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Clearwater syrup maker Monin coaches students on sweet side of business

Dunedin High School students visited the headquarters of this Top Workplace to learn about entrepreneurship,
 
From left: Rock Melon Cantaloup, Cucumber, Pineberry and Dragon Fruit syrups on display at the MONIN Americas original Headquarters and Flavor Innovation Center on Monday, March 1, 2021, in Clearwater.
From left: Rock Melon Cantaloup, Cucumber, Pineberry and Dragon Fruit syrups on display at the MONIN Americas original Headquarters and Flavor Innovation Center on Monday, March 1, 2021, in Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published March 22|Updated March 22

At the Clearwater headquarters of syrup manufacturer Monin, beverage innovation manager Julia Melucci told a group of 11th graders about how she got her start at the company.

It dates back to her high school days when she attended a similar business leadership program. Her class visited the company headquarters.

It helped her build relationships and problem solve for her current job: developing drinks that go on menus for national chains like Outback Steakhouse or Chick-fil-A, she said.

At the demonstration, Melucci, 46, brought out a syrup highlighting Monin’s “flavor of the year.” It’s called Ube, a purple yam found in southeast Asia. She poured it into a cup of lemonade and the students watched as the distinctive-purple syrup turned pink.

“If a restaurant says ‘we want ube,’ and then I just make that? Guess what, it’s not purple anymore,” Melucci said. “So you have to keep experimenting and coming up with solutions to get what the customer wants, right?”

The visit kickstarted a coaching program between Monin employees and Dunedin High School 11th graders who were in the process of developing their own business plans. It’s in partnership with educational nonprofit Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay, that connects local companies with high school students to develop future talent and give them hands-on learning experience.

Last year, Dunedin High’s 11th graders won the first-ever competition with the help of Monin. And this year, Monin came back to help the next group of students going through the six-week program.

Monin is trying to help shape future talent in the Tampa Bay region, said senior marketing manager Hussain Shamseddine. Monin is among the midsize companies included in the 2024 Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces.

The principal goal is to make sure students know there are growing companies in the area, he said, and that they don’t have to feel stuck after high school.

“We’re seeing an increase of talent migrating to the Tampa Bay area. So there’s definitely an opportunity for the business community to really promote and speak towards that,” Shamseddine said. “And then there’s the education component.”

Monin senior marketing manager Hussain Shamseddine presents to high school students on Feb. 18 at the company's Clearwater headquarters. He explained the marketing campaign for Monin's "Flavor of the Year," research that predicted 2024 will be a big year for ube products.
Monin senior marketing manager Hussain Shamseddine presents to high school students on Feb. 18 at the company's Clearwater headquarters. He explained the marketing campaign for Monin's "Flavor of the Year," research that predicted 2024 will be a big year for ube products. [ BERNADETTE BERDYCHOWSKI | Times ]

The group of students got to tour the Clearwater office and talk with several staff members about how Monin operates and markets its products.

In one presentation, the Monin marketing team brought out five perfume sample strips that broke down the components of a strawberry scent such as fruity, creamy, sweet, green and … sweaty? None smelled like a strawberry on its own, but put together, the students were awed at how they could recognize Florida’s primary winter crop. And if they took out the sweaty strip, they were shocked how the scent became more like a Jolly Rancher candy than a fruit.

The team told the students to be meticulous about details in their business plans and find out customers’ needs and how to stay ahead.

Luciana Crespo, an 11th grader who wants to study communications in college, said she didn’t realize how much thought went into making flavored syrups for beverages and the marketing research that drives it.

The trip helped expand her idea of what she could do with a communications career, she said.

“This is an example of a job. And it’s an example of what can you do for your future,” Crespo said.

Monin is among several companies in the area coaching high school students. Junior Achievement has partnered with Jabil, KnowBe4, Reliaquest and other leading local companies. Students at the end present their projects to Raymond James executives.

“Their hopes are to kind of have some of these students lightbulbs go off and go ‘I want to work here.’ We know that talent and workforce development are a huge topic these days,” said Olivier Millour, director of 3DE partnerships and development at Junior Achievement.

Millour said another core part of the program focuses on expanding teenagers’ access to more human connections after the pandemic. Students crave having successful role models to look up to, especially in the past few years.

“What’s really important for students these days is just to build those soft skills (i.e. communication, critical thinking or relationship building),” Millour said.

The MONIN Americas original Headquarters and Flavor Innovation Center in Clearwater is where the company's team works to perfect and produces new flavor offerings, create recipes and beverage innovations, and oversees all the company's sales and operations throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean.
The MONIN Americas original Headquarters and Flavor Innovation Center in Clearwater is where the company's team works to perfect and produces new flavor offerings, create recipes and beverage innovations, and oversees all the company's sales and operations throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

When beverage innovations manager Melucci was in high school, she said she had no idea a job like hers even existed in her hometown.

She started out as a bartender in local resorts and hotels. She felt burnt out by the hospitality industry and sought other opportunities, such as creating her own beverages. After she was featured in a magazine for her strawberry shortcake martini creation, it was Monin that reached out to her.

Now, she said, students today can start learning skills for their work to find a job they love like she did.

”I hope that they take away the fact that there’s a lot more out there than you even realize,” Melucci said.

• • •

Monin

Location: Clearwater

Employees: 279

Website: https://www.monin.com/

Employee comments: “Every day brings excitement and new opportunity. We get to run our market as if it was our very own company. The culture is contagious and full of energy. It’s pretty awesome to work for Monin and sell the very best flavorings to our valued customers.”

“I like it here because of the culture. I have worked at places where I feel like a number. I do not feel that way here. I think it is a fair place to work, and I have a lot of pride knowing we make the best.”

“I never feel like my voice isn’t heard.”