The Juice It Up! smoothie chain is retrofitting existing units to beef up freshly squeezed juice options with an expanded line of healthful beverages.
The move is a response to growing demand for functional juice concoctions, which have become increasingly trendy as celebrities tout juice-based cleanse diets and beverages as meal replacements, said Carol Skinner, senior director of marketing and business development for 90-unit Juice It Up! parent Balboa Brands Inc., based in Irvine, Calif.
“It’s really a change in focus for the whole company,” Skinner said. “We have been known as a smoothie chain that sells juice. Now we want to be a juice bar chain that sells smoothies.”
The recession took its toll on Juice It Up!, resulting in the closure of 79 locations — almost half the chain’s units — between 2008 and 2010, as consumers cut back on discretionary treats like smoothies.
Last year the chain began growing again, and six to 10 locations are expected to open before the end of 2012.
Skinner said existing units within the mostly franchised chain are also retrofitting to install raw juice bars to expand on the fresh-squeezed options.
The retrofit includes the addition of a six- or seven-foot bar, some new equipment and design changes, and in-store promotional materials, all of which she estimated would cost franchisees less than $10,000.
All new locations will also include the raw juice bar component, she added.
Although Juice It Up! has always offered fresh juices, the retrofit will allow units to offer seven new juice blends made with ingredients like kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, carrots, lemon, ginger, and fruits and vegetables that have not been frozen.
With names like Refresher, Energizer, Awakener and Detoxifier, the new beverages will range in price from $5 to $8, which Skinner said is in line with premium fresh-juice concepts. Juice It Up! smoothies are typically between $3.50 and $6.50.
Skinner said the move by quick-service operators like McDonald’s into smoothies has “diluted and cheapened” how consumers perceive smoothies.
Juice It Up! hopes to tap customers who are into “juicing” for a number of reasons, whether for dieting purposes, because they want the micronutrients in fresh juice, or simply because they like the taste.
“As we continue to expand and build our brand throughout California, we’ve noticed an increasing number of customers want the freshest, healthiest option available,” said Frank Easterbrook, Juice It Up! president and chief executive, in a statement. “Raw juice blends are the most authentic and purest way for us to meet consumers’ nutritional needs.”