Onsite operators find ways to take some of those extra calories out of this popular treat.
Smoothies are hot in just about every segment of the onsite foodservice world. Customers love their sweet, creamy flavors, love the vast choice and customization built into many smoothie programs and comfort themselves with the product's purported healthful profile.
Unfortunately, despite generally high vitamin and nutrient content, one thing smoothies often are not is low-cal. The yogurts, creams and added sugar that form the base of many popular smoothies also guarantee calorie counts over 300, and sometimes 500.
Customers are beginning to notice and are demanding low-cal alternatives that taste just as good. Since sweetness and creamy mouthfeel are two of smoothies' most desirable qualities, that's tough to pull off.
The best strategy for getting calories out of smoothies is to use low-cal or fat free yogurt, avoid adding extra sugar (including flavoring syrups) and emphasize fresh fruits, which generally have enough sugar content by themselves without needing more.
At Yale University, a pair of smoothie stations where students are free to mix their own concoctions has been a huge hit, says new residential dining director Reginia Phillips.
“Morse Dining Hall is a bit off the beaten path, so we were looking for a way to boost morning business,” she says. “The smoothie bar that was put in there last fall has helped grow breakfast swipes 30 percent.”
Morse now averages about 200 for breakfast, with about half going for the self-serve smoothies made on a dozen blenders. Students have a choice of fruit, yogurt and additives like whey protein and energy drinks, both especially popular with athletes (Morse is near the gym).
Phillips says many of the students, aware of calorie counts, opt for less hefty blends that emphasize natural ingredients like fresh fruits.
A smoothie station has also been a major component in the new food court at Otay Ranch High School in Chula Vista, CA, where the Dr. Smoothie Ph.D. station cranks out five flavor choices (Smooth-As-Silk Strawberry, Mango Tango, Peachy Keen, Cherry Berry and a blend of the day).
The smoothies are made with pureed fresh fruit and a proprietary dairy blend manufactured for the district by Socially Responsible Food Group, Inc. At around 200 calories per 14-oz. serving, they reduce fat and added sugar content while qualifying as reimbursable meals (the cash price is $2.25), says Nancy Stewart, foodservice director for the Sweetwater Union High School District.
A blend-hold-serve production system ensures quick service, important in a short-window high school lunch rush. “We make about 90 percent before the lunch period and have them ready to go,” says Stewart. “The last 10 percent is made during the period just to show students they are made fresh.”
Anything not used can be held over to the next day, eliminating waste. When the program launched last July at Otay High (Sweetwater is a year-round district), some 350 customers flocked to Dr. Smoothie each day. The counts have dropped to 200-250 more recently because of colder weather and novelty erosion but should pick back up as warmer weather returns, says Stewart.
The Other Sweet Stuff
The latest no-cal sweetener is heading to market following FDA approval last December for its use in food and drinks. The product is an extract from stevia, a plant native to Central and South America, and both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo (in partnership with Cargill and Merisant, respectively) have introduced FDA-approved stevia-based sweeteners. Coke/Cargill's is Truvia while Pepsi/Merisant's is called PureVia.
Stevia-based sweeteners will now join the other packets of sweetener alternatives on café tables, coffee bar counters, grocers' shelves and foodservice distributor warehouses. Meanwhile, both Coke and Pepsi are also going ahead with plans to launch beverage products using the new sweetener. Pepsi's first stevia-based products are SoBe Lifewater Vitamin Enhanced Water and Trop 50, a lo-cal orange juice product, while Coke's debut stevia product is Sprite Green Naturally Sweetened Soda.
Stevia is seen as a desirable product because it is supposed to be “natural,” being derived directly from a plant used for centuries by natives. Stevia leaves contain a substance that is several hundred times sweeter than sugar but has no calories. In fact, stevia plants are widely available in garden stores for those who want to add them to their herb gardens. Chewing the leaves yields a sweet taste hinting at licorice (it disappears when the leaves are processed).
Stevia sweeteners have been approved for years in many countries outside the U.S. Until the recent action by the FDA, the commercial use of stevia extracts in this country was limited to dietary supplements.