LA CROSSE, Wis. — Kwik Trip Inc. is no stranger to the winners' circle in the Convenience Store News Foodservice Innovators Awards program. The retailer, which operates more than 560 c-stores in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, twice won the Foodservice Innovator of the Year honor in 2015 and 2019. This year, Kwik Trip is being honored specifically for beverage innovation.
The retailer launched the Fresh Blends smoothie program after Foodservice Director Paul Servais was inspired by seeing Wisconsin customers ordering smoothies and frappes at a Starbucks at the height of winter. "I'm watching people go to Starbucks and get smoothies and frappes when it's that cold outside in Wisconsin," Servais recalled to CSNews last spring. "I'm thinking this is for real — we've got to do something with this."
Servais, though, knew a self-serve-oriented chain like Kwik Trip couldn't launch a Starbucks style barista program just to add smoothies, and the self-serve technology he had in mind didn’t exist yet. So, he and his team solved the problem by partnering with Welbilt Inc. and Beverage Innovations Inc. to create the Fresh Blends smoothie machine.
Today, the Fresh Blends program provides a simple process for customers to use the machine's touchscreen menu to select a drink category, flavor and cup size. Then, after placing the cup in the dispenser chamber, they stand back and watch as ice and smoothie ingredients are dispensed into the cup, the shuttle moves the cup into the blending chamber, and finally the shuttle returns the cup to the customer.
As a Wi-Fi-connected device, the machines allow Kwik Trip to monitor performance and troubleshoot breakdowns of individual machines from the corporate office. The retailer can also monitor sales by location, review what is and isn’t doing well, and make changes accordingly.
Similar smoothie machines have been popping up across the country since Kwik Trip's implementation. Judges lauded Kwik Trip as the catalyst behind the Fresh Blends program, and for its role in helping to develop the prototype.
Said one judge: "I vetted this program and it's truly impressive. KT's commitment to a plug-and-play, high quality, easy to execute smoothie program should be recognized. An outstanding innovation for our industry that was driven by the experience, vision and wisdom of the Kwik Trip team."