A chat with Olivier Monin

19 maggio 2023

With its 111 years of history, Monin is the very definition of ‘family business’. It was Georges Monin who in 1912 laid the foundations of the company in the heart of Bourges, France. 

He started producing flavored liquors and syrups and for several years enjoyed significant success, guided by the motto that is still used today: La Passion de la Qualité.

World War II and its catastrophic events abruptly changed the fate of the company – tragic stories common to many families, but with a glimmer of light filtering through the darkness. The Monin factory was located less than twenty kilometers from the unoccupied area of France, and over 100 Jewish people fleeing from horror found refuge within its walls on their way to safety.

Georges Monin died in 1944, a few days after the liberation of Bourges. His son Paul took over the company, establishing three main divisions: wine commerce, the distillery and fruit juices. The range of liquors and syrups was revised and revitalized in the mid-1970s. However, things were not going that well. 

Paul's heir Oliver Monin tells us all about it, explaining how he joined his fate to that of the company founded by his grandfather.

Olivier Monin

"In 1986, I had been working as a banker in Chicago for over a year when my father called me and asked me to come back. His health was failing, and the company was not in good shape, I really loved the challenge and came back to France. It's much better than being a banker.

At the time, Monin's exports accounted for just 5% of total business and we mostly sold to the Netherlands and a little to Italy and Belgium."

“Our competitors in France were much stronger than us, which is why I decided that the only way to survive was to try to increase exports as much as we could. In the Eighties, liquors accounted for 50% of the market but we were no match for the competition, so I decided that we should focus not on liquors, but on syrups in Europe.
I started with the Nordic countries, and every time I traveled somewhere I would start contacting IBA (International Bartenders Association) members. It was a time when people were beginning to understand that syrups - which many had no idea how to use - made it possible to make drinks with great aromatic power. In addition, there are no alcohol taxes on syrups, so drinks were not just better quality, they were cheaper as well. That's how we started to grow, one country at a time. ”

Not everything went smoothly, though.

“Our first critical setback occurred in the US around 1990. The tastings did not go well. People would taste our syrups, but for the first three years everyone said they were too sweet,” Olivier recalls.
“Then, with the opening of Starbucks, people began to think syrups might be perfect for flavoring coffee. This marked a major growth surge, which in 1995 enabled us to start building a new factory in the US. Our American adventure had begun, and production in Florida started in January 1996.
We grew very rapidly. From Florida we reached the West Coast, then expanded into Japan and other Asian countries. There we found new flavors, which came for example from local liqueurs, so we got the idea of producing the same flavors in the US as syrups. It was a great success. In Japan, many bartenders loved our products, and generally growth in Asia was so fast that in 2009 we opened a new factory in Malaysia, then one in China in 2017

What makes Monin unique is the extremely wide range of flavors available.

“Today we market around 160,” Oliver says. “And there are currently another 40 being developed by our RnD (Research and Development) department. Every time we landed in a new country we found new flavors, like Cherry Blossom in Japan and Spicy Jamun in India. One of Monin's latest additions is Jabuticaba, which we discovered three years ago when we reached Brazil.”

Jabuticaba (Plinia jaboticaba) is an exotic fruit tree native to Brazil, also known as the grapetree. The fruits are large dark berries similar to grapes growing directly from the trunk as well as on the branches, and are sweet and tasty. In addition to being consumed fresh, they are also used to prepare jellies and liqueurs.

But how many flavors per year does Monin launch?

"It depends. Some years we release two or three new ones, but never more than ten,” explains Olivier. “One of our strengths is that, with seven plants around the world plus two more on the way over the next three years – in Brazil and India – we can easily source local fruit."

"Launching a new product takes a huge amount of work, starting from our Research and Development. Sometimes it takes six months, sometimes three years. We keep working until we are completely satisfied. I want each new product to perfectly reflect the precise taste of the fruit as well as the quality that is Monin's hallmark. Each plant has its own RnD department, which can easily work on local flavors based on the taste of local customers. This is what makes Monin so special and close to the local market.

If we think about it, for example, Italy and France are very close, yet drinking habits are completely different. We can't offer the same ingredients to flavor coffee in Italy, where the cult of espresso is completely different from France.”

Durante la nostra chiacchierata abbiamo anche modo di chiedere a Olivier se abbia un gusto preferito e uno che proprio non gli piace.During our chat, we also have the chance to ask Olivier whether he has a favorite flavor and one that he just doesn't like.

“I really like Roasted Hazelnut for coffee; as for the flavors I don't like, it's definitely not my call. To be released on the market, a product has to be fantastic, even if I personally don't like it; I trust my team. Sometimes it may not work, maybe we are too far ahead, but we've rarely had to call back a flavor because it didn’t work. One of the reasons is that with some of our products you can prepare up to twenty or thirty different drinks. As we often say, Creativity is the limit - nothing else.”

One of the factors that make Monin different from other syrup brands is they are 100% natural, with no artificial flavors, no artificial coloring and no preservative! - a rather radical choice, which Olivier is proud of.

“Thirty years ago, the few existing syrup brands had 20 flavors available, and all not 100% natural. Over time, from the 2000s onwards, we have been seeing a growing demand for more natural ingredients, and I can say that having a 100% natural recipe makes all the difference. The pandemic then pushed this trend even further, and that's one of the reasons we're growing - because we can give people what they want.

99% of our syrups, sauces and purees are completely natural. Blue Curaçao is currently one of the few exceptions, because we hadn't yet found a natural blue that was stable for more than a few months, but by the end of this year we will be able to change this recipe as well.

Creating completely natural products is a big challenge and a responsibility for Monin. Costs are also much higher, between 30 and 60%, but the brand’s positioning enables us to sustain that.”

Speaking of quality choices, we just can't pass up the chance to ask about the Paragon range, Monin's new line of Single Botanic Cordials - extremely versatile products that can replace the sweet or the acidic component, or even both, in a drink, which was met with great enthusiasm in Italy.


One of the things that make Paragon unique is that it's a completely new type of product: it’s not a syrup, a liqueur nor a juice, it's a flavoring, a sweetener and an acidifier. It's produced with a special flavor extraction process based on compressed carbon dioxide used in the perfume industry called Supercritical CO2, which can preserve all of the different nuances of each pepper variety. In addition, gluconic acid, obtained from the natural oxidation of the glucose in honey, extends the range of aromas and flavors in drinks prepared with Paragon.

“With a growing need for natural products, some customers have become very demanding. They form a large community of experts, some even own bars. In Dubai, for example, there is a very exclusive bar where every product is produced directly by the owners, because no brand, in their opinion, is good enough,” Olivier tells us.

“So we decided to find a way to get into these trendy bars and, after a lot of studying by our Research and Development department, we decided to start with pepper, of which there are many varieties.

So we involved one of these demanding experts, Alex Kratena from London, and took him with us to Cameroon to taste different types of spices. We eventually decided we should definitely focus on pepper and selected three different types - from Nepal, Cameroon and Ethiopia. It's an amazing product, different from any others on the market, certainly not for all bars, but in this case we are not looking for large volumes, but for happy customers. It's completely different from existing products and, being non-alcoholic, you can do anything with it. We are currently working on the next releases, but the project is still top-secret.”

We still have a few minutes to ask about Velier, as 2023 marks the 20th year of partnership between our two companies.

"I've actually only met Luca Gargano twice, once in Paris and once in Bourges, and I'm almost ashamed to say that we've never met in Italy. For the first ten years things have been quite slow and our business relationship wasn't very intense, but a lot has changed over the last ten years, especially in the last five. Volumes have been increasing significantly, thanks to the same sustainability spirit we both have, and this makes me very happy. I’d say it’s the right time for me to take the opportunity of this twenty-year anniversary to pay a visit to Italy.”