Franchisees Play Strong Role in Testing New Products at Planet Smoothie Franchise
As the people closest to the customer, owners get requests all the time. A solid testing program means many of those suggestions make it to the menu
Not every customer suggestion for a new flavor makes it to the Planet Smoothie franchise menu board. But a lot of them do, thanks to a robust testing program that ensures plenty of field input from owners.
“We are changing our process so that we are more closely integrated with our franchise owners,” says Stacey Wopnford, Vice President of Operations. “In the past we have held meetings where people came in to test new products, and that wasn’t always effective. What we are going to do now is take several approaches to incorporate our owners, as well as product vendors, into the flow so that we have a steady stream of innovation and a robust new-product pipeline.”
The idea funnel has many contributors
Many flavor combinations and product ideas come from Planet Smoothie franchise customers, who submit them on the corporate website. In addition, the vendors who provide franchises with fruit, vegetables and other ingredients work out new concepts and arrange tastings and testings. And then Planet Smoothie has its own test kitchen, where ideas suggested by franchise owners come together.
“Many of our vendors have their own ‘innovation chefs,’ and they’ll bring things to us to try out,” Stacey says. “They often have a new fruit or a new supplement that they want us to try. We also create products in the test kitchen and roll them out as limited-time offerings to see how they do. If they work, we keep them on the menu. We tried that with chia seeds last year, for example, and they were so popular in every market that they’re now on the permanent menu.”
Franchise feedback remains crucial
Although many ideas do come from the corporate kitchen, Stacey is quick to point out that every Planet Smoothie franchise is in itself a test market, and that plans are being finalized to make sure that every owner has plenty of opportunities for product input.
“We are reaching out to everyone to get input for our 2017 menu now, and then we’ll be putting those onto a calendar,” she says. “Last year we rolled out all-natural peanut butter, and there was a lot of messaging around how it was just peanuts and salt, no fillers. We want to capitalize on things like that and get ideas for peanut butter in smoothies.”
There’s also room for custom innovation, she adds.
“We want to hear everything, so it’s not just limited to a new ingredient or add-in that we’re looking at,” Stacey says. “We love the input we get from every Planet Smoothie franchise owner and customer. Often they will ask for something we hadn’t thought of, or were just beginning to look at, and then that idea comes to fruition a little more quickly than it might have. It truly is a two-way process.”