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Syrups Survey:

Part I

By Serena Norr

As the specialty coffee industry has expanded, it is crucial to recognize the demands and tastes of consumers through diversification of menu options. Utilizing syrups supplies a unique way to boost sales as well as provide an item consumers are seeking out.

Today, flavored syrups are essential items in any specialty coffee shop that not only services as an easy way to boost profits but an item that consumers specifically seek out. As customers are becoming more aware of specialty coffee and the variety of syrup flavors available, flavored coffees and teas have become more popular. Where retailers have to be ready to satisfy customers’ choices. Ever since flavors and syrups entered the coffee market their uses have evolved and their offerings have expanded so retailers can satisfy — and entice — the wide audiences that patronize their shops.

Syrups have been an integral part of the industry and can offer companies an innovative way to advance coffee options. This boom has allowed the industry to move away from coffee only options towards new varieties. The newer generation of coffee drinkers generally prefer flavored beverages that supply a unique versatility in flavor and appearance that can be applied to many coffee and tea based beverage options.

Impact of Syrups on the Industry
Flavored syrups have inspired a unique method to enjoy coffee to the newer coffee consumer as “retailers in the coffee industry are always looking for new items to expand their menu offerings. New flavors in syrups and sauces help them to do that,” stated Irene Szyliowicz at Mont Blanc Gourmet located in Colorado.

Once considered a bland and uniform beverage to some, today’s coffee drinker can enjoy a bevy of options that not only changes the composition of coffee but offers a way for consumers to personalize their own drink preferences.

Today’s hot beverage options are booming with numerous applications for syrups. “Syrups supply an important variation for the mix of hot drinks. They lead the way from the classical cappuccino to mixed drinks, ” stated Britta Hadjebi, junior marketing manager of Market Grounds GmbH Co. KG located in Germany.

According to Jon Whiteside, business development director of Artista Gourmet, located in Texas, “The majority of espresso based drinks, ie; lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, etc contain flavoring syrup, regular and sugar free. People are also increasingly adding syrup to regular coffee, which is evident by the presence of flavoring syrups in c-stores, gas stations, and markets! It is a huge segment of all of the allied product offerings.”

Syrups also add, “top-line profit to a café or restaurant’s business for signature drink options. For a retailer it’s the difference between making $1.20 off a cup of coffee or $3.50 off a flavored latte. With a limited number of customers, making the most money off each sale is crucial. Over the course of the day the difference in sales adds up quickly.  Syrups give operators the tools to create a point of competitive differentiation for their menu,” stated Andrea Ramirez, business development liaison at Torani, a California-based syrup company.

“Syrups are also extremely versistle since they can add more flavor to any drink! Smoothies are a perfect example. Most Americans aren’t aware that a real smoothie is plain yogurt or milk, fruit, fruit juice and ice. It is pretty boring! But when you add syrup, and wow, like magic, a completely different drink is formed,” stated Whiteside.

New Syrups
When consumers indulge in syrups they are often looking to connect to tastes that supply variety from the regular ‘cup of joe.’ While classic flavors such as vanilla, almond, caramel, raspberry and hazelnut—often touted as the “Big Five”—retain their strong foundation, additional varieties continue to expand and influence the market.

The flavored syrups in coffees and teas have provided new flavor options for water, juice drinks and sodas, which appeal to younger consumers. They also offer a non-alcoholic alternative beverage that offers new tastes and a variety of choices.

According to Whiteside, “Peanut Butter, Pomagranate and more exotic fruits are becoming popular.” “Fruity flavors, flavors for the cocktail bar,” stated of Market Grounds.

According to Ramirez, “More varietals have become available for classic flavors. We see an increase in exotic flavors and an emergence of flavor combinations. With coffee we see classic flavors with new twists, ethnic flavors and comfort flavors — for example Dunkin Donuts launched a Vanilla Spice latte beverage last fall (a seasonal twist on the #1 latte flavor), Starbucks added a sugar free version of their popular Gingerbread latte — a new twist on their seasonal classic and an option for the person who prefers to avoid sugar.  Ethnic flavors have emerged like Mayan Chocolate — a combination of chocolate, cinnamon and spice and Dulce de Leche.”

Additionally, as more consumers become more health-conscious, “Look to Sugar-free sauces and syrups for key flavors in the coming year,” stated Szyliowicz.

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 of Market Grounds, “We decide if a flavor would fit the European taste as well if it adds any variation.” Szyliowicz stated, “We look ahead to find beverage and culinary trends in the industry, and then we incorporate those in our products.” They are determined by demand, suggestion and ingenuity!” stated Whiteside.

According to Ramirez, “We look to a multitude of sources for inspiration. We listen to customer requests, attend educational conferences, monitor competitors and big industry players like Starbucks. In addition to that, we look to tangible industry resources such as trade publications, syndicated data, trend newsletters and coffee forums. We watch what flavors top chefs and restaurants are using in food and beverages, monitor Food Network shows and listen to our flavor houses. There are always consumer megatrends we can address by introducing new flavors too. For example some line extensions have been created to address a particular demographic (e.g. Guava for Hispanics), a particular lifestyle consumer (Sugar Free flavors for the calorie conscious). Even a hard-to-find varietal fruit like Blood Orange made its way into a syrup designed for a flavor-seeking consumer who doesn’t have year-round access to their favorite fruit.

Our flavor houses are always full of great new ideas. They’re cued into what’s happening in the industry and they always know the latest technological advances in flavor creation. As advances happen in flavor creation, we constantly evaluate our existing products to make sure we offer the best flavor possible along with considering new product possibilities.”

Syrup Quality
The major factors in determining the quality of the syrups are sweetness, sugar content and flavor concentration. A measurement called brix is utilized,which determines the sugar content of syrups. The flavor concentration is simply a matter of opinion, but again, the better quality syrups will add more flavoring with less syrup. This is important to know when determining value.

According to Whiteside, “The brix level, (sugar content), determines the thickness of a syrup. The quality of the flavoring extract used determines the true finished quality. Different sweeteners, cane sugar, beet sugar and corn syrup are also a huge factor in finished quality. Unfortunately, in the U.S., people taste syrups straight when choosing or grading syrups! That is ridiculous. Never in my 20+ years in the industry has anyone ever walked into a coffee house and said; “give me a shot of vanilla syrup” it simply does not happen. The true gauge for testing syrup is in the finished product. I recommend tasting coffee syrups in hot drinks, latte’s, cappuccino’s, mocha’s, etc., and fruit syrups in flat water.”

According to Ramirez, “There are a number of ways to determine quality.  The first and most basic rule for quality is always food safety.  Operators should use only syrups produced under a HAACP System.  HAACP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.  It’s a system that was first developed 30+ years ago to ensure the safety of food for U.S. astronauts.  The system is widely used by food manufacturers and restaurants.  If you need more information, we can provide more.  There is a great, consise explanation of HAACP systems here: (www.allfoodbusiness.com/haacp.php) A HAACP system is the most elementary indicator of the importance of quality for any and all consumables.  

From there you should look to quality ingredients. In syrups you want to be sure the base of the syrup is pure cane sugar, which should be the first ingredient listed on the label. Other sugars like beet sugar, corn derived products like high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), pure crystalline fructose (another term for dried HFCS), and glucose, are cost-cutting sweetening ingredients. These ingredients are certainly effective at cutting manufacturing costs but do not provide the best quality finished product. Other sweeteners can leave a “cloying taste,” that mask the flavor and affect blendablity. There are even health concerns brought to light in the last year linking HFCS to obesity. More and more consumers look to avoid these ingredients, and pure cane sugar is considered the gold-standard of sweetening.  Torani uses all-natural flavors in all of its products and we know that is important to consumers as well.

Consider the syrup’s performance, in flavor, in the applications you use it in most and how they syrup works day to day in your operation – e.g. Does the shelf-life meet expectations? Does the flavor meet customer’s expectations? If you are looking at a fruit flavor, does the flavor come across as fresh, cooked or candied? Our proprietary consumer research shows consumers prefer fresh flavors and thus we strive to provide a fresh flavor profile in all of our fruit flavored syrups. In the final beverage does the flavor come through? Your raspberry syrup should deliver fresh raspberry flavor in a lemonade, iced tea or even paired with chocolate in a mocha.  

Consider color. Does the color match up with what your customers would expect a raspberry drink to look like? Consumers taste with their eyes, nose and mouth, so be sure you offer a final beverage that looks great, smells appealing and tastes delicious. It makes it much easier for a potential customer in line to point to a great-looking drink and say, “I’ll have one of those.”

Promoting Syrups
Retailers are contiously devising innovative methods to promote syrups. In order for their drinks to stand-apart Retailers should look toward changes in their menu options. “Retailers in the coffee industry are always looking for new items to expand their menu offerings.  New flavors in syrups and sauces help them to do that,” stated Szyliowicz.

According to Whitestone, “The possibilities are endless! Seek creative ideas through the Internet, syrup company websites, and drink and desert publications. Be creative, experiment! Don’t be like everybody else! Almost all coffee retailers offer flavored drink items, (if they don’t, they’re losing out on extensive revenue). Almost all syrup companies offer recipes and new concepts on their websites or are available through their sales reps or distributors. They can also call me.”

Additionally, “Combining complementary flavors works well to create signature beverages. Nut, spice and confectionary flavors are classic pairings with coffee drinks. Fruit and botanical flavors work well with tea. Italian sodas are most often made with fruit flavors, as are flavored lemonades, though some botanicals make it into lemonades. Almost anything can go in a cocktail depending on the liquor used, entrees can be topped with flavor-infused sauces or dressings and desserts can be drizzled with sauces, topped with syrup-flavored whipped cream,” stated Ramirez.

Misconceptions about Syrups
There are numerous misconceptions about the nature of syrups that often turn off some consumers from experimenting with different beverage combinations. “Common misconceptions are that syrups make a drink too sweet and mask the coffee flavor. In truth, syrups serve to enhance the coffee flavor, and when properly formulated, need not be overly sweet,” stated Szyliowicz.

According to Ramirez, some common misconceptions are that “syrups always result in a very sweet drink and that they contain a lot of calories. On average most syrups only contain 80 calories, and there are lots of sugar free options that don’t add calories at all.”

Whether businesses are interested in using syrups for the first time or looking for new ways to spice up their menu, new flavors and creative drink ideas keep customers interested and excited. Syrups can become an interesting profit center and innovative flavor-based signature drinks can be a crucial element of competitive distinction.

Tea & Coffee - January, 2008

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