Yes, it's f'REAL! Their milkshake brings moviegoers back for more

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Traveling recently through Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport, I went into the DFW Travel Mart, a relatively new offering at DFW that is modeled after a convenience store, with fountain drinks, hot dogs on a roller grill, sandwiches and burritos with microwaves to heat them. I found the concept refreshing as a business traveler sometimes just wanting a quick meal that doesn’t cost a fortune at the airport.

One of the products being sold was milkshakes—a brand and a system for milkshakes and smoothies called f’REAL. The freezer sat beside a blender and within 60 seconds, you had a milkshake.

The marketing material was very attractive and appealing and the freezer and blender were very simple to use. But was the product as good as it was advertised to be? Surprisingly, yes! (I consider myself a milkshake connoisseur and a really good milkshake is hard to find, typically requiring your own labor.) This product was so good that I reached out to the company to ask if they are operating in the theatre industry. They are. Would they be interested in having their story told? They were.

Jim Farrell, the owner of the company, had thought for many years that there had to be a way to get a good milkshake without so much time and labor. He has an engineering degree from Cornell and after many years of business experience while working on his invention, he created a blender and a product formulation that produce a quick, easy, great milkshake.

Jim and I hit it off instantly when talking about our love of milkshakes, which was his guiding force for his product. The product is actually real ice cream and milk. That’s the secret ingredient! It actually is a milkshake! f’REAL also offers smoothies and frozen cappuccinos, all of which have the same high standard of quality ingredients to produce a quality product. Jim simply states, “The product has proven itself because fundamentally the product is really great.”

f’REAL is about six years old and now has their blender and products in over 4,000 locations, with 80% of those in convenience stores. The blender itself is not inexpensive, but the margin on the product is high and companies have returned their investment quickly.

f’REAL does have its product offering in two theatre circuits, Wehrenberg Theatres and UltraStar. They have exhibited at industry tradeshows such as ShowEast and ShoWest and have found lots of interest, but the equipment investment has proven to be somewhat of a barrier. However, now that the company has grown and has a good base established, Farrell says they can offer more options, including financing the equipment.

I spoke to Brett Havlik, director of concessions and ancillary revenue at Wehrenberg, to get his take on their experience with the product. They have the product in seven locations, about half the circuit, and are very happy with its success. The chain also has handmade milkshakes in six other locations that predated their f’REAL program. Havlik found the company exhibiting at the NAC Convention in San Antonio in 2006. Since Wehrenberg already had experience with milkshakes, he knew they would sell. But like me, he too questioned the quality of the product when the serving system was so simple. But the response was the same as mine: It’s great!

Havlik observes, “This is a great way to serve them in a compact, simple way, which looks great and could even be self-serve. The f’REAL system is quick, easy and consistent. The handmade milkshakes take so much longer. The employees don’t mind it, it’s not labor intensive. You pull the shake, push the button, and go work on other parts of the transaction. Come back 60 seconds later to grab and serve.”

Havlik adds, “They are a per-cap builder, they do not cannibalize other food and drink items and it’s a great addition to our offering. Milkshakes appeal to a wide demographic—all ages drink milkshakes.” He believes, “To manage theatre concessions, you know your customers can find it cheaper, but they better not find it better. The bottom line is that it’s a premium product and we charge a premium price. With f’REAL, it’s the real thing and still manageable by our staff.”

The concession operation in all theatres is always looking for new ideas and new products to offer clients that still fit very strict operational criteria, and that can be tough. We want our patrons to have the best experience at the theatre, but we also have to run the theatre efficiently and profitably. I have to admit that the serving system of f’REAL is what caught my attention, but the quality of the product is what kept it. Sometimes in the Snack Corner we look at the trends in the industry, concerns, new ideas, or simply review what we do on a daily basis. And sometimes we just look for new products on the market, and this is one of the most interesting. If you would like more information, visit www.fREAL.com. Happy hunting for that next great item that fits your theatre!

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.