Smoothies will never grow old.
They’re always being reinvented: as an afternoon pick-me-up, a pre-workout booster, a post-workout reward, a meal replacer, a refreshing breakfast, or an indulgent dessert. Consumer tastes have evolved right along with them, as smoothie fans continually ask more from their drink. What do on-trend smoothies look like right now?
The Evolution of the Smoothie
The modern concept of a smoothie — a blended mixture of fruit, juice and other ingredients — is nearly a century old. It was popularized by orange juice stand owner Julius Freed in 1926, and then really took off during the health-food obsession of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1973, Steven Kuhnau opened the first Smoothie King, which sold more complex blends of fruit, vitamins and protein.
The 1990s saw the ascent of “the trashy mall food court smoothie,” as writer Kelsey Lawrence dubs them in a nostalgic tribute: “Pour one out for the glory days of Mango Me Crazy and Peach on the Beach.” They were simple, sweet, and oh-so-good.
Smoothies continued to adapt to customers’ changing tastes. We’ve seen blends with expensive functional ingredients — like adaptogenic mushrooms and powdered pearl — that promise specific health benefits. We’ve seen superfood smoothies, green smoothies and fruit-free smoothies.
What Are Smoothies Becoming Now?
The global appetite for smoothies continues to grow. Industry giants Smoothie King and Tropical Smoothie Café both have seen significant growth in 2020 and 2021, opening hundreds of new stores and increasing sales.
While smoothies, along with shakes and fresh juices, had a decreased presence on menus throughout the pandemic, Prepared Foods reported, mentions of functional smoothies are up by 7%. “Additionally, greens, seeds, and protein additions in smoothies are all seeing growth on menus. There is an opportunity to use smoothies as the healthy, functional treat consumers have been looking for.”
More health, more flavor, less sugar: that’s the current smoothie trend in a nutshell. "The public's taste buds have evolved," Rocky Gettys, vice president of product development for Smoothie King, tells Fast Casual. "What tasted good before now tastes too sweet to many people." What are they looking for instead?
- No added sugar: Fruit — like the classic banana, or dates — can provide the touch of sweetness that makes a smoothie palatable. Some smoothie shops use alternative sweeteners, such as stevia or monkfruit.
- Plant-based milks and kefir: Just as in healthy coffee drinks, plant-based milk alternatives are growing ever more popular. Another trendy smoothie ingredient is kefir, a tangy, thin, fermented milk that’s rich in active cultures.
- Spices: A pinch of spice can add a new dimension to smoothie flavors, reducing the need for any sweetener. Try ginger, cocoa, turmeric, even cayenne. A mixture of carrot, walnut, banana, sweet potato, cinnamon and nutmeg is one of smoothie-delivery company Daily Harvest’s top sellers.
- Herbs: Green herbs offer health benefits and partner beautifully with fruit. Winning combinations include mango and mint, strawberry and basil, lemon and parsley, papaya and cilantro, peaches and thyme.
- Purpose: For many consumers, smoothies aren’t just a treat or even a meal replacement. They want to feel that they’re fulfilling a function and contributing to their health. For example, see the Stretch and Flex blends from Smoothie King, which combine low-sugar flavor (tart cherry and pineapple-kale) with collagen and protein. “Immunity boost” is a top flavor trend for 2021, according to Comax Flavors. Examples include apple-carrot-ginger, blueberry-elderberry, and manuka honey.
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