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FE&SEditorial Archives2004November — E&S Spotlight

Blending Up Profits At Juice & Smoothie Bars

Specialized equipment that is reliable, durable and easy to clean, as well as custom work-space designs that can overcome space constraints and enhance productivity and profit, are important factors for operators of juice and smoothie bars.

The back-counter work area at Juice Generation features an eye-catching stainless display rack that holds fresh produce adjacent to the juicing station, pump bottles in stainless sheaths for herbal add-ins and a freezer dip station where staff scoop up frozen yogurt and sorbets for smoothie prep.

The popularity and proliferation of juice and smoothie bars in recent years represents a significant trend in the specialty foodservice industry. Perceived by consumers as offering convenient, tasty and healthful alternatives to other types of fast food, menus at juice and smoothie bars, which generally now include choices of all kinds of special boosters and supplemental add-ins, appeal to a broad demographic that crosses all American age groups and cultures.

Whether part of a multi-unit chain or independently owned, profitable operation of juice and smoothie bars requires a knowledgeable, well-trained staff as well as appropriate, reliable equipment.

Juice Generation’s first juice and smoothie location was opened six years ago in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood by owner Eric Helms and, from the beginning, featured a sleek upscale interior design and the highest-quality menu ingredients available. Helms has since opened two more stores on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, including most recently a location near Columbia University, which debuted in the summer of 2004. “Our ambition for Juice Generation is not to become a chain enterprise, but to serve our products to customers in different New York City neighborhoods,” explained Helms. “From the beginning, customer feedback was very important in the development of menus and products, and so we have tweaked our juice and smoothie menus half a dozen times. A couple of years ago, we wanted to explore the possibilities of using green tea or soy milk as a base for beverages, and that led to the addition of hot tonics to our menus. Just this September, we added organic, healthfully prepared soups, salads, muffins and sandwiches to our menus to provide more choices for customers and expand our customer base.”

Blenders with flip-up plexiglass covers sit flush with the counter in the custom-fabricated stainless smoothie prep station at Juice Generation.

As the concept of Juice Generation has evolved, so have the equipment pieces selected to support its changing menus. Helms researches equipment purchases carefully, attending many tradeshows and forging relationships with the manufacturers and manufacturers’ reps that supply equipment for Juice Generation. “Reliable equipment maintenance backup is crucial and figures heavily in our decisions about ongoing equipment purchases,” said Helms. “We always need to have at least one duplicate of each of our equipment pieces available to replace a malfunctioning item, and we store a box of replacement parts for equipment in every location. Juicers and blenders in our stores are workhorse pieces and absorb a lot of hard use. We don’t want to lose even one customer because of an equipment malfunction that could temporarily close us down.”

Key equipment pieces at Juice Generation include a top-of-the-line, manual centrifugal juicer, a wheat-grass press and an automatic display press juicer used to process oranges. Centrifugal juicers are typically the most widely used juicers in fresh juice bars. They work by grinding fruit and vegetables, then filtering the pulp through a strainer spinning at a high speed to extract liquids. Water-dense fruit such as apples, as well as root vegetables and some greens, work well in this type of juicer. The wheat-grass press (or masticator) operates at a slower speed and creates a pulpier product. The automated countertop display press, similar to equipment designed for the Tropicana Co., is often a crowd-pleaser when operated and, at Juice Generation, oranges are freshly squeezed every hour unless a customer requests OJ squeezed on the spot. Behind this juicer, a re-circulating beverage dispenser that prevent liquids from settling holds freshly squeezed orange juice, as well as fresh soy milk.

A juice press (or masticator-type juicer) is most often designated for preparing wheat grass and other greens in juice-bar facilities.

Other beverage dispensers on-site at Juice Generation stores are designated for green tea or juices for smoothie prep such as cranberry, apple and pineapple. Stainless-steel holders for disposable serving cups are wall-mounted and pump bottles for add-in herbal-based “power boosters” are also held in stainless sheaths. A modified steamer, similar to those used to prepare steamed milk, was added to equipment at Juice Generation outlets once hot tonic beverages had been added to the menu. A conveniently located, small handwashing sink, tucked into the custom stainless cabinetry in the juicing station area at Juice Generation stores, makes HACCP compliance easier.

Equipment for smoothie preparation at Juice Generation includes a refrigerated case with drop-in wells from which staff scoop varieties of frozen yogurt and sorbets. Four high-speed commercial blenders are set into custom cabinetry to sit flush with the serving counter, a configuration currently seen more frequently in newer smoothie prep areas. Clear acrylic flip-up covers enhance both ease of smoothie prep and cleanup. A reach-in ice chest holds fruit used in smoothie preparation in a frozen state, as deeply chilled fruit creates a smoother, thicker product. Smoothie containers are immediately cleaned after use in a designated sink, equipped with a high-powered water nozzle on a flexible hose and stored above the sink, ready for re-use.

Juicers flank a three-compartment sink with a flexible hose attachment and stainless custom display storage units designated for fresh produce at Liquiteria juice and smoothie bar in New York City.

Hot wells for new-to-the-menu organic soups, as well as a small, glass-fronted refrigerated deli case for sandwiches and salads, are the newest equipment items to be added at Juice Generation locations. Helms also recently purchased a new walk-in refrigerator for use in a small basement prep area at the newest Juice Generation location where the ice machine, a stainless prep table, dry storage areas and a small office are also located. “Manufacturers’ reps have been very generous with their time and advice relating to equipment purchases, even though we are not a large operation,” Helms commented.

In 1910, Dr. N.W. Walker opened Norwalk Laboratories of Health Research, focusing on the health benefits of raw vegetable and fruit juices. His research prompted the development of a juicer that combined a vortex triturator, a cutter/grinder mechanism to pulp ingredients and a hydraulic press (200 lbs. worth) to extract nutrients and juice from the resulting pulp. This unique and highly effective juicer can currently be found in operation at Liquiteria, a popular juice and smoothie establishment located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “Fruit and vegetable juices extracted with this piece of equipment contain three to five times more vitamins, minerals and enzymes than juice extracted any other way,” asserted Doug Green, owner and designer of menus at Liquiteria. “Customers specifically purchasing juices for disease treatment or for help with other health issues know that they can order juice beverages prepared with this specialized equipment at our store. We offer a daily ‘fresh-pressed’ juice special using this equipment, as well.”

Six years ago, Green, who has been working with juice bars since the Orange Julius concept was new, moved his juice and smoothie operation from Javits Convention Center to its present location on a busy street corner. Efficient use is made of the store’s 600-square-foot layout. Bright tiles and murals greet customers as they enter, and seating is available at a wooden bar with stools along the window-side of the store. A cashier’s counter is located at the far end of the outlet and an adjacent glass-fronted reach-in refrigerator holds pre-made juices and healthful wraps and sandwiches for grab ’n go customers. Behind the station is access to a small back kitchen and storage area, where produce is received, washed and rinsed in a three-compartment sink, then prepped and stored in clear, air-tight plastic storage boxes in another glass-fronted refrigerator, which is visible to customers. The back wall adjacent to the cashier’s station provides a production area for the juices prepared in the specialty juicer, with reach-in refrigeration located below a 5-ft. counter.

Located along one wall of Liquiteria, the fresh-production line and display storage areas, custom built in stainless steel, are well organized to serve the workstations needed to prepare the store’s menu items. The production line is separated from the customer by a service counter running the length of the line, which also provides undercounter storage areas. The far end of the line contains a coffee brewer for the top-line organic Sumatra coffee offered here, as well as hot water for preparation of the eight types of fresh teas, whose leaves are displayed in a wall rack in air-tight glass urns. Also stored above the production line are pump bottles containing the organic herbal additives and other supplements that customers may choose to add to their beverages.

Key equipment found in juice bars include centrifugal juicers, such as this one found at Juice Generation, and are used to prepare a wide variety of produce. Back-up units and spare parts are commonly kept on-site.

Next along the line is a powerful, low-speed, electric-powered wheat-grass press, while wheat grass for juicing is stored directly above the press in a stainless shelf. Two manual centrifugal juicers are separated by a three-compartment sink, equipped with a flexible hose and spray water nozzle, with produce for juicing stored directly above the sink. The flexible hose allows operators to rinse produce conveniently and to clean juicers and juice and smoothie containers after every use. “Sanitation and food safety concerns are very high priorities at Liquiteria,” commented Green. “A specialized produce wash is scrupulously used on all our organic or California-grown produce, and our staff always wear double rubber gloves when preparing beverages for customers.” Three commercial blenders are put into use at Liquiteria for smoothie preparation, with a conveniently located sliding-top icebox holding fruit used in smoothies. A window at this juice bar that opens onto to the street provides fast service in moderate weather for customers on bikes or skates, as well as those just out for a walk in the neighborhood.

The Jamba Juice Co., a juice and smoothie chain concept, founded in 1990 by Kirk Perrone and based in San Francisco, has grown rapidly during the past 14 years and now operates over 430 locations nationwide, including units in Whole Food Markets, airports and on college campuses.

At the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla., flexible student dining options include the Wellness Center Juice Bar, a small, stand-alone facility serving the campus’ fitness center, as well as a Jamba Juice outlet located in the Hurricane Food Court, one of nine foodservice concepts found there. “The volume of business at Jamba Juice since it opened here at the University of Miami in 2002 has really been tremendous,” said Mel Tenen, director of auxiliary foodservices on campus. “In the first year, the daily average for juice and smoothie sales there was about 700, and it has grown in the last two years to average about 900 sales a day.”

To cope with this kind of store sales volume, Jamba Juice went through a re-engineering project for its stores in 2002, aided by SRE Co., a foodservice operations engineering firm. “Our goal was to determine which, if any technology, could be implemented to improve productivity and speed of production and service,” said Rick Shoffstall, vice president, client projects for SRE. The results of the re-engineering project were a streamlining of menu production at this Jamba Juice unit through the use of production assembly lines and the redesign of proprietary equipment packages.

For example, a custom juice dispensing system for smoothie service now features a dispenser with a 4-in.-wide head and a capacity to dispense 16 types of bag-in-box juices in proper amounts at the touch of a button. To keep products cold during production, a pass-through 48-in. worktop refrigerator was custom-designed to house the juice dispensing system. Smoothie production was enhanced by a redesign of the four blenders used, cutting blending cycle time in half, from 90 seconds to 30 to 45 seconds. An overhead blender rack, which positions clean blender jars for staff members’ use, was also custom-designed to provide a sliding rotation of the jars. A new rinsing device for blender jars was also designed for Jamba Juice stores, which had relied previously on a staff member washing jars in a four-compartment sink with a hand-held pressure wash. The new device, hooked up to a high-pressure water source, sits in a sink. The weight of a soiled blender jar inverted on the device activates a valve that sprays a high-pressure rinse inside the container, an equipment innovation that has cut required labor by about 50%.

Given Jamba Juice’s stated mission to “enrich people’s lives,” improving the speed of service through revised production systems and re-engineered proprietary equipment packages, while maintaining the quality of the products, is a step forward in enhancing customer satisfaction, whether on a campus, in an organic market or an urban neighborhood.

Key E&S For Juice & Smoothie Bars
  • Centrifugal juicer
  • Automated press juicer
  • Wheat-grass press juicer
  • “Norwalk” juicer
  • Hot beverage steamer
  • Re-circulating beverage dispenser
  • Standard beverage dispenser
  • Blenders
  • Blender jars
  • Refrigerated dip station
  • Stainless scoops
  • Knives
  • Disposable beverage cups
  • Ice chest
  • Ice making machine
  • Custom cabinetry
  • Handwashing sink
  • Three-compartment sink
  • Four-compartment sink
  • Produce washing agent
  • Flexible spray hose attachment
  • High-powered jar wash
  • Custom blender jar shelving
  • Display shelving
  • Dry storage shelving
  • Air-tight plastic storage containers
  • Air-tight glass urns
  • Pump bottles
  • Walk-in refrigerator
  • Undercounter refrigerator
  • Glass-fronted reach-in refrigerator
  • Double-door reach in refrigerator
  • Refrigerated glass-fronted display case
  • Countertop display case
  • Hot wells

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