to quiet the operation. Noise is produced both in the product being blended and thrashed about in the container, as well as by the motor itself. Motor noise is much more noticeable in the higher horsepower models and can be objectionable in quiet bars or restaurant settings. Manufacturers have provided some units with open and closed hoods to help eliminate some of both noise sources. The hoods also serve as added protection for spills from the unit. An additional noise reduction feature available on some models is the remote motor. The motor is under the counter and the blender drive is dropped in and flush with the countertop. In addition to muffling noise, the installation looks clean without the bulky equipment on the countertop.
If you haven’t already joined the bandwagon, it is time to get a blender and start experimenting with frozen drinks and smoothies. They are still gaining in appeal and are likely to continue for a while.
Dan Bendall is vice president of Cini-Little international, a Maryland-based consulting firm.