I Was Skeptical of Vitamix Blender Evangelists. Now I’m One of Them.

What to eat. What not to eat.
Oct. 20 2013 11:37 PM

Can a $400 Blender Change Your Life?

Yes.

Vitamix 5200

Photo courtesy Vitamix

When you first buy a Vitamix 5200, the so-called Ferrari of blenders, two thoughts are likely to pass through your mind. The first is “Did I really just spend more than $400 on a blender?” And the second is “This machine is going to change my life.”

At least those are the thoughts I had after I bought my Vitamix at a nutrition-related conference several weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to make this purchase; I’d merely followed some colleagues to the Vitamix demonstration stand, where a fast-talking young man with a headset and an impressive dexterity with Dixie cups was offering samples to an enthusiastic crowd. I watched as he liquefied a pineapple. I witnessed him puree an entire clove of garlic, unpeeled. I tried a sample of a green smoothie, then a tortilla soup, then a blended cappuccino. Before I knew what had happened, I’d taken out my credit card. The damage? $429.89—and that was with a discount.

As I crossed the exhibition hall, the Vitamix’s enormous box knocking against my shins, I began to question what I’d just done.

That’s when I heard a voice call out to me.

“You won’t regret a penny!” the voice cried in a thick Jamaican accent. “You won’t regret one cent!”

I turned to find an older woman waggling a finger at me, a huge smile on her face. This woman had no connection to the Vitamix booth; she just felt so passionately about her own machine that, upon viewing mine, she couldn’t help but shout.

“I love my Vit-a-mix,” she continued, enunciating each syllable, before launching into a highly complimentary review of the company’s return and repair policy. “I love it so much, I would recommend it to the dead!”

It was a strong, if odd, endorsement. And as I walked away, her words ringing in my ears, my anxiety over its price quickly morphed into something else: excitement.

* * *

The Vitamix is technically a blender. But calling it that seems like an insult: In quality and workmanship, the two just do not compare.

I can say this because in 2012, Cook’s Illustrated did compare them, in a feature titled “Blenders”—an America’s Test Kitchen smackdown among nine machines, including the Vitamix, the KitchenAid 5-Speed Blender, and the stealthy-sounding Ninja Professional. The testers put the blenders through round after round of milkshakes. They crushed ice. They blended margaritas.  To separate the weak from the strong, they also made a month’s worth of daily smoothies with what they deemed the ultimate vegetable challenge: raw kale. It was a task that “proved the downfall of a number of machines.”

Cook’s Illustrated explains that there are several factors that contribute to a blender’s effectiveness. One, unsurprisingly, is motor strength; at 1,380 watts (about 2 horsepower), the Vitamix 5200 had more than twice the strength of its main challenger in the Cook’s Illustrated roundup. Another is the shape of the jar: The Vitamix’s curved bottom helps create a vortex that pulls food more efficiently through the blades. And the last factor is the blades themselves: The closer they come to the edge of the jar and the better staggered their angles, the more effective they are at catching bits of food in their orbit.  (It also doesn’t hurt that the 5200’s blades can rotate at up to 240 mph.)

With these three factors working in its favor, the Vitamix 5200 excelled at all of the kitchen testers’ tasks. Cook’s Illustrated concluded that the 5200, the “darling of restaurant chefs,” is a “test kitchen stalwart [that] proved that there’s virtually nothing it can’t handle.” While “its performance comes at a steep price,” the article continued, “its exceptional durability (not to mention seven-year warranty) makes it cheaper in the long run than a less expensive blender that needs continual replacing.”

I was so inspired by Cook’s Illustrated’s praise—not to mention the 301-page recipe binder that came in the Vitamix box—that I decided to create my own version of the kale challenge. If the Vitamix really were a life-changing kitchen appliance, then how would my own life change if I spent the next five days eating only food I’d prepared in it? Would I finish the experiment as a raw foodist? Or would I stay up nights dreaming of steak? To find out, I stocked my freezer with frozen fruits and vegetables, and bought some smoothie basics: yogurt, bananas, and milk. The plan wasn’t just to Vitamix. I wanted to Vitamax

As this experiment might already make obvious, the Vitamix was a novelty to me; I’d first heard of the brand only last Thanksgiving, when a family friend told me she was designing a special place just for it in her kitchen renovation. (“You’re designing your kitchen around a blender?” I’d asked. “It’s not just a blender,” she shot back.) Since then I’d stumbled upon a Vitamix demonstration in Whole Foods and had overheard people praising its powers at my gym. The buzz made me think the company must be relatively new.

But I’ve since learned that the Vitamix company actually has been around since 1921, when a man named William Grover “Papa” Barnard began a career as a traveling salesman for modern kitchen appliances. Barnard was introduced to his first blender in 1937 and—according to company lore—“immediately saw the value of blending to quickly and easily prepare healthy foods that taste delicious.” A relative christened Barnard’s blender line “Vitamix,” based on vita, the Latin word for “life,” and the family presumably never used their teeth again.

Barnard brought his blender to a mass audience in 1949 when he created one of America’s first television infomercials, an odd, 25-minute demonstration that includes recipes for bread crumbs, potato pancakes, laxative spinach drinks, and a smoothie containing both raw eggs and their shells (“We’ll drink it just like malted milk!” Papa exclaims).  In 1969 the company launched the forefather of my 5200: the Vitamix 3600, which was souped up with enough strength to turn ice into slush, knead dough, and grind grains. The company—which is still family-owned today—continued tweaking its machinery to improve its strength and durability, and recently launched the 7500, a slightly quieter and sleeker version of the 5200 that has a list price of $529.

I understood why some might shell out extra for a quieter model when I turned my Vitamix on for the first time: It sounded like I’d started a chain saw in my kitchen. During one of my inaugural smoothie attempts, the air from the motor’s fan actually began to push it across my kitchen counter.

Intimidated, I decided to start my experiment with some “easy” recipes from the Vitamix cookbook (yes, the recipes go up to “advanced”): a garden cocktail, a spinach and strawberry smoothie, a strawberry and spinach lassi, a peach and banana shake. They were indeed easy—unlike my previous blender, which required constant stopping and restarting to coax the chunks of food into the blades, the Vitamix devoured whatever I put into it. (And unlike a juicer, which extracts liquid and leaves valuable roughage behind, the Vitamix turns everything into drinkable form, including fiber.)

At lunch and dinner, I supplemented my smoothies with Vitamixed soups that I’d learned about from my machine’s accompanying DVD, a half-hour guided tutorial led by a woman who welcomed me to the “family” in front of a countertop display of fresh vegetables. (“This is definitely much more than a machine,” she said. “It’s a complete lifestyle.”) As I worked my way through tortilla soup, kale and leek, and—my favorite—broccoli and cheese, I also experimented with a Vitamix-condoned, if somewhat terrifying, shortcut: using the Vitamix to heat up soups as you make them. (Its blades rotate so quickly and produce so much friction that if you leave it running for six minutes, the liquid will get hot enough to produce steam.)

I made hummus in the Vitamix; I ground almond butter. I blended watermelon lemonade for a barbecue. I chopped vegetables (on lower speeds, the Vitamix can also work as a food processor).  As I gained confidence, I began straying from the official Vitamix recipe book, tossing in any piece of partially wilted produce that happened to be in my fridge. Extra zucchini? Throw it in the Vitamix. Droopy chard? Blend away! I began to use the Vitamix almost like a garbage disposal, the main difference being that I drank what it produced.

When the Vitamix company commissioned a consulting firm to do an online market segmentation study in 2009, it found that of 393 Vitamix owners polled, each person had recommended the Vitamix to 13.4 other people. Holly Hacker, Vitamix’s director of direct sales and customer experience, says this number was so high that the researchers insisted on double-checking the data. At first I doubted the number myself, but within three days of ownership I had made smoothies for my in-laws and husband, endorsed the machine to my office manager, raved about it to friends, and invited my parents over specifically for a Vitamix-themed lunch. When my mother, a former nurse, refused my blueberry-kale smoothie on the grounds that it looked like bile, I felt as if she were rejecting my new boyfriend. Eager to gain her approval, I whipped up some strawberry sorbet instead.

* * *

In 2010 the company put together a book called Gratitude, a collection of stories and Vitamix testimonials in honor of its 90th anniversary. In addition to an odd hodgepodge of celebrity endorsements (including Jason Mraz, Gabrielle Reece, and an executive producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy), the book is filled with touching personal stories of regular Vitamix users who claimed the machines had changed their lives.

There’s the couple who met when the man invited over his co-worker—and now wife—for a pizza whose ingredients he’d prepped in his Vitamix (“Every time we see a Vitamix demonstration, Craig and I both get sentimental”), the woman who had nursed her sick hound back to health with Vitamix-blended raw chicken (“Even my dog loves Vitamix”), and the mother who claims that if her house were to catch fire, she would “grab [her] family members and [her] Vitamix on the way out.” Another woman referred to her Vitamix as a “God-sent gift.”

And if this just sounds like marketing fluff, I suggest doing a Twitter search for Vitamix. (Or, for that matter, scanning the official Vitamix Facebook page, which has more than 93,000 “likes.”) “They are not paying me to say this, but I LOVE my Vitamix blender,” tweeted one user. “Making a Vitamix smoothie from just picked berries from my garden makes me so happy, I’m dancing in the kitchen!” wrote another.

People tweet about hugging their Vitamixes. They post their favorite recipes (sample title: “Cucumber Joy”), and share photographs of bright green smoothies. And it’s not just vegan, yoga-loving women, either. “I talk about my Vitamix blender the way Jay-Z talks about watches,” tweeted one male Vitamix fan. Another man, after claiming to have Vitamixed his vodka, boasted that he had “just dominated a pair of bananas”—the smoothie version of pounding your chest.

Why the Vitamania? Part of people’s enthusiasm likely has to do with the pleasure of using such a well-built machine. (Four million households in the United States have Vitamixes, but the company’s repair department has only four employees.) Prep and cleanup are easy, and there’s something satisfyingly science-project-y about trying to blend everything in sight. But perhaps the Vitamix’s greatest appeal lies in its ability to perform nutritional magic. We all know we should be eating more vegetables, but we prefer to drink smoothies. The Vitamix allows us to do both: What starts as an obligation gets blended into a treat.

* * *

On day five, I finally broke my Vitamix streak with a plate of lamb shawarma—an event that gave me a chance to reflect on what had happened to me over the previous days. The strangest thing, I decided, was not the array of frozen produce that had ended up in my usually empty freezer (from kale to mango to fire-roasted corn). It wasn’t the fact that I had forced a spinach-pineapple-ginger smoothie on my brother-in-law, or that I’d bought a special pair of noise-reducing earmuffs to use while blending (a Vitamix on high is typically in the 84-decibel range, which puts it somewhere between a passing motorcycle and a loud vacuum cleaner), or that I’d proposed—in all seriousness—that my husband and I take the Vitamix with us on vacation.

The strangest thing was that by the fifth day, by which point I had consumed at least 20 Vitamixed smoothies and soups—and by which point my husband revealed that I’d served him so many blended liquids that he had dreamt about my Vitamix—I was not desperate for the experiment to end. Instead, I woke up feeing excited about what smoothie I would have for breakfast. Rather than feel deprived during the experiment, I felt strangely satiated; any time I got hungry, I just made myself another drink. (Perhaps because of this, I also did not lose any weight—it turns out that turning solids into liquids does not evaporate their calories.)  

It’s now been more than a month since that woman shouted her Vitamix endorsement to me across the exhibit hall floor; I feel so liberated from conventional food and beverage preparations that if I saw someone carrying a Vitamix box, I’d probably also feel the need to chime in. My diet of green liquids is making me feel not just healthy, but virtuous, as if reducing my food to tiny pieces somehow makes me a morally superior version of myself—and if that sounds ridiculous, I challenge you to take a sip of my ginger-spinach-pineapple concoction and tell me you haven’t been changed. I recognize that I may at some point max out on Vitamix—today’s frozen-kale-on-fresh-kale blend pushed the limit of what a banana can camouflage. But in the meantime, if my house catches fire, I know which appliance I’m grabbing on the way out.

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