Blended Beverages Boost Profits By Anna Gutierrez, Dillanos Coffee Roasters Savvy specialty coffee retailers know that value-added beverages can help make the difference between barely making payroll, and making a bankroll. It’s not higher math that profits on a 12-ounce cup of drip coffee are considerably less than a 20-ounce blended raspberry mocha frappe. The blended beverage category is the fastest growing segment in the specialty coffee industry, and brings in customers time and again. Then why do we continue to see a cup of drip coffee or latte served as standard fare in many cafes, coffee houses and drive-thrus? In some cases, the owner isn’t sure if it is worthwhile to purchase a blender, or what they should buy. In other instances, the blender sits on the counter and the employee taking the order is doing just that - taking the order. One of my customers wouldn’t think of simply taking an order. She’s selling, selling, selling, and Donna Sorrell’s customers at Garner, North Carolina’s The Bushiban Café keep coming back, partly to see what new concoction she’s dreamed up, and partly for the way she sells it. Blended drinks may sell more in North Carolina’s summer months, but that doesn’t stop her when the temperatures turn as cool as the icy drinks she serves. Look to Blended Beverage Base Companies for Inspiration A decade ago, many coffee house owners wouldn’t have known the difference between Jet Tea’s liquid shelf stable ice blended coffee mix and Caffe D’Amore’s Coffee-Freeze base mixes. When it comes to blended beverage bases to make your blender drink, frappe or smoothie, you can choose between a wealth of products and specifications. Liquid base products offer distinct advantages, as do the powered base products. Storage space, refrigeration concerns, ease in preparation, product flavor and customer response will help guide you in your selection. It’s not limited to coffee beverages, either. There are also smoothie products and blended chai tea. Prefer to serve decaffeinated or non-dairy options? No problem. You can even find them Kosher and Halal certified. Healthful options will continue to be a stronghold in the marketplace, including sugar free, transfat free, hydrogenated coconut oil-free, no preservatives, and all natural. The smoothie segment is the perfect place to showcase 100 percent fruit concentrates, rich in Vitamin C. When it comes to teaching blended drink techniques, Cheri Hays is one of the best out there. Her Coffee Fest seminars are filled with people wanting to learn blended beverage tips and ideas. She mentions her product, Caffe D’Amore, Inc., but stays focused on teaching the techniques first, then showing how her company’s vanilla and chocolate powder bases add richness and depth to any coffee house’s recipe repertoire. Flavor is More than Good Taste When it comes to gourmet flavors, the sky’s the limit on the creations you can make, or the ways you can merchandise. Some flavors naturally lean towards warmer weather, like kiwi, pina colada, papaya or pineapple. Who’s to say that a gingerbread, pumpkin pie or toasted marshmallow flavored beverage can’t be just as good blended as hot? Just because the weather dips doesn’t mean that the blender should be exiled to the storage shelf. In fact, blended drinks have filled the gap, bringing in customers during the off-peak morning period. You’ll find flavoring companies have the latest list of flavors that are hot, and which ones are not. They even go as far as to provide recipe grids with the exact combination of flavorings, espresso shots, and ice to whirl into profitable masterpieces. Their goal is to help you sell more product, specifically their product. What better way to do that than to use their point of sale materials. Whether it is a flavoring company, ready-to-blend, smoothie puree, or powder base distributors, find out how they can help you better merchandise your menu. Choosing The Equipment To Fit Your Needs Customers love to be dazzled. Blenders can offer all the show and the sound they love, and profits your bottom line appreciates. There’s a range of commercial blenders available, so do your homework to find the one that most closely compliments your needs. Small bar blenders with 1/3 amps can be found for as little as $60. Blenders with sound enclosures and 18+ amps can lighten the checkbook between $800 and a cool grand. While the whirl of a blender can sound like profits to you, the acoustics in your coffee house may annoy your customers. Sound enclosures can help reduce noise, while allowing the barista to prepare other customer orders. There’s also the in-counter blender, where a 5-1/2-inch x 7-1/2-inch space is cut in the counter, allowing the motor to be below counter level, reducing sound. Commercial blender companies, such as Blendtec, Vitamix, Hamilton Beach, and Waring recommend styles, often based on the quantity of beverages blended a day, such as 1-24 beverages, 25 to 50, and 51 to 90. The blender Vita-Mix sells to their high volume account, Jamba Juice would have different features than the Hamilton Beach 908 or 909, a 3/8 horsepower blender sold to a coffee house fixing a dozen drinks a day. While some blenders are basic, the high-end blenders offer a variety of extras, including timers, LCD displays with blue backlight, removable jar pads, touchpad electronic membranes, and even reprogrammable blending stations with resets. They can be automated to the point of having recipes programmed in, so the user need only to push a button and the ingredients and ice are portioned, then blended. Ice is a Crystal Clear Ingredient Ice is ice. Right? Not really. Since your goal is to create a consistent beverage every time, you’ll need to know the type of ice you use. Different types of ice will guide you in the amount of liquid to use in your recipe, as well as the level of power. Soft Ice: Clear or nearly clear, either squares or small disk shapes, faster to liquefy, so requires less liquid (4 - 6 ounces in a 16-ounce beverage) Hard Ice: Cloudy or foggy, and made in large non-uniform chunks, stays frozen longer, requiring more liquid (6 – 8 ounces in a 16-ounce beverage) If you are adding frozen fruit chunks to the beverage, it behaves like hard ice, so add more liquid accordingly. While ice can test the durability of some blenders, others rise to the occasion. For large, high volume coffee houses that sell a large quantity of blended drinks a day, it is worth looking at sturdy equipment options. Vita-Mix has developed a workhorse piece that is a known as a Portion Blending System® (PBS), while Blendtec has designed BDI. Both hold ice cubes in a hopper, uniformly dispensing them for consistency. Each of their features take blenders to the next step in innovation. The Menu Can be a Valuable Sales Tool It’s up to you on how creative you want your menu to be. Fresh ingredients in frappes, a selection of smoothies using fresh fruit juices, or a signature blended tea beverage turn a coffee-only menu into a specialty menu, and higher profits for you. Kris Larson of Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup in Portland, Oregon does a great job in making that point. She works with customers across the U.S., showing them that they can realize an additional $1,950 a month in sales by selling only 20 blended coffee-based drinks a day at $3.25. Kris’s analysis of menus quickly shows coffee house owners where a change of menu selections can directly affect potential income. Take a look at the price you paid for your blender, and the additional sales you can make in a month. Your return on investment is better than most any other piece of equipment, so choose the blender that most closely meets your needs, even if it is a pricier option. It will take less than a month to recover the purchase price. But to sell those beverages, your customers have to know they are available. Do you list your blended beverage options on your menu? Or, do you have a separate signature menu for your upscale blended drinks? If they don’t see them listed, they’ll go down the street to the café that features them on the menu board. Completing the Sizzle Dropping fresh ingredients into the blender and playing a symphony of sound is certain to make your customers check out what your baristas are making. But it starts with the right equipment and ingredients before employees can invite customers to order a blended drink. Don’t forget the last part of the sizzle: Pour the blended concoction in a clear plastic glass and finish it off with just the right toppings so that other customers drool as the beverage is carried out. There’s nothing like blending up extra sales – and profits – in your coffee house. ### About the Author: Anna Gutierrez was one of three baristas in the United States selected as Zen Master by Monin Flavorings for her blended concoction, Holy Spumoni! at the SCAA Convention last April. Anna also works for Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Sumner, Washington, selling hand roasted coffee to customers across the country. Anna frequently trains their baristas, showing them the ins and outs of successfully blending specialty coffee beverages, as well as providing consulting for their businesses.