Back to Eden Bakery in Portland, Oregon offers gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free smoothies.

Seven out of ten consumers (71%) now purchase beverages away from home twice a week or more often, up from 66% in 2010. As the economy stabilizes from the recession, restaurants and retail foodservice locations are well-positioned to boost beverage sales. Beverages act as a high-margin add-on that can help increase check averages for operators and also increase the overall dining experience for consumers by providing an added element of flavor to a meal or in the case of smoothies, be a meal substitute.

According to Technomic research, specialty coffees, specialty teas and smoothies exhibited growth at Top 500 limited-service restaurants. Smoothies, including fruit smoothies, grew by 8.5%, while the protein-enhanced varieties jumped by 123%, proving that smoothies have become a menu mainstay.

“Today’s foodservice consumers continue to base dining decisions on their perception of value,” says executive vice president of Technomic, Darren Tristano. “Innovative operators are creating value by crafting new and unique beverages including specialty lemonades, handmade sodas and ‘mocktails’ that are uniquely flavorful, fresh and a better-for-you option.” Smoothies fit perfectly into the category of “new and unique” beverages.

With nearly a third (29%) of consumers saying they like to try new and unique beverages, operators can build their credibility and bottom line by leveraging trending flavors with more creative beverage offerings.

The combinations a retailer creates within the smoothie category are only limited by the imagination. Staple fruits such as bananas and strawberries will always sell well. In addition, offering more exotic tropical fruits, such mango and pineapple, and the infinite number of combinations create interest among consumers and will likely create a buzz among customers and attract more than just your regulars.

Smoothie Production

A high-quality blender coupled with high-quality ingredients and some experimentation is all that’s needed to start making smoothies and increasing your bottom line. Add liquid. This can be water, milk, yogurt, or fruit juice. Add something frozen, whether ice, frozen juice, or frozen fruit. Add fresh or canned fruit or vegetables to taste. Add any extras, like spices, peanut butter, protein powder, powdered vitamins, or whatever your heart desires.

Most smoothies take a little bit of liquid as an ingredient. This can be water or milk or cream or a non-dairy substitute, such as soy or nut milk (almond works well). Some smoothies even use apple or other fruit juices. Add the liquid first. This will collect around the blades of your blender and help move around the other ingredients so that everything gets blended. Remember that when you mix things, larger ingredients will bubble up to the top (they won't fit in the small spaces beneath). You need a powerful vortex and lots of things moving around quickly to mix them into the center where the blades can chop them.

Gaia's Green Remedy at Wildflour Vegan Bakery and Juice Bar, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, goes beyond just fruit. The bakery also adds spirulina, ginger, cayenne, turmeric and local honey to the smoothie.

Making smoothies with yogurt is a little bit different, but very popular and worth the experimentation. It's not quite a liquid, so you may need to experiment to see if you need ice or a little bit of water or juice. Use Greek yogurt over plain for its texture and touch of flavor, but your taste will vary. Honey flavored yogurt is also good.

The rule of thumb for the best healthy smoothie recipes is ¼ to ? cup of liquid per each cup of solid ingredients. Experiment with methods and ingredients to find what works for you and your customers.