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Inspiring Flavor Innovation in Student Environments


When it comes to inspiring creativity, the classroom is a great place to do it, Chef John Noble Masi told attendees of the NAFFS 105th Annual Convention. Masi, a professor at Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality

and Tourism Management in Miami, said students are born curious and innovative. “For many, it’s the reason they are in the room. Trying new flavor combinations and creations comes naturally in this environment and it should be encouraged every single day,” he said.

He was joined by his graduate student Rowan Jacobs, who was selected as an intern for the molecular gastronomy and sustainably team at the Bacardi

Center of Excellence. Bacardi and another FIU partner, Lavazza Coffee, sponsored a flavor

competition for cocktails for the school. The winning beverages were served at Lavazza’s suite at the 2022 U.S. Open Tennis Championship in New York. The winning

cocktail was named: “Tropical Kiss” and was made with coffee and dark cherry flavors.

Masi and Jacobs spoke about the importance of incorporating trends ahead of time when developing a new product. “It isn’t just flavor that matters,” said Masi, “but a whole list of specifications, beginning and ending with ingredients” he said. Variety, size and packaging, brands, origin and specialty production all play a part.

The way to identify trends, he said, is through secondary research. Regularly checking annual reports, food industry consultants and research companies, advocacy boards, suppliers’ sales data, trade publications and tracking your own sales/production and competitors can be very effective. Focus groups, guest surveys and product testing are great tools if you are a large enough operation.

The main reason Masi was invited by NAFFS was to tell attendees about his work with Lavazza and what he’s learned about cold coffee trends. He said Gen Z’s love for cold coffee is moving RTD from an impulse category to a coffee staple and at-home stock-up segment. He said, “you can see from the data: ready-to-drink is driving growth.”

His numbers backed it up. Coffee RTD is up 26.5% during the same time that packaged coffee is up 1.3%. He noted premium organic types of RTD is driving even faster growth at +39%.

INSERT Masi Power Point slide #11 visual with the pie charts on favorite coffees and types

Masi has been working with Lavazza as the firm develops its first in-house line of RTD coffees. He described this as a “coffee-forward flavor profile” using South American USDA organic and Rain Forest Alliance certified coffee as its first ingredient.

The Lavazza Cappuccino Cold Brew was featured. Before instructing everyone to pour and taste this sample, Masi described it as a medium-dark roast with a medium sweetness. “You’ll find notes of cream, nuttiness and cocoa in the aroma, flavor and aftertaste,” he said. “It will taste less sweet and creamy than competitors, with stronger coffee impact which creates a more balanced experience.” Approximately 95 mg of caffeine is included in each can.

The next was the Organic Double Shot Cold Brew with Oat Milk. Masi said there were distinguishing attributes to this variety, noting the medium-dark roast and medium sweetness with notes of oat, chocolate and cream in the aroma, flavor and aftertaste. This sample carried a good balance of oat flour and coffee impact and has 135 mg of caffeine per can.

The Organic Classic and Nitro Cold Brew varieties are very similar. They are both a medium roast with a medium-low bitterness and acid levels. They carry notes of chocolate, tobacco and dried fruit in aroma, flavor and aftertaste. Masi said the main difference is the use of nitrogen in the Nitro variety, giving it an added lactic note, creating more complexity than the organic classic and a smooth mouthfeel. They both have roughly the same amount of caffeine per can as well, at 150 mg.

Jacobs took the podium and echoed Masi’s thoughts on natural creativity to be harvested in the classroom. They outlined a recipe for creativity, including challenging the students, leading by example and encouraging “risk” in the experimentation with flavor. Jacobs said creating the right environment involves both physical and emotional components. Calling it “etting the table” for creativity, Jacobs outlined the many ways to get the most out of teams.

“The physical layout of offices and meeting rooms in a company can change the level of creativity” Jacobs said. “Simple layout can determine how people interact.” Seating, lighting and tables can encourage interaction, encouragement and acceptance. On the other hand, creativity can be stifled when a room is stiff itself, where people are separated or unable to use the best of their senses.

Jacobs said the goal is to maximize creative energy. “At FIU, we call our kitchens “labs” to encourage that creativity and flavor exploration.” The message was that experimentation is the key to finding anything new and knowing that failure is expected along the way in a laboratory environment makes all the difference.

Jacobs touted many food and beverage competitions over the years that have resulted in new, innovative products based on experimentation with flavor. They spoke about the Lay’s potato chips contest in 2012 called “Do Us a Flavor!” in which consumers offered new potential flavored chips. Similarly, Red Robin offered a kid’s “cook off” competition to try an uncover new product offerings. Both resulted in new product offerings that may never have been developed without the benefit of these outside ideas, she said.

Masi told attendees about another student beverage competition, this time for coffee beverages. The drink recipe competition was sponsored by Lavazza in 2021 and was held on campus at FIU. He said this competition format encouraged students to think beyond their normally-considered flavors, both in usage and in combination. He suggested company executives in attendance set up their own competitions to foster this type of flavor creativity in-house. He said it is a fun, interactive way to get the team to talk, to think and to create.

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