Earlier this year, a report by Mintel (www.mintel.com), Chicago, showed the U.S. smoothie market hit $2 billion in sales. To quote the report, "Consumers are embracing the (smoothie) trend in a major way, and for a variety of different reasons."
Smoothies -- classically a blend of fruit, fruit juices and yogurt -- began several decades ago as health-oriented offshoots of frappes. Smoothie bars, often little more than a phone-booth size hut equipped with a blender and a 'fridge, catered to the neighborhood hippies and surfers looking for a healthy boost for a quick replacement meal or between-meal refresher.
Today, thousands of retail smoothie vendors, such as Jamba Juice and Smoothie King dot the landscape, with coffee bars such as Starbucks in the act providing crossovers from the original frappe.
"Consumers are attracted to smoothies because they are seen as a healthier option to most sweets and on-the-go meals," writes David Lockwood, director of Mintel Reports. "Now that the smoothie market is a proven success, companies are being pushed to the next level- extreme differentiation. Similar to the coffee market, smoothie companies need to continue developing innovative flavors and additives to keep consumers engaged in the market."
The smoothie industry's new offerings take full advantage of trendy nutraceuticals and superfruits. Pomegranate, anthocyanin-rich berries, açaí and green tea are just a few examples. Other nutrient boosters, such as soy proteins and isoflavones and "energy" kicks, such as guarana are being stirred into the smoothie mix.
"The flavor combinations and possibilities are endless with the smoothie market," notes Lockwood. "With functional foods and beverages having a strong marketplace advantage, smoothies are in position to dominate the healthy beverages category."
Two of the biggest players on the smoothie market are Odwalla Inc. (www.odwalla.com), Half Moon Bay, Calif., and Naked Juice (www.nakedjuice.com), Azusa, Calif. Both companies began as fresh juice manufacturers but quickly saw the future-merge of juice blends, enhanced juices and smoothies. The companies now own the category of high-end smoothie and other juice-based drinks.
Odwalla 's newest addition to its nutritional lineup is right on trend, with its "Soy Smart" line. The products combine a blend of soybeans and omega-3 DHA and come in three flavors, Vanilla, Chocolate and -- again, on trend -- Chai, and contain 32 mg microencapsulated, vegetarian omega-3 as DHA, provided by Columbia, Md.-based Martek Biosciences Inc. (www.martek.com) and 6.25 g soy protein per 8-oz. serving.
Naked Juice's Gold Machine, Purple Machine, Black Currant and Blue Machine "superfood smoothies" came out of the gate last year with a bang.
Green Machine is "boosted with ten green superfoods to detox and renew." Blue Machine is made with blueberries, blackberries, apples and banana and "is geared to enhance (one's) mood with a myriad of B-vitamins." Red Machine is a pomegranate-based smoothie rich in antioxidants aimed to support heart health. The Purple Machine is also an antioxidant-loaded mix of açai, plum and concord grape and Gold Machine boasts golden kiwi.
Both companies also market a number of "bridge" drinks between juice blends and smoothies, made with whole fruit and enhanced with vitamins, minerals and such nutraceuticals as grape seed extract, green tea extract, lycopene and other natural healthful extracts, concentrates and powders from fruits and vegetables.
Little League and Big Players
The enormous popularity of fresh-fruit based smoothies -- and the laws of supply and demand leaves plenty of room for boutique brands, such as the Sola Squeeze Co., (www.solasqueeze.com) The Minneapolis-based company, whose smoothies are made and sold in the Twin Cities, are kosher-certified, and contain no added sugar or artificial ingredients. Also, Sola Squeeze contains no dairy-based ingredients.
European transplant mySmoothie (www.my-smoothie.com), Morristown, N.J., focuses on fruit only, with whole-fruit blends of blueberry, mango, passion fruit, peach and raspberry. Each 8.45 oz carton of mySmoothie provides two of the five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The company targets both minimalists environmentalists, with "no water, no sugar, no additives, no preservatives, no GMOs, no wheat and no dairy." Its ecopackage cartons are "made of renewable wood and wood industry extras, most of which is sourced from Sweden where two trees are planted for every tree harvested."
Mill Valley, Calif.-based Lightfull Foods Inc. (www.lightfullfoods.com) has carved out a healthy niche by focusing on caloric content. Smoothies can pack a lot of calories into a small drink. Some smoothies are virtual meal replacements at 300 calories per serving. Using sweeteners such as stevia and erythritol, and satiety boosters such as inulin, the company's Satiety Smoothies deliver a mere 90 calories per 8.25-oz. aseptic pack.
Soy Blendz (www.soyblendz.com), Glenview, Ill., has taken smoothies in a different direction with its vitamin- and calcium-enhanced, shelf-stable soy and fruit smoothies. The blends also use whole soybeans, not soy isolate and contain 8 g. protein per 10-oz. bottle.
Sambazon (www.sambazon.com), San Clemente, Calif., the leading global marketer of the Amazon fruit açaí, launched six new organic Antioxidant Superfood Smoothies. The smoothies are blended with functional ingredients ranging from supergreens to hemp protein, soymilk and dark chocolate. The line includes Supergreens Revolution, Mango Uprising, Protein Warrior, Strawberry Sensation and Shaman's Immunity (made with acerola cherries, which have 10 times the vitamin C of orange juice).
The big guys may have come late to the game, but they're playing firm. Pepsico's Tropicana (www.tropicana.com), Chicago, has a line of smoothies labeled simply "Fruit Smoothies," relying on the strength of the Tropicana brand to compete with the likes of Naked Juice and Odwalla.
Dairy companies also have entered the fray. Stonyfield Farm (www.stonyfield.com), Londonderry, N.H., offers several smoothie-type lines, including Shift, Smoothie, and Smoothie Light. The dairy-based smoothies come in regular and light, with extra probiotics for enhanced digestion. Similarly, Dallas-based Dean Foods' Horizon Organic (www.horizonorganic.com) offers 6-oz dairy based smoothies enriched with inulin prebiotic fiber.
Mintel projects the smoothie market boom to continue. The group projects a rise in sales by more than 80 percent in the next five-years. This means there will be plenty of room in the smoothie pool for all players for a long time to come. But manufacturers will need to focus on unique combinations and presentations of ingredients if they want to stand out in the crowd.