SMOOTH OPERATOR: A blender with power is needed to make the best smoothies.
COOL: Now that summer is here, are you ready to make profitable smoothies?
Smoothies and specialty bar drinks are responsible for the biggest increase in blender use. The popularity of smoothies—thick, frozen fruit and ice cream concoctions—has led to a new breed of blender and mixer: a high-powered mega blender. We will look at some features of the newest machines used to provide the quality and rapid production necessary.
Blenders have come a long way since the typical quart-size container on a motor base that has been around for years. The old standard, however, is still a good product for many bar drinks and has a place in many operations. We'll look at the different levels of sophistication in the machines starting with the basic models up to the latest super-deluxe units so you can match the right equipment to your needs.
Blenders come in a variety of sizes and styles to serve different needs. Some have stainless steel mixing containers that 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 now produce an extra-quiet mixer that has a great application in an intimate bar setting. Some also make their own version of a super-powered blender specially designed for rapid smoothie production. Let's look at the basic blender categories to determine which is right for your application.
The basic machine is the type that has been around for years and looks identical to the machine you may have at home. The difference between home models and commercial machines, besides the price, is the motor. The commercial motor is more heavy-duty, even though it may have the same horsepower rating as the home model. The commercial model will last longer under much greater use. The basic machine has a one-quart to 44-ounce capacity and is 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 $200-$300 range. Just a few years ago these models were about the only choice, but with the popularity of frozen drinks, you now have many more options.
The next levels up in blender speed and production capacity are the machines made to deliver fast, consistent mixing for smoothies. These 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 price tag, although these units are perhaps still a foodservice equipment bargain at about $300-$500 apiece. These mid-level machines will cover the needs of most users, but some operators need the ultimate blenders, the super models.
The most powerful machines are the three- and five-horsepower monsters costing $600-$900. These units are designed for high production. They will produce a perfectly blended smooth drink every time much faster than the less powerful machines. Some of these machines have computerized controls that sense the strain on the motor and adjust blender speed accordingly.
Some of these high-horsepower 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 bar or restaurant settings. Manufacturers have provided some units with 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 flush with the countertop. In addition to muffling noise, the installation looks clean without the bulky equipment on the countertop. It also tends to put the blender container at a good working height for the operator.
The newest entries to the blender market are high-volume machines that not only blend but also use a microprocessor to portion ingredients and control the mix time and speeds. Imagine precise portion control and blending every time you make a smoothie. These machines can be great for saving labor in extremely high production applications, but they come with a hefty price tag. There are some units that can mix any of four to eight different liquid ingredients or fruit purees and add water to concentrates. Other models automatically dispense ice. Once you add automatic dispensing features, expect to pay as much as $2,000 or more for the machine.
One manufacturer even has a complete unit that contains and automatically dispenses all the ingredients needed except for solid fruits. The model has a refrigerated compartment for dairy products and other refrigerated ingredients like fruit purees. It has an ice bin and water inlet to dispense into the blender container. It even has a built-in rinse station to clean the container after making a smoothie. The cost of this machine, however, is literally as much as some economy cars. These super-deluxe machines are great for high production, but some operators feel that too much automation can be a negative. Customers don't see the ingredients they are getting and miss the show of fresh goods for which they are paying premium prices.
If you haven't already joined the bandwagon, it is time to get a blender and start experimenting with frozen drinks and smoothies. Smoothies are hip, fresh, easy to make and profitable. It's hard to find anyone who doesn't like them. There are so many variations on juice drinks and smoothies that the operator's creativity can go wild.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.