Emerging Concepts | September 2011 | By Judy Kneiszel

Emerald City Smoothie

This smoothie concept is on track to open between 10 and 20 units a year for the next several years.

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Health-conscious consumers can get an on-the-go fruit fix in myriad ways at the growing number of Emerald City Smoothie locations—from an Apple Andie to a Zesty Lemon and every fruit in between.

Founded in Seattle in 1996, Emerald City Smoothie has locations in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Idaho, plus one in Mexico. A new unit is scheduled to open in California this month.

What sets Emerald City Smoothie apart from other smoothie operations and fast food purveyors who have recently added smoothies is that the Emerald City Smoothie menu is built almost entirely on a foundation of fruit. The rare nonfruit choice, like the Chocolate Champ, is protein-based, made with peanut butter, nonfat milk, and protein powder.

“We look for the best quality fruit in the industry and the highest quality of protein,” says Julie Vance, Emerald City Smoothie vice president of operations. “That’s the foundation of every drink.”

Then again, Emerald City Smoothie isn’t selling drinks so much as it is selling meals.

“Most of our customers consider our smoothies a meal-replacement product,” Vance says. “Although some of our lower-calorie options could accompany a lunch.”

Along with smoothies, Emerald City Smoothie sells healthy snacks, as well as nutritional supplements. The snacks include protein bars, healthy chips, and healthy meat sticks. Nutritional supplements range from protein powders to multivitamins and pre- and post-workout supplements. Supplements account for 20–30 percent of sales, depending on location.

The smoothie menu itself is broken down into categories, based on nutritional goals. Smoothies are listed under headings such as “Boost My Immunity,” “Help Me Lose Weight,” and “Bulk Me Up.” Consumers can select from more than 40 flavors or, since all smoothies are hand blended upon order, create their own custom combination.

A regular-size smoothie at Emerald City is 24 ounces and is priced from $4.75 to $5. The kid size is 16 ounces for $4, and a 32-ounce portion is available for $1 more than a regular.

One of the most popular smoothies at Emerald City Smoothie is Berry Berry, listed under the “Treat My Body” menu and made with strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, and protein powder. It weighs in at 350 calories for the 24-ounce size. Sambazon, another top seller, combines açai, cranberry, strawberry, protein powder, and soymilk. It has 490 calories for the 24-ounce size and falls under the category heading of “Boost My Immunity.”

Emerald City Smoothie

CEO: Rich Folk

Headquarters: Seattle

Year Started: 1996

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Total Units: 53

Franchise Units: 53

www.emeraldcitysmoothie.com

Vance says the quality of smoothies is consistent year-round at all Emerald City Smoothie locations because the fruit it uses is a fresh-frozen product. This also ensures consistent nutritional content.

“We formulate the smoothie recipes and then work with a nutritionist, who reviews our work and validates the nutritional content,” she says. “We disclose the nutritional content of all our smoothies and we always have, even before it was mandated anywhere.”

Al Schriber, vice president of administration for Emerald City Smoothie, says the fact that customers can easily see the nutritional content of their smoothie as they order, and can make sure it’s consistent with their priorities, helps set the concept apart from national quick serves.

“We’ve had 15 years of getting our nutrition message out there,” Schriber says. “This is what we do and is not just a small piece of our menu, so you are going to taste the difference.”

Vance says one upshot of large chains beginning to offer smoothies has been a larger demographic becoming aware of what a smoothie is.

“People have been very forthcoming about noticing the difference between their smoothies and ours,” she says. “When they experience real fruit and high-quality protein, they can taste the difference in quality.”

And they come back for more. Emerald City Smoothie estimates 67 percent of its customers come in three to five times a week.

“Repeat business is just a natural happening for us,” Schriber says. “As people come to appreciate both the taste and health benefits, they make our smoothies a meal replacement as part of their routine.”

For customers with special dietary needs, there are smoothies that are dairy-free and smoothies that are gluten-free. In addition, any smoothie on the menu can be made to meet these requirements upon request.

There are two models of Emerald City Smoothie stores. A classic unit is between 700 and 1,000 square feet, and an express or kiosk unit is between 400 and 600 square feet.

Some 15 of the 53 operational Emerald City Smoothie locations are express units, and a growing number of these are located inside LA Fitness clubs.

“These express units allow franchisees to get up and running with about half the investment required for a classic unit,” Schriber says. “The economy being what it has been in the last two to three years—with access to financing difficult—these smaller options became more attractive because franchisees didn’t need to borrow nearly as much money to get started.”

Emerald City Smoothie is on track to open between 10 and 20 units a year for the next several years, focusing growth in Arizona, Nevada, and California.