Henry says Jamba’s mission has always centered on “making eating better, easier and more fun.” The Blendid kiosks fit that endeavor.
While some consumer segments might shy away from AI and robotics, Jamba’s core target consumers, many of them millennials and Gen Z, are fast adopters of technology, Henry says. Many would rather order from a robot to make the process more frictionless.
Already, operational performance has been excellent, Henry says. The majority of customers rank their satisfaction highly, and repeat order percentages are growing. Jamba plans to launch more units in a variety of channels in the first quarter of 2022, with the majority being those non-traditional units that offer Jamba a new type of growth potential, Henry says.
“Some of the magic is when you're able to go to one of these locations and just watch the guests' interaction,” Henry says. “It's entertainment, and it's amazing. It just represents so much of the progress that we've made as a society where we can get smart enough to have robots make customized, made to order, freshly blended, on-the-go smoothies.”
While some will inevitably see these robots as a threat to human jobs, the restaurant industry is battling a widespread labor shortage. There were roughly 1.6 million open jobs in leisure and hospitality in September, representing 10 percent of all jobs in the industry, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
And while the Blendid kiosks don’t require labor to actually create the smoothies, they still enable Jamba’s expansion and bring in jobs all throughout the process, whether that’s in servicing the kiosk or on the larger supply side.
“There's human involvement on many sides of the entire value creation and the supply chain,” Henry says. “It's just that in the actual making of the smoothie itself, you've got a robot who's making the smoothie, which is fantastic.”
Employees still have to come on a daily basis to test and clean each unit to keep it up and running. While Jamba has done its best to overcome labor hurdles, it’s been challenging to operate with fewer people on the roster, Henry says.
But as Jamba peers ahead to what 2022 might bring, the low-labor Blendid kiosks are no doubt a part of the equation. Jamba is also advancing its menu to include broader plant-based, lower sugar options like the Apple ‘n Greens and Vanilla Blue Sky smoothies. Jamba will additionally continue to roll out its updated design, which includes a more modern look and refreshed restaurant experience, and grow its unit count in 2022.
“With Jamba now being part of Focus Brands, we've been rebuilding the foundation for the brand and investing heavily into some of the transformation with technology,” Henry says. “So now coming out of a pandemic, we're just very excited to really reap the benefits of those investments and to continue to drive more awareness for our brand and more trial with guests across the country.”