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Talking UK flavour trends with Roshnee Dattani, Starbucks beverage developer

With coffee shops big and small thriving on in-store footfall and the regularity of their customers’ office hours, it’s fair to say that the past year of COVID-induced lockdowns was incredibly disruptive and damaging for the industry.

For Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, the global crisis led to store closures (both temporary and permanent), with the brand reportedly losing £41m in the UK alone in the past year as a result of the pandemic.

Despite this, Starbucks continued to pay staff and did not use the Government furlough scheme for its non-franchised stores. And for their development teams, working and innovating from home became a new and now regular occurrence, with Roshnee Dattani – a beverage developer for EMEA – telling PURE NPD that the brand was “really supportive and flexible to everyone’s different requirements” over the past year.

“The key thing for me that’s changed is doing the development work in my own kitchen with sample submissions and test beverages to review,” she said.

“I’ve now come to terms with all the different pieces of equipment and ingredients I need to keep in the house – I live in a small flat in London so feel like I’ve been living in a mini store since March 2020!”

Roshnee has been with Starbucks for almost two years, having joined the team in 2019 after a stint working as a food & beverage NPD consultant for the Food Business Development Company (FBDC).

She is involved in the creating of innovative Starbucks beverages for all markets across EMEA within the hot and iced coffee, Frappuccino and hot chocolate platforms, as well as being part of long term strategic work.

In our latest interview, Roshnee details her ongoing role with the coffee chain, discusses UK flavour preferences and the rise in interest with floral and botanicals, and reveals the US beverage trends that have caught her eye.

Can you tell me a bit more about your role at Starbucks?

“As a beverage developer, I spend the majority of my time in the R&D lab creating innovative beverages that customers love and (hopefully) return to store to have again!

“I create a variety of beverages like flavoured lattes, iced teas and Frappuccino Blended Beverages for our seasonal promotions (such as Spring, Autumn and Christmas).

“Since we develop for the whole region of EMEA, we’ve got 44 countries and all their food and beverage trends and consumer behaviours to consider. So, the other part of my role is researching new trends and keeping on top of everything happening in our markets.

“To get to that point, I’d look at current and future trends of the season we wanted to launch the beverage in and the category of the beverage – e.g. an iced latte for Spring or a hot chocolate for Christmas.

“This helps to inform the development of new concepts, keeping in mind environmental impacts and how we can be as sustainable as possible. I create paper concepts with specific details of the flavours and textures we want to achieve and break the beverage down into its different components – e.g. a syrup, sauce or topping.

“Then it’s a back and forth with our suppliers trying to create the best tasting ingredient possible!”

Starbucks recently launched a Sakura Fuwari Berry Frappuccino in Japan – are you able to tell me more about this flavour? Could we see something similar in the UK one day?

“Floral and botanical flavours really are in full bloom at the moment – excuse the pun!

“The health benefits of these natural plants and flowers, combined with customer interest in food and beverages being ‘instagrammable’, has allowed floral flavours to naturally fill a gap over the last year.

“An example of this being butterfly pea flower, a flower that changes from blue to purple when it’s made more acidic – e.g. with the addition of lemonade or tonic. If you’ve been on social media over the last year you would’ve seen this in a number of recipes!

“Sakura cherry blossom has been a big trend in the food and beverage arena for a few years now including Lays (Walkers) in China creating sakura flavoured crisps!

“I think the growing variety of infused gins, spirits and 0% spirits has also helped solidify the trend in the UK specifically – elderflower, hibiscus and jasmine have been big players here.

“Starbucks is continuously innovating and developing new products to suit our various markets and customers. I can’t share exactly what we’ve got coming up, but let’s just say Japan’s Cherry Blossom and Berry Frappuccino had my mind whizzing with inspiration and ideas– I can just imagine some of the beautiful floral inspired creations we could create with this flavour!”

“We know consumers are seeking out more indulgent sweet treats that provide sensory pleasure, comfort, and nostalgia that fit into their healthy lifestyles.

“So in January we launched a Caramelised Almond Macchiato and a Honeycomb Macchiato, which played perfectly in that space for those wanting something a bit lighter and ‘better for you’ after Christmas.

“We also recently launched a Chocolate Chip Cookie Latte which was ideal for consumers during lockdown and playing on that nostalgic and familiar trend. This came with the most luxurious tasting chocolate chip cookie crumb topping which added a nice, fun texture and brought the drink to life.

“I’m actually seeing conflicting research with respect to beverage trends for 2021-22. Consumers want the ‘adventure and escapism’ that food and beverage can bring, especially considering the last year we’ve been in lockdown and not been able to experience new restaurants.

“However, we also need to be mindful of ‘flavour fatigue’ where exhaustion and anxiety are limiting people’s interest in complex flavours.

“This is also reflected in the sales of salty and sweet familiar and nostalgic flavours this year, where nostalgic concepts have appeared in new forms – e.g. creating a new concept/beverage platform but being able to anchor consumers in with the familiar flavour.

“‘Super-food lattes’ are emerging in the UK following trends in the US and Australia and have popped up next to the charcoal, turmeric, and matcha lattes!

“Consumers over the last year, and especially after the pandemic, are looking for functional benefits in their food and beverages to achieve optimal performance and support their immune system.

“This year in EMEA we launched our Starbucks Original Nut Blend dairy alternative, made from a blend of rice, cashew, and hazelnut, which aimed to provide customers with an additional vegan option that was rich in flavour and nutrition.

“Specially developed to pair with coffee, we prioritized fortifying the dairy alternative with additional vitamins and ensuring there was no added sugar.”

UK consumers appear to be returning to traditional remedies like chamomile and lavender to meet the growing need for stress relief – is this something Starbucks have or would likely explore?

“Traditional remedies and ‘positive nutrition’ in off-the-shelf items is increasing in popularity right now!

“It’s something we’re currently researching, as first and foremost we want to create drinks for our consumers that they’ll love, so if the research shows this is an opportunity for us then it’s something we’d definitely consider.

“It’s a lot of fun experimenting in the lab with the teas and other ingredients that are popular and trending!

“We currently have a range of teas on the menu, including chamomile, jasmine and hibiscus, as well as a new iced tea range, and we’re looking into how we could utilise our portfolio further.”

Hibiscus appears to be everywhere in beverages right now – do you think this flavour trend is here to stay?

“Hibiscus was big in 2019 and is continuing to grow fast as a new ingredient in the US, Spain, and Italy. Due to its vibrant colour, the ‘instagrammable’ food and beverage culture has helped it grow and become more mainstream, and more so in foods and beyond infusions in the beverage space.

“With that in mind, we’re experimenting with hibiscus and how we can use it beyond an infusion, however in the meantime consumers can enjoy a hot hibiscus tea as well as a cold hibiscus infusion which is used in the Refreshas and iced teas (and last summer was used in the frozen iced teas).”

What’s currently happening in the US coffee scene that could soon find its way to the UK?

“There’s a lot going on in the health and wellness space and so reducing sugar is definitely a priority for Starbucks in the US as well as the UK, and across EMEA.

“For example, the US team has been innovating with the more naturally sweet ingredients – e.g. honey and maple syrup.

“They’ve also launched a new platform called Iced Shaken Espresso – a twist on our Iced Doubleshot™ that combines two shots of our subtly sweet Blonde Espresso Roast with semi-skimmed milk, and hand shaken to give a unique frothy texture that takes a classic iced coffee to another level!

“The US have been researching and innovating beverages to champion dairy alternatives a lot recently. The bestsellers for the Iced Shaken Espresso beverages are actually Iced Brown Sugar Oat Milk Shaken Espresso and Iced Chocolate Almond Milk Shaken Espresso – with the almond and oat milk giving the sips a full-bodied texture and mouthfeel.

“They were initially launched as part of a seasonal campaign but were so popular they were made core and a permanent fixture to the menu.

“Due to customer demand for cold coffee and innovation, the US have been exploring cold-pressed espresso – it’s as exciting as it sounds, for sure!

“They’ve crafted a way to brew the coffee that uses the best from both cold brew and hot espresso. The new technology uses cold water and intense pressure to unlock the softer, sweeter coffee experience of slow-steeped cold brew, but as a concentrated shot of espresso.

“It’s featured on the menu at The Roastery in Seattle and used in beverages like a sparkling cold-pressed americano and a cold-pressed ginger fizz, which mixes ginger ale with a splash of whiskey barrel-aged vanilla syrup, a dash of grapefruit bitters and is topped with cold-pressed espresso.”

Hannah Atton
Hannah is a food and drink trend analyst, consultant and NPD expert. She was previously a cross-category product developer and trends researcher for Tesco, an NPD technologist at Bakkavor and freelance trend analyst for The Food People.

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