Big Interview: Italian Beverage Company
Italian Beverage Company (IBC) has become one of the leading syrup suppliers to the coffee industry. Its Simply range offers everything from flavoured syrups, organic syrups, Sugar free syrups, iced tea to smoothies, frappes and milkshakes.
It was in 1992 that Sheldon Flax discovered a coffee cart using flavoured coffee syrups and after tying down the distribution rights he introduced flavoured syrups to the UK.
Following the success of supplying syrups to major coffee chains in the UK the range expanded to include Hot Chocolate, Iced Tea and even topping sauces.
IBC decided it was time to launch its own syrup range in 2008 as there was demand for more interesting syrup flavours and ranges. This saw the launch of its Simply range. While it initially launched into international markets, the UK wanted the brand too. This was followed closely by the launch of Simply Sauces, Simply Smoothies, Simply Frappes, Simply Milkshakes and Simply Hot Chocolate.
It was just over seven years ago that Ricky Flax joined the business, which had been set up by his father.
“I was born into it as it is a family business,” Flax says.
“I was brought up into it ever since I was nine or 10 years old. Dad used to bring home all the milkshakes, all the syrups and we would try them all.”
Flax studied drama and film studies at The University of Kent and never intended to enter the family business.
“I set up a theatre company and we had a big book of actors and tours. But I decided that wasn’t for me. I did sales and worked in blinds and shutters and I did it quite successfully, “ Flax says.
“At that time dad had a reshuffle at the company and the brand was looking a bit old fashioned. He basically said ‘Can I pop in the office and help out a bit?’ I got completely swallowed up into it.”
Flax got more involved “bit by bit” and worked his way up within the business. He is particularly proud of the rebrand of the products, which he describes as “bringing it into the 21st Century.”
The company, which had six staff when he joined, has now has expanded to almost 30. And by 2012 the company had won the Queens award for Enterprise: International Trade.
Flax admits that the boom in coffee has helped IBC grow.
“People also want to add flavours to smoothies, frappes, hot chocolate and we produce such a wide range,” Flax reveals.
Its premium products are now stocked in well-known names in the coffee sector including Black Sheep and Paddy & Scott’s. And the UK is now a major focus for the business, which already exports to 45 countries including Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“The UK has seen a big change in strategy and the UK has been a massive focus,” admits Flax.
“A lot of our competitors are losing UK business because they have focused so much internationally. We produce British products and are looking inwards now and making massive inroads.”
IBC, he argues, has the lead on many of the other syrup companies. Its Simply range is already lower in sugar than many of its rivals, are natural and it even has an organics range. It also offers private label lines to a number of clients even stocking Wholefoods.
Being on trend as well as producing some innovative products, such as its Simply Birthday Cake Syrup, have seen the company continue to grow.
“We try to get ahead of the trends and try and be creative. There are so many different trends with vegan, free-from and even making sure we have the flavours to service unicorns and mermaid drinks,” he says.
“We can detect a lot of the trends coming through quite early and because we are a family-run business we can adapt things very quickly.”
Another focus for the business as it has grown has been to make sure its customer service levels remain at a high standard.
“The strategy is to try to grow with what we have got. It is not necessarily to go out there and get lots and lots of new business every day,” Flax argues.
More importantly, it is about “nurturing” its current clients by providing customer service, product development and offering marketing support such as point of sale material.
Part of this “nurturing” is to ensure that its products are served correctly with one-to-one training sessions, masterclasses, and recipe ideas offered to its clients.
While Flax never intended to enter the family business he admits he is hooked.
“It is a fantastic industry. It is very social. Everyone is so friendly and passionate,” he says.
“I have never seen an industry as passionate as they are about the coffee industry. It is just a fantastic industry to be in.”
- IBC is supporting the Barista Masterclasses at European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drinks Expo, providing the syrup. Flax says this is a “great showcase” for the brand.
- IBC is on stand B22 at European, Coffee, Tea & Soft Drinks Expo where it will be showcasing its new range of coolers as well as its other products.
You can register for European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drinks Expo, May 19th & 20th 2020, Olympia, London for FREE
For more information on stands and sponsorship at European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drink Expo 2020, which will take place at London’s Olympia on 19 and 20 May, contact John Blackley on +44 (0) 203 668 9809 or email firstname.lastname@example.org