Fruitful Endeavors

30 June 2006
Fruitful Endeavors

Seeking smart alternatives to empty-calorie beverages, schools juice things up.

This article first appeared in the 1 May 2006 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website

By Jamie Popp, Senior Editor

Administrators were confident students would happily accept the swap; several national smoothie chains operating in the area had built strong affinity with teens so the drinks had the all-important cool factor. The flip side was more-expensive ingredients and a labor-intensive product. In a move other school districts also have made, a smoothie chain eased the logistical challenges by catering the frozen fruit drinks. So far, all constituencies are satisfied.

"Inta Juice makes the smoothies and we sell them Á la carte," says Roxann Roushar, child-nutrition director of the suburban Minneapolis school. The district, which began selling smoothies from the Fort Collins, Colo.-based chain three years ago, prices the drinks at $2.60, with $1.00 profit. While the margin may not match those built into soft drinks, the school is satisfied, confident that the drinks give students more than just a sugary jolt.

Based on its success in the high school, the program recently was expanded into Eden Prairie's middle school. Seventh and eighth graders now can purchase such smoothies as Jazz Berry and Watermelon Wave.

Making the Grade

Alliances between schools and quick-service concepts can be uneasy at best. Although chains usually hit the bull's-eye when it comes to satisfying students' tastes, the nutritional profiles many of them bring to class get low grades. So far, though, smoothie chains appear to be faring well in schools that have established such partnerships.

In the industry at large, the smoothie segment is whipping up brisk business, with 10% growth projected for 2006, according to David Henkes, principal at Chicago-based Technomic Inc. Schools are part of it.

"As more school districts move away from carbonated beverages and are looking for healthful alternatives, there is a big opportunity for smoothies," he says.

Like Inta Juice, Jamba Juice also has learned that schools can be a growth driver. The San Francisco-based category leader has catered smoothies to schools since 1995.

"Parents came to Jamba because they were looking for something that was a more-healthful option than soda," Jamba Juice spokeswoman Kendra Gilberd told the Associated Press in January.

It's not just parents who are demanding more-healthful fare for students. School administrators, policy makers, nutritionists and the medical community have weighed in, pointing to rising obesity rates and related health issues among children; by some calculations more than a third of school children are overweight, a portent that bodes poorly for their adult years.

"The government has set aside plenty of money for school-foodservice programs [to offer more-healthful options] and smoothies are a perfect product," says Michael Powers, executive vice president and director of business development at Smoothie King.

Five years ago, the Kenner, La.-based chain began distributing dairy and non-dairy fruit drinks to Florida schools. Today, public and private institutions account for roughly two-thirds of its catering business nationwide, according to Powers.

"Demand for catering in schools is increasing both in the public and private sectors," he says. Catering solves issues such as limited space, equipment and labor to support made-to-order drinks.

Kids' Kups-its menu of four 12-ounce smoothies that includes Gimme-Grape and Choc-A-Laka-aren't designed to replace meals as are the majority of the chain's 65 drinks made for adults. Instead, smoothies complement the school's meal program, Powers says.

Out of Site

Although they deliver a more-favorable nutrition profile than soft drinks, smoothies aren't necessarily the answer in all student settings. Some schools worry that blended fruit drinks are just another sweetened snack hiding behind healthful marketing. Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, says catered smoothies aren't menued because of added sugar.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines, daily calories should fall between 1,200 to 1,800 for sedentary females and 1,400 to 2,200 for males of school age. An average fruit smoothie from a chain can range from 200 to well over 400 calories per 24-ounce serving.

Smaller portions help schools meet USDA guidelines and position smoothies as a snack. But 41 Aramark school accounts make customized, low-sugar smoothies-with less than 23 grams of added sugar blended with 50% real fruit juice. Fresh Market Smoothies are the result of a recent collaboration between Atlanta-based Freshens and the Philadelphia-based contractor.

Montclair (N.J.) High School blends smoothies in the morning and chills them for lunchtime distribution.

"We added smoothies because they are perceived as healthful," says Cynthia Capaccio, foodservice director at the school. More importantly, the drinks also support its active health and wellness program.

"We have two high-school locations we serve and we sell as many as 50 per day on the Á la carte line," she says. "Kids like that they have a choice from five flavors, and smoothies in the cafeteria are less costly than off-campus options-12 ounces for $2.00."

Full Fruit

Depending on their composition, smoothies can be deceptively caloric, a mash of fruit that often is augmented with juice, sherbet and yogurt. At segment leader Jamba Juice, a large Peenya Kowlada tips in at 960 calories (a Double Whopper at Burger King has just 900).

In March, Jamba Juice introduced four all-fruit smoothies with 45% fewer calories and 51% less sugar than the chain's average smoothies. Prompted in part by the USDA's newly revised Dietary Guidelines, a 24-ounce All Fruit Smoothie contains five fruit servings; a daily quota of five to 13 servings is recommended.

Class Time

Smoothies can teach students about nutrition because they're portable and easy for younger kids to prepare. That's the theory behind Steve Cooney's educational roadshow that includes a lesson on drinks for breakfast. It's how Sodexho's executive chef for school foodservices opens students' eyes and administrators' minds to how easy healthful eating can be.

The smoothie lesson plan is simple: Cooney provides ingredients and equipment and the kids do the rest. He uses classroom time to teach middle- and high-school students about a wide range of food-related topics including food safety, history and composition and the roles it plays in balanced diets.

Cooney prepares the fruit in advance, assembling a tray of mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries and bananas. "We display it so it's visually appealing for students," he says.

He gives kids the recipe and then lets them loose; they add ice, yogurt and fruit and gulp down the fruits of their labors.

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