Robin Lynam on the latest trends in flavoured syrups.
The on-going boom in cocktail bars and coffee outlets around Asia means big business for producers of flavoured syrups, including such major players as Monin, Giffard and Fabbri.
According to a Credence Research report titled “Flavoured Syrups Market – Growth, Future Prospects, and Competitive Analysis, 2016 – 2024”, the category, which was valued globally at US$40.0 billion in 2015, is expected to grow to US$61.1 billion by 2024 – a CAGR of around 4.8% between 2016 and 2024.
Asia Pacific will be a major engine of that growth. Demand for new products, fuelled by experimentation on the part of baristas and bartenders, is strong. At the same time increasing consciousness of the health implications of sugar consumption is providing the flavourings specialists with both challenges and opportunities.
“Low sugar is the trendy globally, which is why we launched sugar free syrup in the USA several years ago, to follow up with the demand for healthy products in the end consumer market. We launched Zero Calorie syrup in both the USA and mainland China,” says Cecily Chen, Monin’s Marketing Manager for Greater China.
Asia looms large in Monin’s global strategy. The company established its first Asian production facility in 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, and set up a branch office in Shanghai in the same year. In 2017 it began manufacturing in Shanghai.
Among the products from Monin aimed to meet the demand for flavourings for low-calorie and “skinny” drinks is a range of Sugar Free Syrups, which the company describes as also being “Kosher, GMO free, Gluten free, Dairy free, [and] Vegan”.
Another major flavourings company responding to the trend in flavourings development and marketing towards stressing what is not in a product as much as what is present, is Giffard.
“There’s definitely a raised consciousness towards healthy eating and drinking all around the world and specifically in Asia,” says Giffard’s APAC Marketing Manager Linda Nguon.
“It’s true that some markets tend to reduce sugar and sweetener in their drinks, which is not a bad thing in a way. You can use less, but in so many different ways. It’s all about education. And that’s what we tend to promote. We also are following closely the trends on low sugar products and looking at alternatives such as stevia. It is important to note that our syrups are made with 100% natural saccharose from sugar beets. We are not using high corn syrup fructose in any form. Also it’s important to say that all our syrups and liqueurs are gluten free and vegan, except our Egg White syrup which contains egg proteins, and Honey and Coconut syrups which contain milk proteins. We also have one organic syrup in the range, Giffard Agave Syrup, sourced in Mexico,” states Nguon.
There is also a trend towards organic maple syrup as a flavouring – and towards the use of maple syrup, a natural sweetening product, as a sugar alternative. Sales from Canada to China in particular have increased markedly in recent years.
However trends are not solely towards theoretically healthier versions of existing sweet flavourings, now that sugar appears to have replaced salt or fat as the bogeyman of nutritional science.
With Asia’s mixologists becoming increasingly interested in botanical flavours and the use of fresh herbs in their drinks, the flavourings companies are anxious to keep up. Trending “garden fresh” flavours include cucumber, basil, and rosemary, while botanicals such as lavender, elderflower and rose, are also in vogue. This trend is strongly influenced by the continued popularity of gin cocktails and craft gins with varied botanical profiles.
“Garden fresh flavours is definitely a trend in cocktails,” says Giffard’s APAC Sales Manager Arthur Piffoux.
“It’s been around for few years already, with herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil and mint, and now you will see more and more bartenders experimenting with herbs such as dill, cilantro or sage to give extra complex aromas and scent to their drinks. Some producers have created spray and essence. It’s quite interesting, but, in most cases it doesn’t work as well as using the fresh ingredients. At Giffard we are working on a formula that really could be properly used by bartenders,” he adds.
As ever there is fierce competition between the major flavourings companies for space on the bar and coffee shop shelves. This involves a high degree of engagement with bartenders and baristas, as Linda Nguon explains.
“Amongst the projects we are the most proud of there’s the Giffard Spirit of Art book featuring 44 bartenders and baristas from Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. This book highlights both the passion of the bartenders for tattoo art and their passion for cocktails. The book introduces cocktails, along with beautiful portraits of the inked bartenders, and tells more about their story and their tattoos through the interviews,” she says.
Sponsorship of cocktail competitions is both an effective marketing tool and a platform on which to work with bartenders to discover what the trends in the region’s cutting edge bars are – and to work with bartenders to establish the kind of products their new creations require.
“We run an Asia Cocktail Competition every two years,” says Giffard’s Piffoux. “The last one  included eight countries in Asia, to select Champions from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Indonesia, and each champion competed in the last round, Giffard West Cup Asia Regionals, at The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The top three finalists will travel to compete in France on 28th May 2019, among 18 International bartenders.”
Asian bartenders are performing increasingly well in the international heats of these competitions.
In the 2018 final of Fabbri’s annual Lady Amarena international contest for female bartenders, Shi Qian of Hangzhou’s Late Company bar [The China winner] placed second overall, while another Chinese bartender, Wang Zee, placed second in the 2018 final of the Monin Cup in Paris.
“Giffard Asia continuously supports events related to the beverage industry. We put our efforts into creating experiences for the bartenders with masterclasses, workshops, or guest shifts all around Asia,” says Giffard’s Nguon. “It’s almost like a ‘give back to the community’ thing. We really appreciate the support bartenders and baristas are giving to us, and want to do the same thing in return.”