Content sponsored by Manitowoc Foodservice

Looking for a way to heat up your menu and your bottom line? Look no further than icy blended beverages, which over the past decade have emerged as a red-hot trend that's transcended specialty status to become a mainstream mega hit. Says who? McDonald's, for one, which in August 2010 posted its biggest monthly same-store sales increase in more than a year thanks in large part, according to the company, to its hugely successful new blended fruit smoothies and frappes.

"The U.S. smoothie market has grown by triple digits since the start of the decade and was estimated at $3 billion in 2009. And it's continuing to grow," says Bill Hallett, Vice President-Blended Beverages at Manitowoc Foodservice. "We're seeing growth in dedicated smoothie chains as well as the addition of smoothies and other blended beverages into existing operations, the highest profile of which is McDonald's. Operators know and trust Manitowoc for traditional beverage dispenser needs, and now can turn to us for innovative new equipment to tap the blended beverage trend, as well."

New Blend-in-Cup Technology

A case in point: Last year, Manitowoc Foodservice released its new Multiplex MB-8 Blend-in-Cup System, a 2010 NRA Kitchen Innovation Award Winner and game-changer in the blended beverage equipment category. "We saw the opportunity to develop a new technology application for making frozen and blended beverages that would address the same top concerns that operators have across other beverage dispensing categories," Hallett says. "Among them are minimizing footprint, maximizing food safety, speed and ease of operation, on-board ice making, crew-serve or self-serve capability, and plenty of opportunity for menu-item customization."

With those core objectives in mind, Manitowoc engineers designed a self-contained, 26-inch-wide system that delivers all of that and more, including the ability to make dairy and non-dairy smoothies and frappes, frozen lemonades, blended bar drinks and premium non-blended beverages in one machine. There's no measuring, pouring from blender pitchers, wasted product or washing pitchers and smallwares. Ingredients are automatically dispensed into the serving cup, where they're quietly blended to order – all in less than 40 seconds.

Several subsystems combine to give the Blend-in-Cup its unique functionality and adaptability:

  • A refrigerated storage base and pumping system for up to eight flavors.
  • An on-board ice machine that reduces labor and enhances crew safety and food safety.
  • Sophisticated technology that dispenses bases, flavorings, and ice in exact portions directly into the serving cup, ensuring quality and consistency while minimizing waste and maximizing product yield and profits. Up to three flavors can be dispensed into each drink, enabling an extremely wide variety of menu options.
  • Two mixing chambers where drinks are quickly blended to desired consistency and where two different drinks can be prepared simultaneously.
  • A user-friendly, computerized touch-screen control that integrates recipes, inventory status and maintenance data. Recipes are easily and quickly changed for testing new product introductions and limited-time offers.
  • Automatic rinsing after each order to avoid flavor transfer and food-allergy issues, plus clean-in-place capability for weekly cleaning.

Our Recipes, Or Yours

As in its other equipment categories, Manitowoc Foodservice builds alliances with food and packaging product manufacturers in order to deliver complete blended beverage solutions. Culinary support for menu development is available, as well. "We've worked with some of our manufacturer partners and our chefs to develop a portfolio of beverages, but we also work with operators to develop signature products outside of that portfolio and with their chosen manufacturers," Hallett says.

With margins on premium blended beverages typically exceeding 50 percent, and sometimes hitting more than 75 percent with toppings and other optional add-ins, the Blend-in-Cup units can pay for themselves in well less than 12 months, he adds. "The bottom line opportunity is to enable the operator to build a more profitable beverage destination and expands its beverage platform," he adds. "The ROI is convincing, and with a product category at $3 billion and growing, this is a drink platform that's clearly here to stay."