(Photo: courtesy of Monin Gourmet Flavorings.)Syrups welcomed many of us into the world of coffee; vanilla lattes, hazelnut mochas, and other tasty concoctions tempered coffee’s strong flavor for untrained palates. But syrup applications go far beyond basic beverages. Monin CEO Bill Lombardo shares insights into how flavorings are used, how new trends are forecasted, and which flavor will finally knock pumpkin spice from its reign as the flavor of fall.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.
Monin is a family-owned company, with roots in France. How do your recipes and products reflect that history?
We’re 105 years old—we’ve only been in this country for twenty years. If you know much about the French, two things are true for the most part: whenever possible, they buy things locally, fresh-grown, and in season—that’s always been part of the tradition which we inherited here. The other is that they don’t compromise on quality; people want the best flavor, the best impact that they can find. Our company motto has been around for about ninety years: “Passion for Excellence,” and that’s been a cultural thread through the business right through to today.
What’s something new on the horizon for Monin?
We’re doing some new products that we call concentrated flavor, which aren’t sweet at all—they have no sugar whatsoever. They’re certainly not made for the coffee trade, per se, but they’re finding their way into the coffee trade as people look for alternatives for flavoring without any added sugar, and being 100 percent natural.
How else are you seeing these concentrates used?
We’re seeing a lot of initial applications in sparkling water where people are just taking carbonated water and adding this to it, then garnishing it with fresh herb, or mint, or berries. We’re also seeing people adding it to everything from salad dressings to sauces and marinades to condiments. It’s very easy to make a flavored mayonnaise or a flavored ketchup, which is becoming in vogue now with the gourmet burger trend.
Blueberry and lavender are currently top-ten trending flavors for Monin. How frequently do flavors shift in popularity?
It shifts quite a bit; it’s surprising. Lavender was driven by lavender lattes—three years ago nobody would think they were going to buy a lavender latte. It came out of nowhere. We’ve always had lavender in our line and it wasn’t in our top 100 flavors three years ago. It went from there to top ten in the span of less than two years just because of a couple people. All the sudden it just swept the country.
Have you seen more rapid popularity growth in flavors since the advent of social media?
No question about it. It definitely makes a trend that might otherwise be isolated to a small geographic area capable of spreading across the country almost instantly. People will say, “Well, that’s interesting, we should take a look at that.” There’s no question people are hunting and looking for new things. Ideas good and bad, I think they transit extremely fast. They either grow roots and catch on and blossom very quickly or they die quickly too.
What’s a flavor you’ve seen take a total dive?
About eight or nine years ago, pomegranate took off and became the next big thing. We saw it coming, we saw the ads and the promotion stuff. We picked it up and launched it and it was off the chart. And then just as fast as it arrived, it pretty much withered.
How do you select new flavors?
We’re always looking for that next wave. We do what we call a “flavor forward process,” which is fairly intricate, but basically revolves around identifying trends through a lot of different trend data and sources. Then we have seven beverage innovation and culinary people on staff here, and they put their heads together and generate anywhere from twenty to thirty concepts every six months, and then we screen those through about 10,000 consumers each wave. Out of there we distill down those concepts through pre-established benchmarks—once we see one pop up above the benchmark then we will go develop them in terms of flavor panels and taste tests. If they fulfill the concept, then those become our launch platform for the future.
What’s the next big flavor for the coffee world?
One of the challenges we’ve had from the specialty coffee trade in the last year or year and a half is pumpkin. We actually have three different pumpkin syrups: pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice, and plain pumpkin. We also introduced just this last year a pumpkin puree. And everyone goes “Wow, this is awesome, but what’s next? What’s going to replace pumpkin a year or two from now? What is everyone going to be looking forward to when it comes to August or September?” We’ve been chasing that with our flavor forward process and we think we got the answer. I can’t tell you, of course. But we will be debuting a couple things later this year that I think will become the rising stars to challenge pumpkin over the next year or two.
—Ellie Bradley is Fresh Cup‘s editor