Juice and smoothies are no longer just a trend — they are here to stay. In most cosmopolitan cities, juice bars are a dime a dozen, and even cafes and restaurants are getting in on the action with juice programs of their own.
Why now? “There is this wave of consciousness that is happening,” explains Nicole Marquis, the founder of HipCityVeg in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. “People are much more in tune with nutrition and plant-based eating.” And juice and smoothies are the perfect delivery vehicle. “It’s an easy way to get your fruits and vegetables. It’s really hard to be grazing all day on pears and apples, but you can drink your smoothie and get everything in one. It’s a convenient way to get nutrients.”
Juice has also become a major gateway for people into leading healthier lifestyles, explains Hayden Slater, co-founder and CEO of Pressed Juicery. “It is that catalyst. You start your day with a green juice and all of a sudden you want to work out and eat cleaner.”
If you are a restaurant with any kind of health or vegetable angle, you should consider adding juice to your menu.
But it’s not so simple. As a fresh produce-centric product with an extremely short shelf life, juice is one of the more difficult and costly businesses out there. That’s lesson one: “When I thought to do smoothies I wasn’t thinking about good business sense, I just knew it was a great lifestyle that I wanted to share,” Marquis says. “It is actually something that is very hard to make money off of.”
First off, juice and smoothies both require an enormous amount of produce to create even a small amount of product. “If you are juicing spinach, you can’t even imagine how much spinach is required to make a dozen bottles,” says Marquis. “You need space, you need time, you need machines. And there is a ton of waste involved.”
And all those supplies can add up, Slater adds. Machines, bottles, and all of the other tools required to make juice are very expensive. Customers tend to look down on juice that costs upwards of nine dollars, even though, for many places, this is the only way to actually make a profit. Buying in huge bulk quantities, Slater says, is what has allowed him to make his juice affordable, but even then, juice will never cost the same amount as a standard bottled beverage.
The other tricky aspect of juice and smoothies is their extreme perishability and the food safety issues that come along with that. Juice is not the kind of product that can be made far ahead of time; once it’s prepared, it needs to be consumed quickly, or it goes bad. And, as far as the law goes, “The cold-pressed juice category popped up so quickly, and the FDA is still trying to work out what the regulations are,” Slater says. That means that, as a business, you need to constantly be checking the latest rules, or risk getting a big fine or being shut down.
Then there is training. Teaching someone to make a juice requires a lot more explanation than instructing someone on how to make French fries or a sandwich. “Every day the fruit that comes in is different, so you have to learn what tastes good, what looks good, how smooth to make the drink,” says Marquis. “We have to teach our employees to care a lot about the product, which is not a science, so it is really difficult. It’s more than just plug and play.”
As two successful juice and smoothie purveyors, Slater and Marquis have developed their fair share of tricks of the trade, particularly for getting around these hidden economic costs. Here are their top tips for those looking to add juice or smoothies to their repertoire.
Know your farmer.
This is an old adage but one that is particularly important when it comes to juice and smoothies. “Don’t be afraid to be super involved, or say, ‘Hey, this Swiss chard doesn’t look right.’ It’s important to build a relationship with your vendors, visit them at their farms, and work with them,” says Slater.
Communicate with your guests about produce seasonality and availability.
Every guest is going to have his or her favorite juice or favorite ingredient, but, as Marquis says, “This is perishable, real food. You are dealing with all sorts of variables,” like weather and seasonality. If you approach communication from the angle of your commitment to fresh, seasonal product, guests will be a lot more forgiving.
If you are a restaurant owner, consider a partnership with a juice company.
Rather than trying to do it yourself, “My motto is to stick to your core competency,” Slater says. “If you are mastering making food, rather than learning an entirely new concept, it’s probably easier to partner with someone for whom juice is their core competency.”
Never compromise on freshness.
After a couple of hours, most juices and smoothies are essentially undrinkable. Yes, this means that you can’t prepare everything far in advance, but it also means you will have a superior product.
Use juice in your cocktails.
Making juice to order at a restaurant is hard — it takes a lot of time and requires a lot of labor. With cocktails, on the other hand, “The guest experience is different. You can batch the juices in bulk, and because there is a craft element, you can take a little more time,” Marquis says. Juice cocktails, too, are a great way to increase your profit margins, as you can sell them at a higher price point than just plain juice.