From slushies to smoothies and shakes to blended iced coffees, there’s a favorite frozen dispensed beverage (FDB) for everyone. But not everyone wants to deal with the hassle and mess of making them at home. That’s where convenience stores have an advantage. Customers pop in to indulge without ever breaking out a blender. However, c-stores must invest in machines that will serve up a profitable quantity of frozen blended drinks. What type of equipment will work best for your business?
The basic recipe for frozen beverages starts with a flavored liquid that passes through a central cooling or freezing cylinder, which drops the temperature to below zero degrees, forming an ice block. An auger then continuously stirs or churns that ice into a perfectly refreshing consistency. It’s the ingredients that differentiate the various dispensers.
Slushies — the original c-store frozen beverage — feature flavors like lemonade, cherry and blue raspberry, among others. These are often created from syrups, though some models use powders.
Most slush machines employ barrel technology, almost always made with some clear surface so customers can see the colorful beverage being stirred. Choose from one, two or more barrels per machine. A single barrel or bowl typically holds between one to three gallons, capable of pouring out a couple dozen servings per hour.
Frozen Carbonated Beverages
This frozen beverage is a combination of syrup, water and carbonated air (CO2). Typically a closed system, many dispenser designs use bag-in-the-box technology, which contains the syrup. When CO2 is added, the bubbly liquid is pushed into the dispenser, which is then chilled and stirred.
Frozen Dairy Drinks
Whether dispensing old-fashioned ice cream milkshakes or better-for-you fruit and yogurt smoothies, the introduction of dairy adds another layer of quality control required to hold proper temperatures and prevent spoiling. The equipment still freezes and stirs the mixture but typically requires more frequent cleaning. Also, shake and smoothie makers have a more industrial, stainless-steel exterior encasing the mechanics compared with slush mixers.
Other equipment elements for most frozen beverage dispensers include compressors, motors and spigots. For quality-assurance purposes, manufacturers recommend installing water filtration systems. Newer designs include smart features that appeal to customers and operators alike. For example, touchscreens allow people to select more drink combination possibilities from one unit without adding multiple barrels that consume more space and demand more maintenance.
Operators can also mine the machine’s data for usage patterns, such as tracking handle pulls or ounces dispensed in a day. The information can help stores devise marketing strategies to highlight slow-selling flavors or promote frozen beverages during slower periods of the day, for example. These models also record maintenance hours.
All that said, the best frozen beverage dispensers are those that are user-friendly for customers to self-serve and easily maintained so staff can be trained to keep them operating without costly downtime.