The blender guessing game: which one is right for you?

if you’re looking into getting a new blender for your business, or thinking about adding blended drinks to your menu, there’s good news: there is no shortage of innovation or proactive customer service when it comes to sourcing the right blender for your store. The trick is not to find a “better” blender but the right blender for your needs.

To help you in your search for a blender, blender manufacturers report here what they see in the blended drink market and what new equipment trends they’ve noticed. Naturally, they also have a few ideas about which models (and how many) they might recommend to you.

D. Scott Hinckley, director of sales and marketing at Vita-Mix in Cleveland, Ohio, works with the many applications of the company’s blender products. These include areas such as foodservice and specialty coffee; retailers such as high-end gourmet retail stores; and features ranging from variable timing controls to the food preparation unit called Vita-Prep, which is used by chefs.

Vita-Mix’s blender sales are experiencing significant growth in the specialty coffee, ice cream and smoothie drink sectors. Jamba Juice is one of the company’s many clients. “Every Jamba Juice has at least six blenders,” Hinckley says. “They were aiming for drink quality and fewer re-blends.” Other types of retailers have different concerns. “Coffee shops, for example, are looking for blenders that are quiet.” Other considerations are things like the arrangement of seating areas, noise levels and the popular use of Wi-Fi access to attract customers and keep them on site. Vita-Mix developed blenders with special covers and a patented muffler for retailers who might have four to six blenders running at the same time and are concerned about noise.

The blender guessing game

Hinckley attends all the specialty coffee shows and reports, “It’s interesting to see the changes that take place in this market. The chains are now doing the cold drinks and the smoothies, because today they can make decent profit margins on that. And Vita-Mix often hooks distributors up to the smaller retail companies.”

Vita-Mix sells several different categories of blenders within its drink machine line. The lower level line has excellent 2-step timer blenders, in which the blender starts at a lower speed then switches to high. This is good for the operator doing less than 50 drinks per day who is not worried about noise level. The next level is the blending station line, which is good for the retailer preparing 90 drinks or less per day. It has a noise reducer on it as well as custom speeds. All the blenders can work as an in-counter version where the motor is under the counter level, in a 5-1/2-inch x 7-1/2-inch hole. Finally, there is a 90-plus portion blending system that holds five gallons of ice and apportions the ice by weight. This machine also doles out the weight of the mix, which is determined by the type of drink being made. This high-end product is used by customers like Krispy Kreme, Carnival Cruise Ships and Dave & Buster’s. Its special features take out the step of having to apportion ice or mix into each individual drink.

Hinckley is especially proud of the Vita-Mix Rinse-O-Matic container. “It’s a rinser feature used by the largest coffee chains,” he explains. “It rinses the blender container automatically. It cleans the containers so that the retailers can use them again right away. Three seconds and you’re done. It’s all done with water pressure. You don’t need to use electricity for that feature to work.” The feature costs about $150, though Hinckley points out that the retailers using this great feature won’t have to buy as many containers.

The blender guessing game-

Jason Reed is senior product manager at Hamilton Beach Commercial in Fayetteville, N.C. The company sells many different types of blenders for varying applications. Potential customers call them every day and explain their needs, are asked probing questions and receive a recommendation for one or more suitable blenders. “The key,” says Reed, “is to find out what kind of drink profile they have. What consistency, how often is the blender used, that type of thing. In other words, what’s the right blender for you?”

Reed constantly refines a written piece that outlines blender drink possibilities and resources. The company shares “The Piece”–as he calls it–with its commercial customers. The Piece includes blender drink ideas, resources and referrals to vendors of related products such as drink mix companies. The Piece asks the same question Reed mentioned earlier: What’s the right blender for you? “It’s the result of a collaboration with drink mix companies and other experts. A whole slew of people are involved in the production of this Piece,” Reed says. Hamilton Beach Commercial’s goal is to create strategic alliances with related companies and present useful and appealing information in one document to any retailer considering the purchase of one or more commercial blenders.

All the wisdom Hamilton Beach acquires is integrated into every bar blender it sells. The Hamilton Beach 908 and 909 models are entry level. At 3/8 horsepower, they are suitable for one to 24 drinks per day. Tango is the bridge model, which is ideal for preparing 25 to 50 daily drinks and it has one full horsepower. Reed explains that the Tango combines the simplicity of the basic bar blender with some of the performance features of the high-performance blenders.

Tempest and Summit models are what Hamilton Beach considers high performance. The Summit line of blenders is designed for 51-plus drinks daily, Reed says. These high-end blenders cost between $300 and $1000 each. For the retail client, the combination of cleaning the container, the sound of the motor and the inclusion of a timer may ultimately yield a creamy drink profile in the least amount of time at the lowest cost.

To address the needs of its vendors, Hamilton Beach Commercial has a special program, called Express Care Service Program, that is available with the Tango, Tempest and Summit lines. If anything goes wrong with the blender within a three-year period, a new unit will be express-shipped overnight to the customer. “Hamilton Beach has taken the repair issue out of the hands of the distributor. This is really taking care of the customer after the sale,” Reed says.

Mary Rodgers, director of marketing communications for Waring and Cuisinart, reports, “Specialty coffee retailers continue to provide many new opportunities. Waring is looking at the marketplace to fill the gaps. These are not derivative products that we develop but new products developed from scratch.” Waring sells retail blenders, commercial immersion blenders, in-pot blending for soups, stews and sauces, and more. Rodgers explains that the company regularly solicits honest feedback from retailers about blender use and translates that information into product development and customer service.

Waring’s customers cover a vast array of fields including hospitality, foodservice, laboratory and science. “New product development is the engine that drives the company,” says Rodgers, citing both bar and heavy-duty blenders. “We have redesigned several new blenders in the commercial blending category.” The line includes 3-horsepower models with 30,000-plus RPMs each. Rodgers lists a long and rather fun list of features available on various Waring blenders, including removable jar pads, touchpad electronic membranes, LCD displays with blue backlight, reprogrammable blending stations with presets, “plus and minus” features for speed time, 64-ounce capacity and specialized sound enclosures.

Blendtec, Orem, Utah, has developed several combination blender/dispenser units with outstanding technical features. Many of them are fully automated and in some the ingredients can be pre-measured. You hit a button and the auto-unit will make the drink from scratch. The preparer places a blender pitcher into the unit and turns it on. “The auto-unit will make the drink from scratch automatically,” says Eric Kellems, sales manager of product suppliers. “One of those blenders is called the BDI, which stands for Blending Dispenser with Ice. It’s a complete package from the pumping and blending standpoint, and it gives a lot of versatility.” The BDI is one foot wide and 20 inches deep, and will make about 50 or 60 different drink combinations. Blendtec technology portions and meters the ice supply as well as the liquor, mixes or other pre-chosen ingredients.

How do the high-tech units work? Each blender comes with 30 keypad combinations. A smoothie product is blendable and pourable at about 27 to 29 degrees F. “What’s important is how it registers on your taste, on your palate. If you warm the drink up a bit, it’s better on your taste buds. We talk to our customers about how technology can impact the taste and the service.” Blendtec offers free technology on its Web site to help retailers figure out how to improve their blending processes. The company also offers an adapter for its blenders that the retailer can customize to create their own blend cycles via a serial/USB port actually on the blender unit. Every time the retailer develops a new program (recipe) it can be input and saved. However, most retailers can accomplish what they need with the 30 pre-programmed blend profiles and cycles.

Kellems notes, “The faster they can turn that (customer) line, the more service they can offer to their customers.” If the retailer can understand the implications of how the product and its features impact business, then Blendtec can help them figure out what they need to do. “We’re able to show them how to accomplish less noise with a slightly longer cycle and less speed.”

Kellems says that within the industry there is the huge misperception that motor speed matters the most. He explained that what really counts is the blade speed, such as 320 MPH at maximum–especially once you put a load on the blender. The goal is good, usable power. “A good question to ask in these situations is: how do you control the power? Because you can with the right technology. Our most popular product line is the Blendtec Smoother[TM] line. It is a blender that can be used both in-counter and above-counter. The 3-amp Smoother is the most popular, but we also have 15-amp, 18-amp and 20-amp models, which are available for a variety of other applications.”

Again, it’s not which blender is “best” that’s the issue, but finding the best blender for your business. The right blender works in your store’s environment, is easiest to maintain and use, and is the most cost-effective option among several great choices.

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