The Big Chill

Blending In

Though differing opinions exist concerning the pioneer behind today's fruit shakes, New York City-based Restaurant Systems International Inc. (RSI) started blending up smoothie franchise opportunities back in 1981 with a concept dubbed Banana's Ultimate Juice Bar. Smoothie King in Kenner, Louisiana, followed in 1989. Innovators Jamba Juice and Surf City Squeeze downright invented the "California-style" juice-bar concept, marketing through bright and tropical graphics, securing coastal locations, and tempting passersby with tantalizing fresh-fruit scents that lure the body-conscious to their buffets of nutritional supplements.

Today, industry leaders like Smoothie King, Jamba Juice and Planet Smoothie have garnered premium locations in their home states, and with establishments like Dairy Queen and Baskin Robbins launching their own blended fruit drinks, one might feel the smoothie industry has reached semi-saturation. But according to Dan Titus, founder of Juice Gallery, a publishing and research company in Chino Hills, California, that's certainly not the case.

"There are 1,800 successful juice bars in the United States right now, yet Burger King has more than 11,000 units," says Titus. "Juice bars are a fledgling industry driven by two things: They're a healthy meal alternative and a great convenience product."

Chris Cuvelier, president of Juice and Smoothie Bar Consulting in San Francisco, agrees, contending the national market isn't even close to saturation. "Though California and Utah have become competitive when it comes to locations, there are [several] marketplaces where the trend is just now taking off," he says.

Smoothies fill an important niche in today's fast-paced lifestyle. By supplying a liquid alternative to those whose bodies just can't take any more caffeine, they've gained acceptance by fulfilling the modern day grab-and-go philosophy, while simultaneously increasing sippers' levels of self-esteem about opting for a low-fat form of nourishment instead of the familiar drive-thru artery-blockers. Intent on moving toward untapped territories and educating the public on their products' nutritional values, smoothie proprietors are embracing the new millennium.

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Big Chill.

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