More than a cup of coffee: eco-friendly packaging

15 December 2017



Coffee consumers are placing greater emphasis on product sourcing and sustainability, meaning brands are under pressure to highlight their eco-friendly values on their packaging. Beverage Packaging Innovation assesses these changes using insight from GlobalData and products that push for change, convenience or an up-market appearance.


According to the latest forecast figures from GlobalData, hot coffee is experiencing consistent growth. It is expected that the market will rise by 2.70% from 159.903 billion litres in 2017 to 164.263 billion litres in 2018. Iced and ready-todrink coffee will grow by 3.06% to 7.055 billion litres next year. This is similar to the tea market, but its volumes are only a third the size of hot drinks, and represent a fifth of the cold and ready-to-drink sector.

The hot drinks sector is busy, brimming with a huge selection of products that are available on shop shelves. Consumers have become more knowledgeable about their tea and coffee, and are willing to experiment with new flavours. With so many choices available to consumers, it can be difficult for brand-owners to stand out from the competition by offering something unique to their customers. Surface decoration and tactility are two ways to differentiate products, and can be used to enhance the sensory appeal of an item or emphasise its premium appearance. In today’s saturated market, on-the-go lifestyles mean that packaging also needs to offer added value in terms of convenience as well as an improved consumer experience.

One example of how to address this problem comes from Union Coffee, which uses a matte-kraft paper finish on the outer surface of its bags. This adds a traditional and natural feel that is well suited to an artisan brand looking to elevate its premium aesthetic.

Meanwhile, Tassimo has not only reformulated the recipe for its latte macchiato pods but it has also ensured the pods are the correct depth to easily fit into the machines. This shaved 23% off the packaging used when compared with the company’s previous format.

Gemma Hill, lead packaging analyst at GlobalData, says, “Convenience is certainly a key driver in the hot drinks category, but consumers are increasingly looking for high-end, cafe-quality products and packaging is one element of the marketing mix that can help to create an appealing lifestyle image.”

Eco-friendly coffee capsules

Single-use coffee capsules have seen tremendous growth over the past few years. Typically, they are not easy to recycle due to their mixed-material content and the need to separate elements of the pod before recycling. In 2014, 9.8 billion Keurig K-cup pods were sold, enough to circle the globe 10.5 times. Convenience has clearly become a key driver in the coffee market’s growth, but this means that the impact on the environment is likely to increase in line with demand.

Although the concept of single-use coffee pods is not inherently ‘green’, some brands are actively looking to improve their sustainability by using less plastic or introducing biodegradable materials to capsules. This could make a serious dent in the ‘pod mountain’ if every brand facilitates this swap. It may also alleviate concerns related to the impact of non-recyclable waste and appeal to consumers who say that buying eco-friendly products makes them feel less guilty.

San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee’s capsules use biodegradable plastics, which makes its packaging an environmentally friendly alternative to K-Cup-style multilayer plastic pods.

In 2014, 9.8 billion Keurig K-cup pods were sold, enough to circle the globe 10.5 times.

This is especially true of the nonwoven fabric filter that replaces rigid plastic base cups. The outer carton, inner bag and pod ring are all compostable, but the pod lidding film and filter must be disposed of with other household waste. The different elements of the pods are not easy to separate and this impacts their biodegradability.

Percol, on the other hand, produces fully compostable and Nespressocompatible capsules that take 12 weeks to break down completely, ‘returning to the soil and providing the earth with nutrients’. The product’s cuboid pack has a compact structure that takes up less space and also less cartonboard. In addition, these capsules are neatly and attractively tessellated inside the pack.

Responsible packaging

Environmental concerns are also being addressed in other types of coffee packaging. This is crucial because consumers’ understanding of the impact of products they buy has increased. Sustainable packaging bolsters a brand’s credibility, making it more appealing to eco-concious consumers.

Coffee packaging is often non-recyclable because of its multilayer construction, which can include foil or metalised film for barrier protection. The use of recyclable, biodegradable or compostable materials helps to address environmental concerns regarding packaging waste, and should be emphasised on packaging to communicate a brand’s improved sustainability and eco-credentials. Oakland Coffee’s organic whole-bean pack is fully compostable, including the degassing valve. It is made from 100% compostable, plant-based materials, such as corn and sugar starches. The bag does have to be disposed of at commercial composting facilities, but the company ensures that it can fully decompose into “rich organic compost” within 90 days.

As a result, the pack’s copy sends a strong message about packaging sustainability, which fits in well with the brand’s ethical values.

In contrast to this, illy’s Refilly system enables consumers to easily refill their favourite 250g coffee blend. They can simply purchase one of the brand refill packs and place it in an illy tin that can be sealed to lock in freshness. The system uses a pressurised polylaminate packet to protect and enhance the aroma of ground coffee. This innovation eliminates product spillage, maintains hygiene, and reduces the environmental footprint of the consumer and coffee brand, which has earned a Responsible Supply Chain Process certification from DNV GL.

Enhanced aesthetics and more convenience

The rise in specialist tea and coffee shops has educated consumers about good-quality products, different beverage varieties and sourcing methods. This knowledge means that the average person is more familiar with high-end drinks, making them expect a better-quality product for use at home. Brands now have the opportunity to change a product’s appearance in order to convey a more premium image.

Packaging plays an increasingly important role in creating a sensory experience that is associated with a particular brand or product. The look and feel of a pack forms part of the consumer experience and can help to drive loyalty. Styling and decorative touches have an indulgent feel and help to enhance shelf presence. Many consumers, particularly millennials, are also looking for products with more visible benefits and functions that can enhance user experience. Introducing more unusual formats can create talking points, while flexible packaging can be used to offer user-friendly alternatives that open opportunities for consumption.

Nescafé recently introduced premium branding with a new jar shape and pack styling for its instant coffees. The closure is in-mould-labelled to achieve an attractive and unusual surface finish that resembles brushed metal. A strong gold colourway across all instant ranges variants adds a touch of luxury that was missing from previous packaging.

Convenience is also key for busy consumers, and, as illustrated by the huge growth in the coffee pod market, people are prepared to pay more for added ease-of-use. Simple things, like measured-portion packs and idiot-proof ways to make proper coffee, create the perfect drink every time and add value for consumers.

One award-winning solution belongs to La Colombe, which has catalysed consumer enjoyment with its draft latte in a can. Speaking to Forbes, CEO Todd Carmichael said that coffee was previously linked to Starbucks’ approach of having a cafe on every corner, but there has been a shift in customer behaviour; consumers now want their coffee to go and many of these buy cold beverages as well. La Colombe now opens three or four of its cafes yearly and has recently expanded to the West Coast in the US. Carmichael added that he has seen an industry-wide transformation in mobileartisanal coffee. He said, “Rather than have a cafe on every corner… I want you to have a crafted drink anywhere.”

In the US, Starbucks has started to sell a Fall Blend 2017 option for its ground coffee K-Cup pods, forming part of its Keurig Hot range. 16 plastic pods are housed within a paperboard box that retails for $11.99. The product’s advertising says “welcome to the flavours of autumn”, and features the finest coffees from three growing regions; Sumatran beans lend warmth and freshspice notes; Kenyan coffee adds citrusy brightness; and Peruvian beans deliver balance and a subtle nutty taste. This takes the popular seasonal version of Starbucks-branded coffees from the cafe to homes, a key consumer trend.

Victor Allen’s has created a simple and clean way to enjoy a cold beverage with its Cold Brew Coffee Kit, which includes a reusable pouch and three filter bags of coffee. Consumers can simply toss a filter bag in the pouch, add cold water and leave the coffee to infuse for 24 hours. The handle on the pouch adds an element of convenience for lifting and pouring, while a pour spout allows easy dispensing.

Folgers filter packs make preparing coffee even easier with pre-measured filter bags that are not only convenient, but also provide a means of clean use and disposal to save’ time and ensure a consistent and quality coffee every time. A tear-out section on the outer carton forms a dispensing aperture that allows easy access to the sachets inside, using technology from shelf-ready packaging to push each sachet to the front once another has been pulled out.

Easy preparation away from the home

Nice O Drip three-in-one filter coffee uses a disposable board cup with a built-in filter. This pack contains ground coffee, creamer and sugar for preparing a single serving of drip-style filter coffee to consume on the go through the pack’s top cup aperture. Its thermoformed lid enhances the product’s convenience by keeping the coffee hot and preventing spillages.

The Coffee Brewer makes two cups of coffee using a paper-film laminate pouch, which has an integrated filter paper. A rigid-pour spout aids dispensing and the break-off cap can be pushed back onto the spout for liquid-tight sealing. A gusseted base ensures that the pouch makes a stable, free-standing jug format that is ideal for use on day trips, camping and other activities.

Innoprax aunched its Sport variety of iced coffee under the Caffe Lattesso brand in Austria, Germany, Russia and Switzerland. The product comes in a 250ml plastic cup, and is claimed to be 100% natural. It has also been branded as a source of protein that is lactose, stabilier, emulsifier and thickener-free. The drink is described as having ‘high-quality milk protein’ that helps build and maintain muscle mass. Caffe Lattesso website says that the product is the “ideal power coffee for anyone who wants to strenghten their immune system and stimulate their metabolism”.

It is available in supermarkets and petrol stations to target on-the-move consumption, and those seeking an enhanced health benefit through their drinking experience.

Starbucks’ Keurig Hot range brings the flavours of autumn directly to consumers, which taps into the growing desire to replicate the cafe experience at home.


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