the single largest change in the flavored coffee market has been the evolution of a more discriminating flavored coffee consumer. As discussed in Part One of this series, today’s flavored coffee consumer has grown up with flavored coffees, espresso beverages and darker roasted Arabica coffees. Due to this exposure to different coffees, their palates have become more discriminating. They want a flavored coffee that is rich and aromatic but at the same time smooth and creamy and are willing to pay a premium price for this taste profile. Why should flavor companies respond to the needs of today’s flavored coffee consumer when it might represent a complete overhaul of their product line? As Jeff Nichols of Flavor & Fragrance Specialties (FFS) so aptly puts it, “Today’s flavored coffee consumer has grown up with a ‘coffee house’ mentality that has greatly influenced the way they look at flavored coffee. Only the best flavored coffee products that meet these new taste expectations will succeed. Now is the time to innovate or perish.”
To ensure they were indeed producing flavors with taste profiles that met the expectations of today’s more discriminating consumers, Nichols’ company went back to basics and asked the professionals. FFS conducted a series of assessments (surveys, focus groups, home use tests), and a major discovery was that the flavored coffee consumer is a “dual drinker.” As Nichols explained, “a ‘dual drinker’ means they drink both flavored coffee and dairy based coffee beverages. They are attracted to both because in each system something is added to coffee that helps mask the bitter, astringent notes found in coffee that they typically find objectionable.”
The results of their research provided the development of their Phase 2 coffee flavor product line with new enhanced flavors. Nichols believes that the new “gold standard” for flavored coffee is a rich profile with a taste that also includes sweet, creamy notes similar to dairy based coffee beverages. The product line was also developed to take into account that flavored coffee drinkers tend to drink more than one cup of flavored coffee a day, it is part of their consumption pattern and no longer reserved for special occasions. To address this, their Phase 2 line was developed to minimize “flavor fatigue” so that flavored coffee enthusiasts who drank several cups of their coffee a day would not tire of the taste.
Ronald Back of Flavormatic Industries, Inc., points to his company’s development as indicated by an example of their Powerbean line, which demonstrates their exciting and innovative products that are an answer to today’s flavor coffee consumers’ demand for quality. Back believes that flavored coffee consumers are discriminating and can detect “a ‘bitter taste’ that is present in a cup of flavored coffee. At Flavormatic/Fiipowerbean, we have taken over five years of research and development to implement our patentable product called Powerbean.
Powerbean coffee uses innovative technology to deliver a solvent-free flavor system, which allows roasters to easily flavor coffee in a unique manner. The active flavoring ingredients are ‘infused’ directly into the roasted Arabica beans at 100% concentration. These coffee beans, with their powerful concentration of flavors, are then added to roasted coffee at a 3% usage level to assure a finished flavored coffee with no bitter chemical aftertaste. Powerbean flavors include traditional favorites such as vanilla, hazelnut, cinnamon and chocolate raspberry as well as seasonal favorites with new flavors being added each month.
Kathy Abrams, the creative flavor and application technologist for Sensient Flavor Inc.’s Coffee & Tea Division with a career that spans over 22 years. She thinks that today’s “coffee drinker knows roasts and grinds, expects coffee to be a small, daily luxury and even seeks flavors designed around transcendental philosophies. Coffeehouses support this consumer and create an atmosphere of sophistication where flavor choices are personal statements.”
With this market in mind, Sensient introduced a line of flavors they considered more indulgent. Abrams explains as only a flavorist can, “They are complex and include nuances of flavor that take a classic profile such as ‘Chocolate’ and marries it with pomegranates, chili peppers or lavender.” Sensient’s goal was to reinvent a cup of flavored coffee so it appealed to a more sophisticated consumer with a gourmet’s palate and did so by providing a nuanced but sensory experience. Their core flavor line with classic flavors such as French Vanilla, Chocolate and Hazelnut are finding success in diverse locations that range from fast food restaurants to health clubs, hair salons and auto maintenance franchises.
One of the reasons the flavored coffee industry has held my interest for so long is it appeals to so many different people. At the same time there is a more sophisticated flavor coffee consumer who seeks variety and a rich, non-bitter flavor profile that is more nuanced than 20 years ago, new consumers are attracted to the classics and drinks the same one or two flavors on a daily basis and purchase their coffee at a retail location such as Dunkin Donuts. As Colleen Roberts of Flavor Dynamics, Inc., states, “We have gone from a burgeoning to a more mature industry where profits, supplies and choices have been affected. We have increased competition and lower profits. While the number of new players entering the industry is down we see larger companies roasting and manufacturing specialty coffee products. Through all this change however, the tried and true have held their position as the most popular flavors – Hazelnut, French Vanilla and Vanilla Nut.”
As indicated, the companies surveyed in this two-part analysis have adapted to the changing flavored coffee market and the tastes of today’s flavored coffee consumer. Abrams sums up, “Consumers range from those who are looking for “quick cup” convenience to those who demand decadent luxury and, happily for those of us in the industry, a single coffee drinker may have both needs on a daily basis.”
Shea Sturdivant Terracin is the 1997 recipient of the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s prestigious Distinguished Author Award.