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Customization, diverse product range are key to attracting consumers

In this Q&A, S&D Coffee & Tea Director of Product Innovation Dr. Maya Zuniga talks discusses how offering a wide range of products and giving customers a say in how their order comes together can give foodservice operators and edge over the competition.

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Cold brew; Customization, diverse product range are key to attracting consumers

This post is sponsored by S&D Coffee & Tea.


Consumer needs can be a moving target when it comes to foodservice, and keeping up with the latest trends is a must for restaurants and other outlets looking to attract repeat customers. Today’s consumer demands a wide range of flavors and formats, and customization is increasingly the order of the day.

SmartBrief interviewed Dr. Maya Zuniga, Director of Product Innovation for S&D Coffee & Tea, about staying ahead of the trends, the importance of customization and best practices for developing and integrating new products.

What new product demands or trends are you currently seeing in the beverage industry?

The millennial generation continues to be a strong area of interest and focus for food and beverage companies. In terms of formats and flavors, sparkling or nitrogenated beverages are gaining popularity thanks to their ability to create a different mouthfeel and experience. Sparkling tea and nitrogen-infused coffee are both rapidly growing areas of interest and activity. Another flavor trend we are seeing is the the true fusion of food and beverage into one product, rather than pairings that match a food with a beverage. For example: cereal-flavored coffees, drinks flavored with baked goods and coffee and tea either complementing or replacing alcohol in cocktails or mocktails. Also, even though caloric awareness and sweetness continue to be areas of concern, indulgent beverages are still of interest to many consumers.

How do you stay ahead of these trends and quickly get new products to market?

We strive to be plugged into the industry through many different channels, such as market reports and industry connections, so we are able to get a sense of what’s coming pretty early. Having a shortlist of ideas as we see trends develop and being able to customize to our customers’ needs enables us to rapidly develop and get to market since we do the due diligence for scale-up ahead of time.

How important is customization to today’s consumer?

Customization is very important, especially when targeting millennials. Everyone likes to feel like their needs are being met, so I’m not sure this is just a “millennial trait.” It is certainly something we try to build in as much as possible since it is always well received.

What are some ways that restaurants or other outlets can tailor their beverage programs to consumer preferences?

Foodservice outlets can participate in the customization trend by expanding their portfolio to include different types and categories of beverages — including iced, since this is a growing category. Additionally, facilitating customization and/or finding ways to let consumers feel involved in the way their beverage comes together are some of the approaches we have seen success with.

What is the most challenging aspect of developing a new product? How do you overcome that?

Balancing value and affordability with a great tasting and clean-label product is always the biggest challenge because everyone wants a “premium” experience, but they do not want to necessarily pay premium prices.  There needs to be a happy medium where 1) affordability is gained through supply chain optimization, 2) you understand the tolerance of consumers to different types of ingredients that would facilitate a clean label and 3) you ensure you are building a good tasting product by doing the proper consumer research.

Dr. Maya Zuniga serves as the Director of Product Innovation for S&D Coffee & Tea, the nation’s largest custom coffee roaster and supplier of iced tea to the foodservice industry and a leading producer of liquid extracts. Her previous experience includes 17 years at General Mills and The Pillsbury Company, where her responsibilities included product development, sourcing, open innovation, category management and the commercial launch of several products. She holds a B.Sc. in Chemistry from the University of the West Indies-Trinidad, a master’s degree in food science from the University of Missouri and a Ph.D. in food science from the University of Minnesota.


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