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Tea & Coffee Trade Journal’s 14th Annual Syrup & Flavor Survey

By Amelia C. Levy
It’s that time of year again, when we examine the flavor and syrup industry by surveying the leading manufacturers for the latest and greatest. This article attempts to take an accurate snapshot of the state of flavors and syrups today, and its possibilities for the future.

As the specialty coffee industry has matured well past its adolescence, its members have learned to keep a close watch on, and adapt to the demands and tastes of consumers through diversification of menu options. It’s certainly a different world than when the phrase “gourmet coffee” first made its way into the lexicon within a small group of followers, and now it has been brought far and wide to all ages and all tastes. Menu boards must reflect this broad demographic, and the 17,000-plus specialty coffee shops around the nation, as well as the others in the world, have risen to the occasion. Today, flavored coffees and/or flavored syrups are must-haves in any specialty coffee shop, as an exceptionally easy way to boost profits. “In recent years, as customers are becoming more aware of fine coffee and the variety of syrup flavors available, flavored coffees have become more popular. [Retailers] have to be ready to satisfy customers’ choices,” says Sammy Piccolo, part owner and manager, Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver, B.C. and winner of the World Cup Latte Art Competition and other barista championships. Ever since flavors and syrups entered the coffee market (by some estimations, about two decades ago), their uses have evolved and their offerings have expanded so that retailers can satisfy - and entice - the wide audiences that patronize their shops.

Treats for a Healthy Lifestyle
The one trend that is quite glaringly obvious among any food or beverage business owner in the 21st century is the health and weight loss trend. While sugar-free syrups have been available for some time now, in order to cater to the growing population of diabetics, the recent popularity of the Atkins diet and other no or low-sugar/carbohydrate diets has caused the low-carb low-sugar market to explode. Businesses know they will be left behind if they don’t change with the times and keep up with this growing trend.

“We have seen tremendous growth [in this area]; Sugar-free syrups have become the mainstream, and several of the sugar-free flavors we carry are in our Top 10 list,” says Jamie Day of syrup manufacturer Routin America based in Colorado, a branch of Routin 1883 located in France.

All the syrup companies we interviewed agreed: sugar-free syrups are sizzling - and they are not only something retailers want, but something they absolutely require.

“Sugar-free is a growing segment, and all of our customers are interested in it,” says Jamie Day of Mont Blanc, a chocolate syrup manufacturer located in Colorado. Mont Blanc’s sugar-free chocolate syrup is used for making hot sugar-free mochas, hot chocolate and iced chocolate drinks. “We also offer a sugar free caramel for making sugar-free caramel lattes,” says Day.

“Stirling’s sugar-free line has seen tremendous growth this year. Nearly all coffee shops want to offer this option,” says Kate LaPoint, Stirling’s national marketing manager. Along with the standards, Stirling, a syrup company located in Washington, offers many of their more creative flavors in sugar-free, including Crème Caramel, Peppermint Schnapps, Rocky Mountain Hazelnut, and Jamaican Rum.

While coffee flavors themselves have virtually no sugar or carbohydrate content, the flavor industry must also be concerned with this trend, if they supply flavors to syrup companies. According to William Palmer, vice president of sales & marketing of Flavor & Fragrance, a flavor supplier based in New Jersey, their sales to syrup companies have increased because they provide the flavors that cater to the sugar-free market.

A variety of tasty ice-blended drinks can be made with Mont Blanc syrups.
Feel-Good Flavors
Running somewhat parallel to the mammoth-sized health trend is today’s growing consumer awareness of and concern with social and environmental origins of food and beverages. Fair trade, organic and other sustainable issues have made their way into the mainstream in the past few years, aided by huge corporations like Kraft and Douwe Egberts jumping on the bandwagon originated by smaller companies, with organizations of all shapes and sizes running frantically behind to catch up with these leaders. As the average consumer sees the words “Fair Trade” on more and more mainstream items, they are starting to make this an everyday concern. Others who have been aware for longer than the average person are beginning to ask questions about more of the products that go into their foods and beverages and how they got to their cup or plate. While still not too far above a whisper when it comes to flavors and syrups, their voices are getting louder as their numbers slowly increase, and retailers that tout themselves are proponents of social and environmental concerns know that they have to, and want to, deliver. Thus, some syrup and flavor companies are responding, at least in some way, but are also keeping a close watch on how this trend plays out.

But flavor companies agree that developing flavors according to the requirements of these programs is no simple task. Says Palmer of Flavors & Fragrance, “Due to our relationships with several roasters who have a strong commitment to these concepts we have been called on to develop natural and organic flavors. This is not always a simple or attainable task. First, we take the request to heart. There are charlatans selling flavored coffee that is billed as organically flavored that don’t meet the criterion. Our corporate mandate requires us to deliver honestly labeled, great products at a fair price.” He continues: “Our flavor staff says making natural flavors for coffee is like having only three colors on the pallet to make a great painting. They tell me developing organic flavors one still gets the limited pallet, but one has to stand on one leg and have a hand tied behind their back while doing the work.”

Bernd Zimmer, managing director of Frey & Lau, a German flavor supplier, agrees: “We only have a limited assortment of suitable raw materials for organic so the different flavors are really limited. An additional problem is that we don’t have a worldwide regulation system - we have one for Europe and another for the U.S., which doesn’t make business any easier.”

Wolfgang Boehmer of Sensient Flavors in Indiana says the demand for GMO-free organic certified product “will grow stronger than ever” in the coming years. “Just look and observe the trend in Europe,” where there is widespread concern about all genetically modified foods.

Despite concerns, companies are slowly stepping up to the plate, for instance, Mont Blanc offers a chocolate Fair Trade Syrup, and Monin and many others offer an organic line.

Sensient Flavors' headquarters in Indiana.
“Tasting the Season”
“Several years ago when I worked as the director of sales for Stearns and Lehman, we were producing flavors like Santa’s White Chocolate for Barnie’s Coffee & Tea, and then in 2000, we launched a Gingerbread flavor for Starbucks,” recounts Day of Routin 1883. “That seemed to kick the trend into high gear, as after the Starbucks’ Gingerbread launch everyone began to follow suit.” Indeed, holiday flavors have exploded in the past few years, with many coffee shops offering at least a few of these syrups year round due to the demand from customers who get hooked onto festive-flavored lattes and other concoctions during holiday seasons. Stirling’s LaPoint says their best-selling winter holiday flavors - Peppermint Schnapps, The Big Apple, and Ceylon Cinnamon, while more popular during the holidays, are offered year round.

Routin 1883 offers their customers the flavors of Gingerbread, Eggnog, Butterscotch, Peppermint (“Frosted Mint”), Tirmamisu and White Chocolate. “Gingerbread is more of a year-round flavor, as is Butterscotch and White Chocolate, so I would say that those are the most popular of the holiday flavors. But typically the high demand for these flavors is between the beginning of November and the end of December, basically a two-month window,” says Day.

At Caffe Artigiano, the 2004/05 Holiday season was in full force. “The most popular syrups right now during the winter/Christmas season, are pumpkin pie, gingerbread and Italian eggnog. (although I don’t know what’s Italian about it!),” says Piccolo. “These flavors are fun and tasty in a delicious cup of coffee to taste the season.“

While the usage of syrups at coffee shops has exploded in the past few years, flavor companies have been offering creative seasonal flavors for decades. Palmer of Flavor & Fragrance says that holiday-themed flavors have been part of their collection since the 1980s. “We have worked to develop a line of flavors to meet the needs of roaster: holiday flavors like Gingerbread and Egg Nog, as well as spring seasonal varieties like Blueberry Crumb Cake, Peaches and Cream, or Chocolate Cherry Cobbler,” he says. “We have updated and improved these flavors over the years to the point that some of them Ginger bread, Egg Nog and Blueberry, perennially make our top sellers list. Some people use these seasonal flavors as a test market and proving ground for addition to the standard line. This has led to a trend for more mainstream, yet decadent offerings like richly carmellic flavors, Dulce de Leche, Vanilla Caramel, and a resurgence in maple flavors.”

Similar trends can be found in Europe, where Frey & Lau has for “many, many years” had a demand for instance, holiday flavors like their Old World-X-Mas Cookie in teas, or their Gingerbread, Spicy Apple flavors. More recently he says he has seen popularity of eggnog flavors during Easter in places like Germany.

Boehmer of Sensient (formerly Universal Flavors) says his company created “the original Irish Crème flavor for coffee beans” in 1983 specifically for Saint Patrick’s Day. Now they offer such creative yuletide treats as Java Jingle, Pumpkin Spice and Mistletoe Mocha. He has a theory for why holiday flavors are so successful: “Consumers like the idea of trying something new at special occasions. Holiday specials are no exception. This trend has enormous growth potential.”

Each year, Danisco, a flavor company headquartered in New York, promotes a new line of flavors for the holidays. “The traditional flavors this year are still good sellers, but we are seeing an increase in interest for pumpkin-type flavors,” says Zyla Vucetovic, flavor business analyst. “Consumers like or maybe expect the traditional flavors each year like eggnog and peppermint, but they also expect new concepts. The traditional become mainstays and the new concepts may be available for only one to two years and then it’s time for something new.” This year’s seasonal flavor line from Danisco includes: Sugar Plum Pudding, Sweet Potato Pie, Eggnog Latte and others appropriate to the winter season; Stars and Stripes (marrying “homemade vanilla ice cream with the flavors of blueberries and strawberries”) for Fourth of July; Witches Brew (with cinnamon and other warming spices) for Halloween; as well as a Thanksgiving Blend with the flavor and aroma of spiced apples.

Read Part II of our Annual Syrup & Flavor Survey in the February issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal.

Tea & Coffee - January/February, 2005
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