When a customer approaches Jamba’s robotic kiosks in Dixon or Downey, California, one of the first things they do is pull out their phone and start recording. As Jamba president Geoff Henry says, it’s pure entertainment to see that initial time the robotic system makes your customized smoothie.

At the Jamba by Blendid kiosks, guests can place their orders via the attached tablet or on Jamba’s phone app and get all the same ingredients they would find in a traditional store. From the artificial intelligence and machine learning-powered kiosk, customers can customize their orders, adding in fruit or boosts to preferred levels, and even choose the time they want their meals to be made and picked up.

As a contactless solution, the robot weighs every ingredient, keeping track of each macro, and blends smoothies within two to three minutes.

It’s still the early days of Jamba’s robotic technological innovation, but current trends indicate the kiosk is a winner, Henry says. Jamba first became a market leader of what AI in foodservice could look like when it unveiled its first robotic kiosk in Dixon in late 2020. Henry says the brand was one of the first smoothie concepts to pilot robotic kiosks as standalone units.

The second Jamba and Blendid unit arrived in the Stonewood Center in Downey in October, offering seven plant-forward smoothies along with Jamba’s popular boosts. Henry says it’s a way to grow the business and move into types of locations Jamba couldn’t have entered before, like malls, gyms, hospitals, airports, and college campuses.

“For a brand like Jamba, convenience and access to the brand are critically important,” Henry says. “So we see this as a breakthrough opportunity to get the brand into more places, to get closer to our guests.”

When Henry came onto Jamba’s team roughly three years ago, the brand was experiencing significant transformation. Pre-COVID, Jamba was heavily investing in digital launched the Jamba app, third- and first-party delivery as well as a new loyalty platform. The brand saw order-ahead sales that once were only 1 percent of mix grow to north of 20 percent in any given week or month over the span of a little more than a year.

In conversations with Blendid’s CEO, it became obvious to Henry the prototype Blendid had begun to commercialize fit well with Jamba as a brand. The kiosks can blend 45 smoothies in an hour and nine smoothies at once, boasting practically labor-less productivity and delivering on Jamba’s quest to reach customers where they are with non-traditional units.

In all, Jamba wants to expand its growth trajectory eastward, building upon the 800 or so units it has domestically. The Blendid partnership is one element, enabling market tests in hospitals, airports, theme parks, university, malls, and more.

To date, about 90 percent of Jamba’s locations are streetside, but with this new technology underway, that could change quickly.

“We think this opportunity may help us, if it’s successful, accelerate our performance in the non-traditional space even faster than we were initially anticipating,” Henry says. “I think it’s a potential opportunity to just enhance portfolios for our franchisees overall, where they can have a combination of street side locations and non-traditional locations.”

The robotic kiosks can operate for almost 24 hours a day, too, meaning there will be more orders coming in late at night that would not be at the traditional Jamba that closes at around 8 p.m.

“I had a lot of confidence going into this partnership that they were on to something strong and that we would only make it even that much more stronger,” Henry says.

As a fully contained front- and back-of-house solution, the kiosk units can be assembled within two days. And operation is possible within only 4 to 5 days of receiving the unit, rapidly accelerating Jamba’s potential for unit growth.

All of this doesn’t mean there haven’t been hiccups along the way. With every new launch, Jamba learns more about how best to have the robot pour smoothies. One TikTok video went viral showing the Jamba robot failing, spilling the smoothie onto the counter.

That was a good learning opportunity, Henry says, and it enabled Jamba to jump into the conversation with customers.

As they put it, like any worker, the robot was nervous on his first day of the job, and there was still training and coaching to be done.

“There’s no doubt that we’re first to market with this,” Henry says. “So we’re learning, and we’re not afraid to experience mistakes along the way. That’s only making us stronger. Just like any typical software, every iteration gets stronger every time they do a new release.”

[image source_ID=”131293″]Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers Prototype

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.”

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