Martin Monin is set to one day take the reins of the family syrup business, breaking new ground in Asia and ensuring the sustainability of Monin for years to come.
Martin Monin hadn’t always intended to join the family business. He began his professional career in the tech start-up arena, however, having a child of his own at a young age opened his eyes to the importance of continuing the legacy.
The family business was Monin, founded in France in 1912 by Martin’s great grandfather Georges. Martin’s grandfather Paul shifted the company focus from wine and spirits to the emerging syrups market in the 1940s. Martin’s father Olivier capitalised on the growing United States and international markets in the 1990s and made Monin one of the market leaders it is today.
The business now produces and distributes hundreds of premium syrups, liqueurs, gourmet sauces, fruit smoothies, cocktail mixes, and frappe powders in more than 120 flavours to bars, hotels, and cafés in 140 countries.
With such a strong heritage behind him, Martin could have gone to work under his father in France, but instead saw an opportunity to leave a mark of his own in Asia.
“There was an opening in Malaysia. I discussed it with my father, and we thought it was a good time for me to take the reins. It’s good to be a bit away from Europe and get my own free space,” Martin tells BeanScene.
“It’s still pretty early, but I’m really happy to be so far from Europe. In Europe, it feels like everything has been done and there’s not much room for creativity or young people. It’s good to be in another region with more energy, where people are eager to try new things and take risks.”
Martin heads up Monin’s Asian branch, established 10 years ago in Kuala Lumpur. From there, he oversees the company’s business in Malaysia, Korea, and Japan. Martin says these markets can differ wildly in consumer trends.
“In Southeast Asia, people drink coffee with condensed milk, an egg in it, or even with coconut milk. It can become very sweet stuff and the coffee is roasted very dark and strong to match. Then you have Japan, which is very purist,” he says.
“The trends and flavours that are popular really vary. Some countries will like to flavour their coffee with fruity notes, like pear or cherry. Cold brew is for sure a big trend across Asia. In some markets it’s going down, in others it’s on the up.”
Martin says the biggest lesson he has learnt from this role is how to communicate with people from many different cultures.
“It’s been very eye opening and forces you to always adapt. To be in touch with the local culture, you need to think about the person you’re speaking with and not only what you want to say,” Martin says.
He adds this ability to adapt to different cultures and markets is tied to Monin’s values and structure as a family business.
“It’s funny, people study new forms of management, horizontal ways of making decisions, and at Monin, we were doing this without realising it. People have autonomy in the field to try new projects or ways of selling. As a result, we can adapt very fast to demand from local customers for new flavours or faster shipping,” Martin says.
“And there is a passion for the brand. My father is a passionate guy and he translates that in the way he works, with his team, and the way we recruit people from the industry, many of whom are formers baristas or bartenders. We’re very focused on the field. We’re not just thinking of flavours we want to push, but seeing what’s required from the market, and providing it.”
In March 2020, Martin visited Australia to connect with local distributors and gain a better perspective of the Australia coffee industry. Monin is used in hundreds of cafés and restaurants across Australia, for their flavoured coffees, cold brews, and other drinks. Martin says Australia is very influential over the markets he manages in Asia.
“I see a lot of maturity and care by professionals for the product. There’s a lot of coffee roasters in Australia, which is interesting because it goes back to the heart of the industry. Many of the markets in Asia are less developed in terms of coffee consumption,” Martin says.
“It’s an advantage for Monin to be in so many countries, because we can identify trends, key local players, and share this with our different markets.”
Martin hopes to introduce more platforms and tools within Monin to make communication between representatives in different countries even easier.
“We’re small but global. To align with someone in Brazil and another in Germany at the same time is not always easy,” he says.
This is one of many new ideas Martin plans on bringing to Monin. Alongside his role overseeing Asian markets, Martin is heavily involved in the company’s corporate social responsibility and product development. In terms of new flavours, Martin believes it’s important to broaden people’s horizons.
“We’re going more into botanicals, the rare plants that people just don’t know about. There’s so many to discover and taste. Asia is great for that, because there’s a lot of variety to explore,” he says.
“We’re engaging in more partnerships with universities and researchers to identify those plants and present them in a drink so it doesn’t cover the coffee flavour but actually matches it.”
Monin’s projects are not limited to exploring new flavours. He wants to look harder at the ingredients used in syrups, and how their quality or sustainability can be improved.
“For the coffee scene in particular, we want to work more on sugar. In Asia, we’re using cane sugar but I want to explore more local ones, like Okinawa black sugar from Japan, or muscovado in the Philippines,” he says.
“Our goal is to focus more on the raw material, and ways of processing it through slow cooking or fermentation, to really come back to the simplicity of sugar and offer this to baristas.”
While Martin brings many new ideas to Monin, he says like many businesses, the urgency of climate change is at the front of his agenda.
“We cannot continue doing business as usual. We rely a lot on natural products and have a duty to rethink the way we use fruits, plants, and sugars, and the way they’re produced. In France, there’s almost no organic sugar made locally, so we’re working with farmers and different companies to help farmers transform their practices,” Martin says.
“We have a farm in Portugal that produces some of our fruit – citrus especially – and we really try to take care of the soil and farm ecosystem, rather than just get the most out of the earth. I’m really proud of what we’re doing there and would like have a farm in each country we’re based in to produce some of our raw materials and share good practices with local farmers.”
With three generations behind him, Martin looks forward to, one day, leading the company and ensuring its sustainability for future generations of Monins to continue the family legacy.
“I’m trying to understand the basics of the business while also looking to the future, how the company could evolve and transform itself,” Martin says.
“This is something we’re very focused on, as well as getting closer to what nature has to offer. This involves our whole team, and is very important moving forward.”
This article appears in the June 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.
For more information, visit www.stuartalexander.com.au/our-brands/monin