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Slo Jo Beverage RD

Developing beverage flavours for SA’s leading restaurant chains

Chrissy Beedle, Slo-Jo’s R&D manager, also known as the ‘Palate Sensation’, emphasises that although South African flavour trends take their lead from other countries, we are quite specific about what we do and don’t like.

“For example, the European lemon flavour is too sharp for the local market, we use a local lemon – much sweeter than its European equivalent.

“South Africans enjoy a richer flavour profile, even international brands like Milo and Horlicks, are more malted than their counterparts abroad – because that’s what South Africans like,” she says.

“South Africans also love hazelnut flavours – but not the same roasted flavours as European hazelnut, which tends to be nuttier than what works here.”

Beedle develops beverages and flavour profiles from the the Slo-Jo Innovation Hub in Sandton. Opened in 2015, it’s where she and her team develop cutting-edge beverage solutions for SA clients such as KFC, Wimpy and Famous Brands: keenly observe international drink trends, adapt them for the SA market, package them according to trends such as the latest craft jar revolution, and tailor them to the correct price points.

Creating new yet familiar drinks

“South Africans have a nostalgic palate, which means that for most drinks to be a success, they need to hint at something familiar,” says Beedle.

”Mugg & Bean develops some of SA’s most decadent flavours; for instance, we recently translated the biscuit favourite, Baker’s Lemon Cream, into a Lemon Shaker, and which joins the ranks of other nostalgic drinks like the popular Milk Tart, hot chocolate that we created for its menu.”

It’s this nostalgic palate, as well as an eye on international flavour moves, that guide Beedle in her ongoing experiments to create new drinks to add pull-factor to restaurants’ menus.

She notes that while lavender and chilli may be flavours that are trending abroad, it’s extremely unlikely to work on a menu here – at present.

“Give it time though, and perhaps introduce bridging flavours to get local palates accustomed to these taste profiles, and this trend may well be seen in South Africa.

“Woolworths was brave by introducing lavender into a range of lavender and white chocolate cookies, but the range didn’t do well – not because the cookies weren’t a wonderful product, but rather because the market is just not ready to eat lavender yet – we still associate it too much with aromatherapy and hand cream,” Beedle explains.

A successfully adapted international trends for local palates is that of salted caramel, first seen on South African screens on MasterChef Australia at least five years ago.

“Salted caramel drinks only became popular in South Africa when we introduced notes of fudge into the drinks we created for our customers,” she says. “South Africans love fudge, and the flavour provided that nostalgic bridging taste that has made salted caramel drinks such a success now.”

According to Beedle, while nostalgia is just one of the many factors that keep people coming back for more, one of the easiest indicators of a well-balanced drink is the restaurant customers’ ability to finish it.

“If we create a drink that looks appealing because of its sheer decadence in the menu photo, but don’t balance acidity and sweetness properly, customers won’t finish the drink – and they won’t order it again either.”

One of her favourite new drinks is lemon, peach or berry iced tea crusher made with coconut milk, topped with yoghurt, soft serve and fresh fruit.

“South Africans love those three flavours with their iced tea, they have loved smoothness and crushers, and they are loving the flavours of coconut milk more and more,” Beedle says.

Slo-Jo Trading:

Related reading:

Seven top taste drinks trends for 2016, with a South African slant

 Jo’burg drinks development consultancy, Slo-Jo, works with most of SA’s top restaurant chains in keeping their drinks menus fresh and appetising. Trend watching is key in its business …