Abera Gofe, in his late 30s, has been drinking smoothies for the past five years. The past few weeks have brought with them extremely high temperatures, driving people to seek out a healthy way to cool down and feel refreshed, and for many, juice bars are just the ticket. He goes to smoothie bars least twice a week.
“You feel refreshed after you have one,” said Abera, a regular drinker of smoothies and milkshakes. “I usually drink a fresh fruit smoothie for a snack.”
A smoothie is a beverage made from blended raw fruit or vegetables with other ingredients such as water, ice, dairy products or sweeteners, while milkshakes are made from milk, ice cream, and fruit or flavours.
The recurrence of smoothies and shakes on menus as snacks or drinks has grown considerably over the past five or six years. Demand is clearly on the rise with more consumers wanting to see more of these beverages on menus at their favourite places.
Smoothie Zone, located in Piassa, is one of the shake and smoothie bars popping up all around Addis Abeba.
Founded five years ago, Smoothie Zone started a business with a capital of no more than 100,000 Br. It is visited by at least 70 customers every day.
“It is becoming a trend,” said Abebe Nebiy, manager of Smoothie Zone, about the spike in demand for smoothies and shakes. “People are beginning to realize the satisfaction of these products.”
The demand in the market is also driven by the widespread consumer trend and preferences for juice.
“People who choose to consume organic items tend to prefer us,” Abebe said. “We do not use any additives like any other emerging smoothie bars.”
At 6:00 pm, on a weekday afternoon, dozens of people are waiting to get their orders. Opened in January, the Smoothie Zone, which offers raw, organic, cold-pressed juices has experienced gridlock, which increased after the late afternoon as people leave their offices and stop in for a drink on their way home. “We are mostly idle during the morning and early afternoon, but business heats up usually began after 5:00 pm,” Abebe said.
At Smoothie Zone, the number of clients usually peaks during fasting days such as Wednesday and Friday.
The price of smoothies is 29 Br while milkshakes are around 35 Br.
Abebe gets fruit from suppliers from Atkilt Tera, the largest vegetable and fruit market in Addis Abeba.
“We need at least 50kg of different fruits in a day,” he says.
Retailers in Atkilt Tera, an area known for being a hub for vegetable suppliers, say with the number of juice bars growing, they are becoming one of his high-level customers.
Atkilt Tera, located around Piassa is well known for its different supply of fruits and vegetables. The usual way of supplying and retailing fruits is through wholesalers who come from distant areas, especially small cities, providing their supply in boxes, which are then sold to retailers.
“We are seeing a greater number of customers these days,” said Mikiayas Girma, a wholesaler at Atkilt Tera. “I at least sell to a dozen juice bars every day.”
Understanding the consumer demand and market opportunities, shake and smoothie sellers are focusing on product development and launching different flavors of juices.
“We offer over five types of flavours to our customers,” says Abebe, whose capital has reached half a million.
Dozens of new shake and smoothie start-ups have also come onto the market over the past few months.
Juice World is one of these start-ups opened in the heart of the city, Piassa.
Founded with a capital of around 200,000 Br three months ago, Juice World provides services to an average of 35 customers a day.
“Most of our clients are young, aged from 15 to 35,” says Dereje Beyene, manager of Juice World.
Sales were higher than expected during the fasting season, according to Dereje, who attributes the growth to the company’s bigger menu launched two months ago.
“We provide fast foods and various juices, which covers out customers’ broad preferences,” he said.
However, he agrees that the market is more competitive than ever before.
“Each year there are dozens of new companies entering the market,” he says.
However, as these bars gain popularity among consumers, concerns over health and diet are growing proportionally.
Abebe says the quality of the items is another issue to look at when the number of the smoothie bars increases.
“There are many businesses engaged in such businesses that use additives that are a danger to health,” Abebe said. “The health bureau needs to give more attention than ever.”
Birtukan Worku, 24, one of the customers of Smoothie Zone, agrees with Dereje.
“I experienced discomforts in some smoothie bars,” she said. “Most of them do not even put the ingredients on their menu.”
The City’s health bureau makes a visit to the bars every year to check whether they are healthy or not.
“Visiting once in a year is not enough,” Abebe said.
With a rise of smoothie bars globally, there are new warnings that ‘juicing,’ the practice of changing fruit and vegetables into a drink, could be doing us more harm than good.
Smoothies represent a new risk to health because of the amount of sugar the apparently healthy drinks contain, according to research done by the University of North Carolina.
Nonetheless, increased disposable income, a rise of fast-food chains, and marketing campaigns by smoothie bars have contributed to the growth of consumption of smoothies and milkshakes in Ethiopia. Moreover, with new launches likely to come soon, the competition between smoothie makers will only intensify.
“With increasing middle class and increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the number of such businesses will certainly grow,” said Haylab Birgu, who has been selling juice, smoothies, and milkshakes for more than a decade.
“There’s no doubt that the market is growing, but they are still a niche,” he said. “The government needs to support local businesses to do the business at a factory level.”
Nonetheless, how the business can grow to factory level is still unanswered question to many as the industry is small and unexploited.
“Many countries make billions from the business,” Haylab added.