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Annual Syrups Survey
By Serena Norr

As the first part of a two-part series, Tea and Coffee Trade Journal will examine the intricacies of syrups from the industry’s top experts.

In order for the specialty coffee industry to sustain its growth in the market, businesses have to implement innovative and creative methods to sustain within the coffee segment. One of the most profitable methods is to enhance the coffee experience by using flavored syrups. Such a system is especially crucial to attract those who do not like the taste of coffee in its full bodied, unsweetened form. According to Matthias Paskowsky, managing director of IFBI GmbH, “Syrups are an important means to attract new customers to specialty coffee, which is often underestimated or even frowned upon by purists.” Especially since, “enjoying a beverage is all about personal preference,” stated Joe Fee of Fee Brothers. According to Beyond the Bean, a U.K. based company “For hundreds of years spices and flavorings have been added to both teas and coffee to create new variations of existing drinks. Although syrups first came into existence in the 1800’s, they have recently played a major role in the menu development in the specialty coffee industry. Syrups have been infamous, as they have added their unique flavors to everything from lattes, iced teas, smoothies, salsas and cocktails to name a few. According to Fee, “The sheer variety of beverages being created today in coffee shops, cafes and bars is due in great part to the variety of syrups available.” “As the market grows, syrups give baristas the necessary tools to create their own signature drinks, increasing choice for existing customers and helping to attract new ones that would not normally choose coffee,” stated Beyond the Bean.

Role of Syrups
The role of syrup-infused drinks has a direct effect on the market. In particular, the surgance of lattes over the past couple of years has proven a direct impact on how consumers drink coffee. According to Torani, “After the invention of the flavored latte, by coffee industry veteran and Torani associate Brandy Brandenburger, espresso-based beverages and coffee became much more accessible to a wider range of palates.” Syrups can establish new clientele acquainted with coffee as customers can experiment and try new recipes. When they finally discover a certain combination, they become loyal coffee lovers without even having enjoyed the taste of coffee,” stated Reymond Safft c.e.o of Best Coffee/ Folklore. According to Paskowsky, “Syrups are important to get the young and trendy generation “on board.” Teenagers go into a coffee shop to have a caramel latte that will often open up other facets of specialty coffee at later stages (single origins).”

According to Irene Szyliowicz, president of Mont Blanc Gourmet, “Syrups have caused the industry to broaden its scope and attract new customers. Customers in the U.S. have a decidedly sweeter tooth than many Europeans, and the advent of syrups has caused many more people to go to coffee shops. They have also led to the emergence of new, innovative, syrup-based manufacturers.” The advent of syrups also opened the market for women and younger coffee drinkers that prefer flavored drinks to unflavored.

According to Jeff Greiner, vice president of Stirling Foods Inc., “Syrups have had a positive role in making coffee, especially latte’s, more accessible to the masses. In order to charm the average Joe away from his average Joe, something different was needed. Hazelnut and/or Mocha definitely helped. “There has always been a segment of society that enjoys a simple coffee or latte, but many people do not have a taste for the bitterness of coffee and espresso. During the 1990’s, by adding sweetness and flavor to café staples led to the infamous coffee boom,” stated Torani. According to Szyliowicz, “Syrup-infused drinks allow a greater variety of drinks to be offered by coffee houses. Our Vanilla Cold Fusion (a liquid concentrate for making cold drinks,) can absorb any flavor or multiple flavors to create a unique drink. If someone wanted a chocolate, hazelnut, coconut, raspberry mint concoction, you could add all those flavors into my Vanilla Cold Fusion to create that beverage.”

According to Greiner, “Once something new is tried, it may even open up consumers’ eyes to how good coffee can be, and encourage education. I’m not saying syrups are responsible for the change in the consumer’s attitude towards their coffee, but along with having a coffee shop on every corner, it has played a role. I’ve heard baristas say it is more common for someone to order a flavored coffee than one without flavor.”

In the face of competing cafes, syrups can offer novel options and choices to customers. According to Beyond the Bean, “By offering seasonal specials such as gingerbread lattes, hot spiced chai or a simple mocha they can attract customers looking for something different from their daily coffee fix, and also those who may not normally choose a coffee based drink.”

Deciding New Flavor Profiles
The decision to impart new flavor profiles involves a very intricate process. Many companies use third party marketing systems, scouts, traveling or customer requests to determine new profiles. According to Szyliowicz, “We decide on creating new flavor profiles by observing the market and noticing trends — and then responding to them.” According to Greiner, “Our company comes up with new flavor profiles as requested by our customers. If we get enough calls for one flavor, or a big distributor wants it, we will work on getting that flavor out. Such was the case for a liquid sugar sweetener requested by one of our international distributors. It is basically our base syrup with no flavor added, but sweeter, so it can sweeten hot or cold beverages with no hassles.”

Sometimes marketing scouts and third party systems can determine new profiles. “Folklore carefully listens to customers and market scouts, we send out once and a while. Of course the competition is being watched too but that does not have a lot of impact. Most important is if we can come up with a product that is good enough for our expectations. If it is not, we dump it or we experiment until it is satisfactory. We could have had three additional new flavors in 2006, but internal cupping was showing that they did not meet our demand for a superior product so they will eventually appear in 2007,” stated Safft.

Once new flavor profiles are decided you can successfully market it in your area. “You can generate repeat customers and create new ones constantly. It can be a regional favorite, something to do with your immediate surroundings or something you made up that will appeal to everyone,” stated Greiner. According to Beyond the Bean, “We frequently travel the globe to look at new markets, visit Barista events and attend exhibitions. It is during these travels that we pick up new ideas, whether it is a new flavor for syrup or a completely new product. We also listen to our customers, who are able to tell us what their customers are asking for. Sometimes, it’s just a random idea that works!”

Quality Concerns
“Determining the quality of syrups is defined by its thickness, concentration, sweetness of the ingredients, and how it is manufactured,” stated Greiner. According to Szyliowicz, “We determine our syrup quality through rigorous testing and quality control. We use a quality control engineer on the premises who does nothing but test our syrups at all times.” According to Torani, “Our goal is to make the best quality syrup that mimics the source that the flavor is based on and provide a natural flavor profile that seamlessly blends with beverages. To do this, we look at trends in flavor and beverage, the needs of our café operators and which flavor profiles will translate into beverage as well as they do in other applications. We look at other products that we feel provide the most natural flavor profiles and try to marry their attributes to those of syrups. We then create prototypes that are put in front of a tasting panel weekly where they are sampled and reviewed to determine whether they match the natural, agreed upon flavor profile. This process repeats itself until we get the formulation just right.”

There are also various tools implemented to test syrups. “The solid to liquid content is called brix. If you are 63% brix, you have 63% sugar, 37% water and extracts. The higher the brix, the better. You get a more concentrated, less watery product. Sweetness and flavor are determined by the quality of the sugar used in the base, and the quality of the extracts used to flavor that base. Various bases are used from pure cane sugar mixes to beet sugar to high fructose corn syrup, with cane being of higher quality than the other sweeteners. The extracts can be all natural, natural and artificial, or just artificial. We use fruit juice concentrates where applicable as well,” stated Greiner.

All these factors can make for radically different products and prices, and it is usually the case of you get what you pay for, though more expensive isn’t always better...research and tasting is always the best bet to get the best quality,” stated Greiner. According to Torani, “The first attribute of a good quality syrup is that it contains natural flavors. These flavors provide the best beverage experience and have flavor profiles closest to their natural source, which is what people expect. Pure cane sugar and purified water are also key components.”

Syrup Misconceptions
There are numerous misconceptions about the nature of syrups that often times most people cannot overlook. “A common misconception is that syrups destroy the taste of good coffee,” stated Szyliowicz. “I have heard that customers think that they cover up good tasting coffee, they ruin good coffee, they make bad coffee better, a purist wouldn’t drink a flavored cuppa, I don’t need flavorings in my coffee shop, do I?, all flavorings are the same, they are all too sweet, cheaper is better because they are all the same, and so forth,” which Greiner feels are all false statements. According to Torani, “The most common misconception about syrup is that it has limited uses. People think of a flavor like hazelnut, for example and probably think of it as an espresso beverage flavor only. But you can use hazelnut syrup in milkshakes, desserts, as an accent for a fruit and cheese plate or even in an Italian soda. Similarly, fruit flavors like raspberry are most commonly associated with Italian sodas or iced tea, but fruit salad tossed in raspberry syrup and raspberry sorbet made with syrup and fresh raspberries are quite delicious.”

According to Beyond the Bean, “One concern that many people have is that syrups are full of artificial ingredients that they would rather not add to their drinks. With Sweetbird syrups this is not the case. The 33 flavors in the range are free from artificial flavors, GMO’s and artificial colors. Most importantly is the fact that the Vegetarian Society approves them so they are suitable for everyone. The issue of adding syrups to coffee is a contentious one to some traditionalists within the industry. For some espresso, lattes and cappuccinos are about the quality of the coffee and the preparation; to add anything to the mix is sacrilege and potentially masks the taste of the coffee. Well, this may be true for some, when customers demand innovation there is little that can be done with these classic drinks on their own, apart from perfecting your style.”

Whether businesses are interested in utilizing syrups for the first time or looking for new ways to spice up your menu, “New flavors and creative drink ideas keep customers interested and excited. Flavors can become an interesting profit center itself and innovative flavor-based signature drinks can be a crucial element of competitive distinction,” stated Paskowsky.

Tea & Coffee - January, 2007

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