Stirring It Up

Sept. 17, 2020
Plant-based creamers and functional flavors replicate coffeehouse favorites as employees return to the office and employers strive to keep them happy, safe and on-site.

As the phased reopening of the economy brings more employees back to work, COVID-19 has shifted the paradigm from break rooms being the hub that brings employees together, to employers focusing on protocols to ensure physical separation between them to minimize the risk of spreading the virus through shared surfaces and products. With business everything but usual, one constant upon which office coffee service (OCS) operators can depend and amplify to clients and prospects is coffee’s vital role in keeping employees energized, on task, and — more importantly than ever — on site to further reduce the risks of catching or spreading COVID-19. 

Catering to consumers’ individual preferences remains key as coffee- houses have set the bar high and coffee drinkers seek to replicate that experience at home and at work. Providing the most on-trend lighteners and flavorings to customize each cup gives them little reason to leave the office. 

“People like to customize their beverages, and flavors added to coffee are great in the office environment because terrific coffee becomes more versatile for various tastes, versusbrewing a whole pot of a particular flavor,” said Judson Kleinman, owner of Corporate Essentials, a leading office coffee and pantry service provider serving the greater New York City area, based in Parsippany, N.J. 

Nestlé Professional’s Coffee mate® creamer, with 97% brand awareness, is a well-established powerhouse in OCS. Its top sellers remain the perennial favorites — original, French vanilla and hazelnut — making up about 90% of the company’s flavored creamer sales, which can serve as a gauge of the most popular flavors overall in the creamer category. Vanilla Caramel, Italian Sweet Crème and Irish Crème follow closely behind. The company’s seasonal fall and winter flavors — Pumpkin Spice and Peppermint Mocha — are the next biggest sellers.

Nestlé Professional’s newest flavor is Snickers®, which captures the peanut and chocolate indulgence of the iconic Mars, Inc. candy bar in single-serve tubs that launched in OCS in November 2019 to much fanfare. Plans are in the works to follow with other co-branded licensed creamer products with the Mars, Inc. following this success.

Plant-based momentum

One of the biggest trends in the hot beverage market that’s continued to gain traction in OCS over the past few years is plant-based creamers, now a go-to lightener at coffeehouses and at home, with a plethora of options lining the supermarket shelves. 

Concerns surrounding health, sustainability and animal welfare are fueling the plant-based movement, which is increasingly mainstream. In fact, a recent consumer survey by market research firm NPD Group revealed that the majority of consumers (90%) that purchase plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy are not vegetarian or vegan. According to research firm Datassential, more than half of today’s creamer users add plant-based milk or creamer to their coffee, underscoring the opportunity not to be overlooked in accommodating these consumers in the workplace. 

“Trends show that the most popular type of plant-based creamer is almond milk followed closely by soy and coconut milks,” according to Nestlé Professional’s business leader for creamers, Patricia Poole. “How- ever, there is recent consumer interest in trying oat milk; we believe oat milk is an innovation that will see a lot of growth over the next few years.” 

Nestlé Professional introduced its first plant-based Coffee mate offering for the out-of-home market — almond milk creamer in a pump bottle — in November 2019. But with the COVID-19 shutdown, it didn’t have a chance to gain traction, so it’s now set to relaunch in September. Poole also said to stay tuned for additional plant-based products that are in development for single-serve, portion-control usage. 

The plant-based movement became so pronounced three years ago that it drove Elmhurst® 1925, based in Elma, N.Y., to completely shutter its 90-year-old dairy operations and reinvent itself with a new line of milks made from nuts, grains and seeds. Its process ensures maximum nutritional and functional benefits, with simple, clean ingredients and no added gums, emulsifiers or oils. With deep roots in dairy, the company noticed that missing in the market was a plant-based creamer optimized for coffee. 

“People were using whatever plant milk was available,” recalled Heba Mahmoud, Elmhurst’s vice president of marketing. “It diluted the coffee and made it lose flavor, and the milk separated.” 

Elmhurst filled that void by creating Elmhurst 1925 Barista Editions creamers in 32-oz. oat, hemp and almond varieties. These barista plant-milks are formulated to steam to a perfect foam for lattes or cappuccinos or be poured into hot or iced coffee. Each variety delivers its own flavor and nutritional benefits. Hemp is considered an excellent source of Omega-3 ALA; oat provides 16g of whole grain per serving; and almond contains 3g of protein per serving. 

Also available are 16-oz. Elmhurst 1925 Oat Creamers, made with 100% whole grain oats, in four on-trend flavors: Unsweetened (which has become increasingly in demand across the non-dairy creamer category), French Vanilla, Hazelnut and Chai Spice. 

Launched Aug. 1 are 12-oz. Elmhurst 1925 ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee and tea oat lattes in Cacao, Flash Brew, Matcha Green Tea and Golden Milk with turmeric, formulated to deliver coffeehouse quality on the go. They contain 30g of whole grains per serving and Omega-3 ALA. The new RTD lattes join 12-oz. Elmhurst 1925 Milked Oats oat milk in Original, Vanilla, Chocolate and Blueberry, which can double as a filling on-the-go meal replacement. 

“With offices beginning to reopen, both the single-serve lattes and oat milks are perfect for OCS and micro markets, with an easy grab-and-go drink or creamer that limits interactions and shared bulk creamer in shared office kitchens in light of COVID,” Mahmoud noted. 

Functional Boost

WellSpices, based in Wilmington, Del., is taking aim at the office coffee service market with its pioneering line of breakroom-friendly, single-serve organic spice packets to add flavor and wellness benefits to beverages and food. Now available nationwide are the three most used in both coffee and tea — Ceylon cinnamon, turmeric and ginger. 

“My family [who are also WellSpices cofounders] has used spices in our food for their flavor, often in lieu of sugar, and for their wellness benefits,” WellSpices cofounder Gail Ball explained. “Adding cinnamon to everything is increasingly mainstream. In addition to its popular flavor profile, studies show that as part of a healthy diet, it helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels.” 

Turmeric has become trendy as the main ingredient in golden milk. It’s often added to coffeehouse drinks due to its antioxidant boost.

By early next year, WellSpices’ full lineup will include garlic, cumin, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, curry and lemongrass, which can be sprinkled in and on all sorts of food and beverages. 

Pandemic Proofing

“Our packets not only provide a single portion, but they are impervious to liquid and contamination,” Ball pointed out. “People can take it from the coffee station to their desk [and] wipe it with a disinfectant wipe, which provides ultimate safety in the midst of COVID-19 precautions.” 

Kleinman noted that anyone who works in convenience services should realize the need to be a resource to their clients. 

“Be proactive rather than reactive and train your people to go out and help and add value — at this time especially — to help employers safeguard their workforce,” Kleinman advised. “For one thing, we’re recommending individual creamer or flavor packs versus bulk, which are safer and more in vogue with the virus still lingering around. It costs a little more, but it’s relevant and it’s our job to communicate that.” 

As employees reenter their workplaces, Poole said Nestlé Professional has made it a priority to work with operators to communicate ways to keep them safe while enjoying its products. 

“We’ve worked with individual customers to help them update their coffee and creamer stations to be safer for their customers, and we have given customers new options to deliver products to meet their needs during this disruptive time,” she said. 

These solutions range from single-serve, portion-control tubs and creamer powder packets that give customers “touch-one, take-one” distribution, to demonstrating how a pump bottle can be used and cleaned in between customers. In some locations, the solution is offering hand sanitizer or pastry/deli papers to create a more sanitary way to touch pump bottles at the coffee bar, encouraging safe dispensing.    

“Illustrating the touch-one, take-one process and/or the ‘clean in between’ approach is not only appreciated by consumers, but it’s really the expectation to keep people safe in this new environment,” Poole said. “Each day, we see safe use of products in every channel; it’s all about finding the right the approach, coming up with a safe solution and transparent communication of how to stay safe and use these products. We’re happy to help find these solutions with our customers. Our team has gotten really creative when our operators need help.”