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The 13th Annual
Flavor Survey

BY JENNIFER MAGID

Every year, Tea & Coffee Trade Journal brings you information on the most up-to-date trends in flavors. But with the sheer volume of different kinds of flavors out on the market today, this year we were intrigued to know the origin of a flavor- how does a company keep creating limitless new tastes? Here, Jennifer Magid gives us the inside scoop on how a flavor concept evolves from a fresh idea to a taste sensation.

How do you create your flavors? (What is the process for coming up with new ones?)

Nearly all the companies who responded mentioned the importance of researching consumer input, as well as food trends in everywhere from restaurants to bakeries.

Jeff Nichols, vice president, coffee division of Flavor & Fragrance Specialties says that his company’s flavor goal is “to build a flavor that triggers the taste memory so that people not only have a great cup of flavored coffee, but also mentally recreate a previous food experience.” Nichols says the company uses a program called Productscan, which identifies and tracks new product introductions in various food categories. A trained panel then evaluates the model system to detail the key product attributes to be replicated in a coffee flavor.

Da Vinci Gourmet takes consumer tastes seriously as well. “We find inspiration for new flavors from a variety of sources and industries, as well as our customers,” says Leanna Mix, communications specialist for the company. “We have actually created flavors that were submitted to us by customers. When we have a flavor that meets the formula criteria, we conduct tastings to determine the best recipe ideas.”

Jim Zalusky of Oscar’s, a division of Kerry Foodservice, emphasizes how important it is to keep up to date with other food areas. “We watch closely which flavors are being introduced by liquor and candy companies.”

Bernd Zimmer of Frey & Lau GmbH, which is located in Germany, has a suggestion that involves a similar approach; “go around your towns and look at things people enjoy, [for example,] cakes, liqueurs, ice cream. Look around foreign countries and take in the smell and taste of local specialties,” he said.

Says Sharone Liberman, vice president flavors USA for Frutarom, “we taste different flavors daily to evaluate various combinations and decide what will be favored by the consumers.”

How do you figure out what flavors consumers want?

To truly know what a consumer wants, a company has to keep abreast of the needs of its direct audience, but also with what is the buzz on the street, so to speak. Many companies mentioned the benefit of conducting research through surveys given to customers, conversations with coffeehouse owners, and through attending trade shows to see what is new and exciting.

“People will let you know what they want pretty clearly,” says Jeff Griener, corporate chef for Stirling. “We have done surveys, listened to folks at the trade shows, on the phone, in the stores. Sometimes you can even pick up on a new trend in the restaurant field and adapt it to our market. Or sometimes, it is just a flavor that no one would think to make into a syrup, but might be the next big thing. I remember a man asking me to make avocado flavored syrup, because avocados mixed with sugar and milk was a big drink in his native Philippines.”

Jamie Day, director of sales for Routin 1883, follows a basic philosophy: ask and you shall receive. “We ask them!” he says. “Routin 1883 sends inquiries and conducts phone research to determine what the hottest flavor trends are in the syrup industry to help determine what our customers are looking for in the next ‘great flavor profile’.”

According to Leanna Mix of Da Vinci Gourmet, being in the heart of things helps too. “We are fortunate to be in the undisputed capitol of specialty coffee, Seattle, Washington,” she says. “We are constantly out talking with coffee and tea lovers and café owners to spot trends and hear firsthand what the ever-evolving needs of both are - we consider it the industry’s largest ongoing focus group.”

Says Mélanie Ramon of Teisseire marketing development, “customer and professional panels enable us to define what kind of flavors to insist on, according to their tastes and suggestions. Teisseire new product development policy encourages us to discover new trends of consumption through press articles, rollouts of new products in the global beverage market and also on the food market. ”

Samantha Forgham, business manager of beverages for Dansico USA, Inc., says that thinking internationally is an important way to keep ideas from becoming stagnant. “We look at the market as a whole, what is fashionable, what other beverages are emerging, and also popular products and trends from our global colleagues,” she says.

Where do you draw the line on deciding when a flavor is too far removed from the norm of what a consumer would drink?

While companies admit that sheer sales drive the creation and permanence of a flavor, they also recognize that creativity can be what makes a flavor successful in the first place. However, one thing to remember: some tastes just don’t go well with the coffee or tea flavor, period. (For instance, are you craving broccoli-flavored coffee?)

“Unique flavors don’t really sell that well if consumers and customers have never heard of the flavor before,” says Jim Zalusky, regional manager of Oscar’s, a division of Kerry Foodservice.

“The taste of natural garlic / onion / valerian flavor combination as a typical Saturday afternoon coffee flavor may be out of norm of taste,” says Bernd Zimmer of Frey & Lau GmbH. “However, if you always think about traditional taste-norms you will never come to creative new ideas.”

“In different markets, there are always trends that seem strange for an outsider,” points out Sharone Liberman, vice president of flavors USA for Frutarom.

However, Colleen Roberts, director of sales for Flavor Dynamics, finds that research shows there really only are a limited number of flavor combinations. “The nature of the flavor of coffee itself lends to a selection of typical group of flavor notes that blend well,” she says. “Typically, then, the consumer is looking for nutty, chocolate fruity dessert type flavors. There are, however, a few which by virtue of the flavor base of the coffee itself which are hard to use. These might include vegetable flavors, meat flavors and some spices flavors like oregano, thyme and sage.” Flavor Dynamics’s response to the sometimes confusing dilemma of what goes with coffee was to create the “Flavor Dynamics Coffee Cuppers Training Kit”, which helps train on the key flavor notes of coffee, so that cuppers can understand the complexities.

Still, many companies believe the opportunities are endless. “There is really no limit,” says Simon Poppelsdorf, vice president of technical services, flavors, at Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Inc. “ A recent example are the varieties of sour hard candies for kids and a whole range of foul tasting candies related to Harry Potter. The limit of course, is that all our products have to be legally approved and be in accordance to the country where our products are used.”

“This is probably the toughest decision of all, because it is really very subjective,” says Jamie Day of Routin 1883. Day recognizes that what tastes great to one person is less than palatable to another. The challenge is finding the happy medium. “If for instance, a customer wants root beer syrups but we determine that the customer is alone in wanting this flavor, then root beer fails to get off the ground. We would like to see orders of at least 800 cases per year. If we don’t think that the demand will support this, then we take a pass,” Day says.

What’s the most outlandish flavor you feel you’ve created? Why is it successful? (Or why was it not successful?)

Flavors can truly run the gamut, as we found out from many of the companies who responded to the survey.

“Tiramisu might end up the wildest one for me yet, because technically, there is cheese flavoring in it,” says Jeff Greiner of Stirling. “Beef juice was definitely the strangest of them all, though.”

“Garlic! This creation was for a one time event,” says Woflgang Boehmer of Sensient Flavors.

“Our current Flavors of Summer lineup includes apricot-mango, green apple-vanilla, and caramel-toffee,” says Jamie Day of Routin 1883.

“On the more exotic side, we introduced a range of floral flavors,” says Bill Lombardo of Monin. “We released rose, violet, jasmine and lavender. The applications for these are very broad, ranging from flavored tea and lemonade to exotic sauces, dressings and even smoothies.”

“The most outlandish concept we developed was (except from the Harry Potter issue that is very successful) a range of liquors based on perfumes like Chanel #5, Rive Gauche, etc. It was very well received but went nowhere,” says Simon Poppelsdorf of Bell.

“This year we launched English Rose and Chocolate,” says Samantha Forgham of Danisco USA. “This was a blend of rich milk chocolate with a hint of rose, some liked it some found it interesting and some thought we were crazy. But it was a discussion point - different cultures and different people like different things. We cater to the masses but have to understand diversity. So it was a failure in the sense that it did not sell in the U.S., but it was a success because it demonstrated global understanding and capabilities.”

“A few years ago, we had a special request to create a Caribbean Falernum, a spiced liqueur used in many tropical drinks,” says Leanna Mix of Da Vinci. “As word began to circulate in the bar industry that there was a low-cost solution to the missing ingredient, we saw the flavor outsell the forecasts we had based on the single customer request. It is definitely not a flavor for lattes, but it is amazing in rum punches. Last year, a bartender at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas won a national cocktail contest using Caribbean Falernum, and we continue to see awareness and sales rise,” Mix says.

“Oscar’s introduced Montana Huckleberry Syrup a few years ago as a result of a trip our sales and marketing manager made to Montana,” says Jim Zalusky. “Everywhere he went customers were asking if we could produce such a flavor. The introduction was so successful that two of our competitors introduced the same flavor within two years.”

Torani is particularly proud of one of their new syrups: a cheesecake flavor. Says Kira Klaus-Swaim, foodservice marketing director, “drinkable desserts are appearing on menus across the country. This new, one-of-a kind flavor lets our operators easily create drinks that consumers can really sink their straws into such as pumpkin spice cheesecake latte or velvety chocolate cheesecake mocha.”

“It’s interesting to note that two of our most successful new flavors happen to be ones that many people would regard as outlandish- pumpkin spice and blueberry cobbler,” says Jeff Nichols of Flavor & Fragrance Specialties. “However after the first taste, the preconceived notion melts away with a smile and a comment of ‘that’s good!’”

How do you keep coming up with so many different flavors? How do you keep expanding?

The companies surveyed all believe that it’s not the quantity that matters, but the quality. Therefore, the focus is less on trying to keep producing as many flavors as possible for shock value, but more on making sure that the needs of consumers and shop owners are being met.

Jeff Nichols says Flavor & Fragrance Specialties has a four step approach for keeping their flavors selection top quality.

“Over the past 20 years, a major focus for flavor companies has been to come up with an increasing amount of new and different flavors. This ultimately has lead to a proliferation of an extensive flavor list,” Nichols says. “With that in mind, it is somewhat counter to the true needs of the retailer as they have a limited number of items they can effectively carry. The ultimate goal of the retailer is to maximize flavor diversity, product quality and name appeal so that each flavor carried contributes to the overall success of the entire product line.” Flavor & Fragrance Specialties approaches this by four steps, according to Nichols: 1. “back to basics (continual improvement of core flavors)”; 2. “cluster analysis (analysis of product lines by clumping together products based on similar characteristics, to avoid flavor overlap and sales cannibalization)”; 3. “Compelling flavors” (focus on a limited number to add excitement and sensory diversity); and 4. “Feature and seasonal flavor” (continually rotate new exciting flavors to energize consumer enthusiasm).

“We continually evaluate the individual territories and market trends,” says Colleen Roberts of Flavor Dynamics. “It’s also important to look at the influence of growing cultures in the U.S. as an inspiration for new ideas.”

Kira Klaus-Swaim of Torani agrees with this assessment. “The world of flavor is limitless. It has never been and never will be a challenge for Torani’s to conceive of new flavors. With Americans’ palates being more and more receptive to new flavors and tastes from around the world, our options are endless.”

“We invest a lot of effort into developing new ideas for the creation of the next flavors, using brainstorming and long hours of lab work, market research and visiting supermarkets around the world,” says Sharone Liberman of Frutarom.

“Even just expanding on a tried and true flavor by mixing it with a new taste can create something new,” says Kate LaPoint of Stirling. “Maybe cinnamon and raisin flavor, or tapioca pudding is the next big flavor. Probably not on the tapioca. Then again, some companies don’t care if a flavor is too far removed from the norm. Buttered popcorn, anyone?”

Stay tuned for next month, as Tea & Coffee Trade Journal features Part Two of the Flavor Survey, focusing on trends in syrups.


Tea & Coffee - January/February, 2004
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