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To Consider When Evaluating
Your Flavored Coffee Program

By Jeff Nichols

Flavor specialist, Jeff Nichols counts down the “Top 10” things to remember when offering flavored coffees in your retail environment.

10. Don’t Be Afraid of Continual Improvement
Most roasters limit quality improvement due to a fear of turning off existing customers by changing the existing flavor profile. More consideration should be given to lost sales at the hands of superior competitive products as there is a broad assortment of products available for consumers to choose from. Each new generation of flavors offers the potential for improved quality as new aroma chemicals are identified and advanced technology is discovered. Repeatedly, customers tell us that they don’t mind change if the finished product tastes better. The goal should be to continually offer the best products available.

9. Flavored Coffee Consumers Are “Dual Drinkers”
Flavored coffee drinkers are the same people that routinely consume dairy-based coffee beverages. Consumption of coffee beverages exposes them to darker roast coffee notes softened with the sweet creamy notes from added frothed milk and syrups. Focus group testing has shown that when we add dairy based coffee beverage attributes to traditional flavors, taste preference scores increase (see chart #1). Note that the more we can narrow the taste difference between flavored coffee and coffee beverages, the greater chance we have to enhance the taste enjoyment of our flavored coffee products and increase consumer satisfaction.

8. The Goal is Balance - Match Coffee Taste with the Flavor
Traditionally the goal has been to maximize the flavor and minimize the coffee taste. Today’s flavored coffee consumers’ taste palette has become very sophisticated by consuming an array of coffee products, thus growing accustom to the taste of good coffee. Our objective is to select a bean and roast color that provides a rich coffee taste and works hand in hand with the flavor. The best products offer a good balance of taste attributes from both the coffee and flavor.

7. Get Objective Feedback
Most people get into the coffee business for the love of coffee. They typically are not regular drinkers of flavored coffee and do not like the taste. Flavored coffee represents almost 30% of specialty coffee sales, thus playing an important role in the business. This poses an interesting challenge in building an excellent flavored coffee product. However, by incorporating regular flavored coffee drinkers in the evaluation process a more objective evaluation of the success criteria of the flavored coffee products can be achieved.

6. Full Cup Drinkablity
The typical flavored coffee cupping centers around a small paper sample cup where the tester tastes a 1-oz sample of piping hot coffee to evaluate product quality. The problem occurs when the consumer consumes the normal 10 to 20-oz cup with a totally different experience. The larger sample is consumed over a much longer time period yielding wider temperature changes and increased taste fatigue. Flavors can often times be excellent in small doses at higher temperatures but become very overpowering in the full cup situation. When we evaluate flavored coffee products we need to simulate the same situations as our customer to insure that our products taste exceptional cup after cup.

5. Remember Decaf
Daily consumption patterns show that flavored coffee consumption goes down in the afternoon but then increases toward evening (see chart #2). Since sleep is important to most people, the likely choice for late day consumption is decaf. Hazelnut and French Vanilla represent more than half of all flavored coffee sales (see chart #3), so offering these top sellers in a decaf form is often a good idea.

4. Calorie Free is One of the Most Forgotten Benefits of Flavored Coffee
Roughly 68% of flavored coffee consumers are female and better that 75% of them state that they watch their calorie consumption. An often overlooked benefit of flavored coffee is that they are calorie free. We have the hot beverage alternative to diet soft drinks and many times our consumers have no idea that they don’t contribute calories.

3. Variety in the Form of Seasonal and Feature Flavors
Most flavored coffee consumers state that they get tired of the traditional flavored coffee products and want additional variety. This poses a big problem for roasters and retailers as the number of SKU’s is always limited and the addition of new everyday flavors cannot sustain the necessary sales volume over time. The best alternative is to build a solid offering of everyday flavors and enhance variety through seasonal or feature flavors programs. These programs are for a limited time and continually offer the consumer something to look forward to.

2. How Can I Replicate Coffee Shop Quality at Home?
In almost every market research survey to date, the flavored coffee consumer noted that they would drink more flavored coffee if they could reproduce the quality of the coffee shop flavored coffee at home. The level of preparation instructions available is often very limited, leaving interpretation to the consumer. Better information as to water quality/volume, coffee brew weights, grinding and brewing parameters would substantially improve finished product quality, thus increasing consumption habits.

1. Lower the Risk of New Flavor Purchases
Every flavored coffee consumer has a story as to the fate of a pound of new flavored coffee that was just purchased only to be discarded due to poor taste quality. These bad experiences limit the success of every new flavor introduction. There are several ways to minimize these types of barriers:

  • Sampling of new items is a huge undertaking but totally eliminates fear of the unknown.

  • The ability to minimize the quantity of the initial purchase via bulk, frac packs and smaller package sizes to limit risk.

  • Comfort foods are common flavor profiles that every consumer is very familiar with thus lowering the fear of the unknown. Examples of excellent candidates for comfort food flavors include products like Pecan Pie, Blueberry Muffin and French Toast.

  • Often times the names of flavored coffees do not clearly describe the exact taste attributes of the flavor, resulting in a fear of the unknown. A detailed description of flavor that breaks out the exact taste characteristics helps the consumer better recognize the target flavor for added confidence that they will like the end product.
Jeff Nichols is vice president of the coffee division for Flavor & Fragrance Specialties. Previously he started and ran the coffee group for Beck Flavors (now owned by Firmenich), a position he held for 15 years.

Tea & Coffee - July, 2008
Modern Process Equipment

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