In 2011, Dennis Sato, a Robeks franchisee in San Diego, experimented with hard pack yogurt, fruit and juices to invent a smoothie thick enough to eat with a spoon, then began offering it in bowls topped with fresh fruit and granola.
Sato’s experiment was a huge hit among people looking for a healthy, hearty meal option. His sales jumped, and Robeks began offering Smoothie Bowls throughout the system. Within a few months, Smoothie Bowl sales made up 10 percent of the national chain’s total revenue.
This is a perfect example of what is possible when there is mutual respect between franchisor and franchisee. Franchisees have a lot to offer when it comes to new product development because they have a direct relationship with the customer and a better sense of what their customers like and don’t like. It’s a pity that most franchisors don’t have a formal process in place to solicit new ideas from their franchise partners.
Seeing the success of Robeks, I would take it one step further and encourage franchisors to have an incentive program in place to reward franchisees for new ideas that come to market. Perhaps, it can be as simple as a one time cash payment, or something more complex, like a staggered fee to be awarded if and when certain milestones are reached.
Unlike Robeks’ traditional smoothies, Smoothie Bowls don’t contain ice. Live probiotic cultures in the hard pack yogurt give the bowls a silky, smooth quality. By contrast, typical retail yogurt products use yogurt made from powders that are dispensed from a machine, mixed with milk and contain emulsifiers.
Smoothie Bowls have the same nutritional benefits of Robeks smoothies and promote additional healthy advantages when nutritional boosts are added. The proprietary boosts aid in exercise recovery, brain, heart and lung function, weight loss, and immunity protection – something yogurt retailers don’t offer.
Locally sourced toppings add crunch to the eating experience and may include such vitamin-rich choices as “Green Earth,” “Eternal Energy,” and “Forever Fruit,” featuring ingredients like trail mix, granola, dried or fresh fruit.
Available in most of the smoothie flavors currently on Robeks’ menu, Smoothie Bowls range from tropical blends like Mahalo Mango and Pina Koolada to exotic smoothies like the Acai Energizer and even the Naturally Coffee and Green Tea Smoothies, which have become a daily habit for many customers.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about Robeks Smoothie Bowls, but this just goes to show that even incremental improvements or small variations on a signature product can have a significant impact on revenues. Perhaps frozen yogurt franchises can try something in reverse by offering their own take on the traditional smoothie. Or even offering nutritional boosts for their frozen yogurt.
“Sitting down to eat a smoothie bowl is a completely different experience than a smoothie in a cup,” said Mary Catherine Rebrovick, a Nashville health blogger. “A smoothie bowl feels more like a meal — which it is. Mealtime is a ritual for a lot of people and sitting down at a table with friends is part of the meal. Psychologically, a lot of people don’t feel like a smoothie drink is the same — even if it’s nutritionally identical. It is easy to see why Smoothie Bowls have so much appeal.”
“When Dennis came to us with this idea, we thought it was interesting, but we didn’t realize just how many people would embrace the chance to sit down with a Smoothie Bowl,” said Robeks President and CEO Steve Davidson. “It’s been wonderful for the business, and it’s exciting to see so many new customers coming in because of the bowls.”
For years, Robeks has touted the nutritional advantages of using real fruit smoothies to replace a meal: Smoothies are healthy, all-natural and typically have far fewer calories than a fast food meal.
The market for healthy meal replacement products is huge because there are so many people, like me, who want to eat healthier but are just too busy to prepare their own food or to sit down for a full meal. Although frozen yogurt is typically marketed as a healthy indulgence that’s better for you than ice cream and other desserts, there’s no reason why it can’t be positioned as a meal replacement for as long as it contains the right amount of nutrients that would qualify it as such.
This is my challenge to all the frozen yogurt franchisees out there: what new variation on frozen yogurt can YOU come up with?
Smoothie Bowls are now available at Robeks stores nationwide. Los Angeles-based Robeks is a growing franchise system with 120 stores in 16 states and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.Robeks.com.