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Oct. 19, 2015

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Michael Rubin set out to fix the blended drink.
featured in The Niche Finder

by Cory Eldridge
From Fresh Cup Magazine, Oct 2015

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Sept. 20, 2009

Liquid Assets
Specialty Frozen Beverages

by Michael Rubin
From Coffee Talk Magazine, August 1997

From Seattle, the specialty coffee capital of the U.S., through the rest of the country, the specialty coffee phenomenon has crossed all social borders. Coffeehouses have become a popular social destination for both the middle-aged “post-disco” crowd as well as for younger generations, who often lean toward the low-key ambience of a cafe over the cacophony of more traditional evening destinations. The combination of exhilarating concoctions and stimulating conversations appears to be a viable replacement for the more expensive cocktails and cover charges at bars and nightclubs.

As coffee’s influence has spilled over into the realm of entertainment, the coffeehouse is uniquely situated to satisfy the rapidly evolving appetite for new and unique beverages. Look on the menu board at that popular new spot that just opened around the corner from you: frozen mochas, latte’ vanillas, vanilla lattes, chai, mint mochas, Italian sodas, granitas, Oreo shakes, smoothies, frappes, freezes, snickerdoodle mochas.

Early on, U.S. coffeehouse owners recognized the need to offer frozen coffee beverages. With sales of hot coffee falling each year as warmer weather arrived in the spring and summer months, frozen coffee was a natural to boost sales in this traditionally slow period.

So, baristas began to set up granita machines in their shops. They discovered that the granita machine was an excellent marketing tool. But with every new category comes a learning curve. Along with its excellent promotional attributes, the granita machine also had an Achilles’ heel. For a granita machine to operate properly, the product in the machine must have a Brix level between 11 and 22. Brix is a measure of the ratio of sugar to water in a solution. Too much sugar and the product will never freeze; too much water and the product will freeze solid.

Recognizing the dilemma, beverage manufacturers began creating mixes that, when poured into the granita machine, had the proper Brix level. With a new generation of improved granita machines, the mixes are an excellent option as a vehicle to make frozen or coffee beverages.

Along with the granita machines came a new wave of powerful commercial blenders with the ability to quickly produce customized frozen beverages. Coffeehouse owners created frozen beverage recipes that were well received, but they were time-consuming to make and the results tended to be inconsistent. In answer to this problem, companies created instant super-premium mixes that quickly and simply re-created the coffeehouse recipes. Some mixes require the addition of coffee or milk; others just require water. Either way, these mixes have been well received and are widely used.

Just Starting Up?

Any business offering specialty frozen beverages must have recipes, menus, and menu boards that reflect the store’s particular theme. The business theme and beverage names must be consistent with each other. By creating unique proprietary beverages, served with an appealing presentation, you let your customers feel that these were specially created for them.

Such special drinks are simple to do. Try blending Oreos, M&M’s, or several of your espresso beans into your mochas. Take a cue from the ice cream business. Some manufacturers offer mixes that can be used as a beverage base. Blend these bases with espresso to create signature mochas, lattes, or vanilla lattes. Use the same base to create smoothie-type drinks by adding fruit or fruit juice. Whipped cream, flavored syrups, and shaved chocolate are great tools for adding a personal touch to any of these types of beverage. As in any competitive market, it’s the attention to the small details that will set your beverages apart.

Time and Again

Large chains are aware of the importance of consistent quality. They educate their employees so that the frozen mocha served today will be the same as the one served tomorrow. If today’s customer comes in tomorrow, he or she will find no variance in the flavor and consistency. The incredible value of consistency should never be overlooked. If you make your beverages exactly the same every time, from employee to employee, if you create a company wide formula that ensures consistency, your sales are sure to grow. Independent operators lie awake nights trying to figure out the age-old question, “Why aren’t the customers coming back?” They should look closely at three areas: product quality, product presentation, and consistent preparation.

How to Choose New Products

Choosing new products can be an arduous feat. There are so many choices. You can read the trade magazines and send for samples. You can inquire at your local distributor. Both are excellent options. I recommend that you use a combination of the two methods with one added ingredient. Go to your nearest Starbucks, Gloria Jean’s, 2nd Cup, or Au Bon Pain and see what’s on their menu. Think about it. These companies spend millions of dollars each year marketing and advertising, trying to educate consumers on the virtues of the products they offer. Take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Offer products similar to that of the big boys. Your customer base comes from the same pool of consumers that is being educated by the Starbucks of the world. So, if Starbucks has Frappuccino, carry your own up-scale version to satisfy your customers who want a frozen coffee-chocolate blended drink. If they serve chai, it is appropriate that you serve your own special chai beverage. Whatever products you decide upon, always try to add your own creative touch. If the chains do their chai hot or over ice, do yours blended with ice or in a granita machine.

Set your business apart.

Pictures are a much more powerful selling tool than the written word. When sourcing your products, make sure to ask if point-of-purchase materials are provided. Most companies will do so at no charge, since the easier they make it for your customers to purchase, the more often you will order from them.

Michael Rubin is the president of Cappuccine, Inc., a manufacturer of specialty frozen drink mixes based in southern California.




Mar. 2, 2009

Frozen beverages
guidelines for troubled times

by Michael Rubin
From Coffee Talk magazine, February 2009

The Specialty Coffee Industry and the current world economic situation are intimately tied to each other. Over the last 18 months, prices of Coffee, Cocoa, Dairy, Sugar, and other ingredients sold through Specialty Coffee outlets have soared, forcing suppliers to pass on these increases to their customers. Of course retailers had to pass these increases on to their customers, the individual consumer.

Exacerbating these conditions is the recent credit crunch and near-collapse of various international economies. We are now experiencing staggering job losses in addition to very tight credit, the result being a future filled with questions that we cannot answer. Business owners of every size are unable to pin-down exactly what their cost of goods will be, both in the near and long term. This leaves many asking the question, “Will we survive”?

There is a bright side to all of this. These times represent challenge, not doom. We can come through this and be so much better than we ever were before. We are being forced to make tough decisions that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to make before. This could be releasing overpaid employees who never pulled their weight. Or hiring sales people on commission-only versus a high salary. The opportunity now exists to build the best relationships ever between you and your team. Why? Because everyone involved knows how important it is to bring his or her very best efforts to the job at hand. We all start to appreciate what we have, because we know it may all be gone at a moment’s notice. All involved can experience a sense of camaraderie like never before. It’s like in the old movies; the locusts are coming to eat the crops and everyone pulls together to fight for the survival of the farm. Times like this can heighten our senses.

It is time to look at every possible way to understand our businesses better, or hold on tight and let the torrent of economic woe wash over you, while you resist the temptation to give into fear. Fear makes us react and use short-term band aids when we need long-term solutions that can only come from wisdom and a sense of calm.

You can consider eliminating products that are either slow movers or are not profitable. Recognize which products bring you the most revenue, and focus your training, sales and marketing efforts on those products. To help control costs, maximize order sizes to get either volume discounts or free freight from your suppliers. It is time to stretch our thought processes to areas they haven’t gone before. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity is also responsible for an awful lot of personal growth and enhanced business savvy. If ever there was a time that called to embrace this idea, now is that time.

I am bullish on the Specialty Coffee Industry! The question is, “Why should I be?” Consumers can make a pretty good cup of coffee at home…so why do they go to a coffeehouse? To connect with people, that’s why! For those who are single, a lot of time is spent in the pursuit of connecting with someone to complete us, or just to find enjoyable company. For others, networking for business or for special interests, is a powerful motivation. Coffeehouses provide a unique and exciting place for us to fulfill those needs.

My particular experience and expertise is in specialty frozen beverages. Let me share some thoughts on how that background can help you in the best – and worst – of times.

Quality vs. Price

Specialty Coffee houses are where consumers expect to find the absolute best quality coffee products. Therefore, serving the very best quality that you as a business owner can find is an absolute must right now. A fast-food chain can get away with serving less than the best. Their customer base is a completely different type of consumer. That customer is more price conscious and less quality driven. It is important to know which type of customers you serve!

Many retailers lay awake nights trying to think up ways to get new customers in the door, and how to keep the ones they already have. When economic times get scary some can forget what brought them their success. They may start wondering if replacing their current products or ingredients, for lower priced options, would be a way to keep them financially afloat. This can be a real trap.

I would only try this if I let my best customers taste the product and choose for themselves. They are the best judges of what they will purchase. Otherwise, if they find that they are being offered a different and sub-par quality product, you can kiss goodbye the loyal customer that you worked so hard to acquire.

Of course, it is always smart to get the best price you can from your suppliers.

A storeowner may think that saving a nickel to a quarter per serving, for a given ingredient or product, will increase their bottom line. However, it is so important to remember that consumers don’t purchase a price. They purchase a satisfying experience. They only come back for something that they really liked a lot! They come to your store for a quality experience, they don’t give a hoot about how much you pay for it, they just want it to taste as good as it possibly can.

Specialty Frozen Beverages – An Excellent Profit Generator

Frozen Specialty Coffee beverages can be a great hedge against recession. Even after significant price increases during the last couple of years, regardless whether Frozen Beverages are made from scratch, from a gourmet powder or a liquid mix, the cost-per- serving the retailer pays still hovers around $1.00; some higher, some lower, depending upon the quality and flavor purchased. Not bad, when considering that a sixteen-ounce serving is being sold for anywhere from $3.50 to $4.50. This makes specialty frozen beverages the single highest profit generator in “profit dollars” per each drink sold. This realization, in the face of the current economic situation, should bring a sigh of relief! They say that Starbuck’s profit is going down? I suspect if that is so, it is “hot coffee sales” that are going down vs. frozen drinks. People can make a fair cup of coffee at home, but they can’t make frappes at home, they have to go to a coffeehouse to find good frozen coffee beverages.

“Will consumers continue to purchase specialty frozen beverages?” Of course they will!

Behavior patterns have shown that consumers will forego nights out on the town, take vacations closer to home, and belt tighten on their general spending. One well known dynamic in consumer behavior is the importance of enjoying their daily minor indulgences. Each day we crave that special moment, and for some of us that urge comes several times a day. The coffeehouse is just where that daily tradition has been taking place. I say it will continue to be so.

Here are some last thoughts. With McDonald’s going into specialty coffee, retailers must make sure that the beverages they serve are much better than McD’s. This may sound a bit crazy; to actually spend more on what you serve when everything in front of you says spend less. But remember, what brings the consumer back, great taste, and a great experience. Make sure you supply this in your store. This is an absolute must. Taste test every drink on your menu. How does it compare to your best competitor? Look at what has been successful for you and tweak it to be even better that it was. Keep an open mind that there may be a product that tastes better that what you currently serve. The last point I am going to make is this. Whatever you do, don’t try to compete on price with McDonald’s. That’s a sure road to the poorhouse. Believe in quality, serve quality and that’s what will keep you customers coming back.

I hope I have given you some food for thought, and here’s to an exciting time for us all in the coming years.

Michael Rubin is Founder and CEO of Cappuccine and created the first Blended Iced Coffee mixes in 1991 and the rest is history. He lives in Palm Springs California where he has been building Cappuccine for the last 17 years.




Sept. 20, 2005

Cold Drinks, Hot Profits
Coffee-Flavored Blended Beverages

by Michael Rubin
From Gourmet Retailer Magazine, October 1998

Coffeehouses are popping up in neighborhoods all across the United States. Gourmet specialty coffee has become a way of life. New terms, such as granita, frappe’, blended iced drinks, frosted latte’, mocha glacier, cool blended, and iced mochas are all chilly variations on espresso-based drinks. They are common buzzwords used on a daily basis. Not long ago, many of these terms didn’t even exist. The “Iced Age” is here, and today’s consumer appetite for new and unique drinks is on the rise. The message they are sending out is, “We like it rich, frozen, and delicious.” They expect only top quality.

In coffeehouses all over the country you hear the capable, familiar sound of a commercial blender whipping the gourmet chocolate, espresso, milk, and other exotic ingredients together to create delicious treats & a delight for eager buyers.

The conventional recipe, however, can take up to five minutes to prepare. With long lines, the wait can be detrimental to business. Therefore, many outlets now choose to use some of the new super-premium instant versions of the above recipe. These products come in powdered form, and take less than 30 seconds to create world-class blended iced drinks. They are a new generation of instant mixes that offer high-quality beverages with freshly made taste and texture, with the advantage of convenience and consistency. With some mixes, you will need to add nothing but water and ice. Others may call for various combinations of either coffee, milk, or both. The potential for profit with this type of beverage is excellent, and the cost is reasonable. This is a great option for busy operators who wish to offer their customers delicious products quickly.

Michael Rubin is president of Cappuccine Inc., a manufacturer of blended beverage mixes in Palm Springs, CA.

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