Blending breakfast in a glass

Amid nutrition concerns, smoothies still sell as full meals.

banana mango smoothie

The first day Pennfield Schools Food Service Director Glenn Noffsinger began offering smoothies during breakfast in January 2015, he served 300 students in half an hour. Many of the students at the Battle Creek, Mich., high school opt for the blended drinks as meal replacements they can sip on their way to class, he says.

As consumers grow more health-conscious, operators are finding the drinkable morning meals appeal to all age groups looking for on-the-go alternatives to breakfast sandwiches. Variety also is a draw. “Smoothies work because you can change them up week to week, they’re fresh, speed-scratch and grab-and-go,” Noffsinger says.

At WakeMed Health & Hospital’s Café 3000 in Raleigh, N.C., manager Chris Carr offers a Tuesday smoothie station where guests can customize the blended drinks with bananas, berries, mango, carrots or kale. Carr started with one blender, but as the lines of hungry customers grew longer, he invested in a second machine for speedier service. He stopped short, however, of expanding service. “Keeping [it to] one day creates a demand for the product,” he says. 

For operators marketing smoothies as meal replacements, add-ins such as protein powder and plain Greek yogurt boost heft and nutrition, sweetening the sell. Fruit juice also is available at Carr’s operation, though seldom requested due to its high sugar content, he says. “We find that most people chose the smoothies for their nutritional content over the sweetness,” says Carr. Still, natural flavor-enhancers such as honey and fresh ginger can be key to converting those who might initially be skeptical about the taste of blended produce alone, Carr says.

Recent reports warning consumers that smoothies shouldn’t replace breakfast daily—including an April article on Time.com titled “Should I Eat Smoothies?”—could weigh on sales. But for the 15 percent of Americans who regularly forgo breakfast, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the word from dietitians that smoothies can be an easy way to consume more fruits and vegetables—especially in a rush—and they’re still better than not eating a meal, should keep the appeal alive. 

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