A guide to customising coffee cup sleeves

Jane Merchant
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December 15, 2021
coffee cup sleeves

Takeaway cup sleeves are an essential offering for any business selling hot drinks. Lightweight, slim, and cost effective, their main purpose is to protect customers hands from burns when carrying coffee on the go.

However, they also have considerable financial and environmental benefits. For example, when popular Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons switched from double cupping its hot drinks to using recyclable sleeves, it used 200 million fewer cups in just one year.

While many coffee brands choose the ubiquitous plain corrugated cardboard sleeve, customised sleeves offer unique branding advantages.

Not only can they be designed to complement the cups themselves, they can also offer additional information and images to help create a more memorable and lasting impression.

Here are some ideas for customising your takeaway cup sleeves.

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coffee cup sleeves

Why is cup sleeve design so important?

Takeaway cup sleeves are a simple invention that have had a profound and lasting impact on the coffee sector.

Referred to as an “indispensable masterpiece of design” by New York’s Museum of Modern Art” and “an ingenious design defining the modern American coffee tradition” by Smithsonian Magazine, they are vital to the burgeoning on-the-go market.

The first coffee cup sleeves emerged in the early 1990s, when Portland-based inventor Jay Sorensen launched the Java Jacket, a simple cardboard ​​sleeve that could fit around coffee cups and protect people’s hands from being scolded.

Since then they have been adopted by numerous roasters and coffee chains, many of whom have applied their own take on the design.

However, while their main purpose is to prevent burns, cup sleeves have also become a powerful marketing tool for coffee businesses.

Not only do they offer additional space for branding, they can also be customised according to drinks, seasons, and even specific customers. This helps to create a more memorable and versatile product that fosters greater customer loyalty.

Unlike unsolicited adverts unrelated to their needs, branding your cups with sleeves serves as a reminder of a business they have already patronised and reminds them to do it again all without interrupting them.

While all these benefits can be experienced by branding the cups themselves, this isn’t always practical or cost effective.

Branding your sleeves allows you to cut down on costs and easily change or switch up your messaging when you need to. It’s also easier to create a completely recyclable or compostable sleeve as it won’t come into contact with actual hot drinks.

disposable cup

Ideas for customising your coffee cup sleeves

There are unlimited ways to customise your coffee cup sleeves. While some of the examples below involve advertising for or collaborating with other non-coffee related businesses, they can easily be used to advertise your coffee offering.

Highlight special holidays

Alfred Coffee first opened in Melrose Place, Los Angeles in 2013. Since then, they have gained a reputation for regularly rotating their coffee cup sleeves, often to celebrate specific holidays.

For example, around Valentine’s Day they launch sleeves with the slogan, “coffee is my valentine”, while for Halloween they customise their coffee cup sleeves with distinctive skeletal hands.

These designs help keep Alfred Coffee front of mind for consumers, as well as providing a reason to share the cups with friends and family on social media.

Donate to a good cause

Back in 2012, The Salvation Army launched an advertising campaign in Portland that involved working with coffee shops to serve takeaway drinks. As part of this campaign, they provided the coffee shops with thousands of plain cardboard sleeves with no branding or images.

Instead the sleeves stated that they cost nothing, with the money usually reserved for advertising going to those in need. It also provided customers with a link they could use to donate to the Salvation Army.

recyclable coffee cup

Cater to events

Roasters and coffee shops are often called upon to cater at events, including festivals, conferences, trade shows, and office parties. This can be a lucrative contract for coffee businesses, with the promise of high sales and a boost to brand recognition.

By using customised sleeves, you can ensure your brand stands out, while also tying in to the event for added value. For example, Runabout Coffee caters to weddings and employs sleeves featuring the names of the couple and the date of their wedding.

Stay in touch

As your coffee shop grows, it’s important to stay in touch with loyal customers. Many businesses use newsletters or phone messages to do this – but this can add up to digital clutter that annoys customers instead of informing them.

Adding short messages or QR codes to your takeaway cup sleeves can help inform customers in a way they’re likely to remember. By simply scanning the QR code, they can find out more information about your business or the coffee, such as its origin, how it was processed, and who grew it.

Tie into related events

Starbucks was founded in Seattle and are proud of their roots. They created a football-themed sleeve in 2015 for the Seattle Seahawks, their hometown football team.

The sleeve provided a QR code which could be scanned to link to the Seahawks’ Snapchat channel. This tapped into the dual market of coffee fans who also follow local sports.

Examples of news you could share is a change in upcoming operating hours, commemorations (such as the shop’s fifth anniversary) or an upcoming drink to be added to the menu.

You can even encourage conversations by offering them two potential new drinks and asking them to submit their preference via SMS or in person when placing an order.

The only limit to how you customise your takeaway cup sleeves is your imagination. However, you’ll also want to use quality sleeves and ensure they’re printed properly by an experienced packager.

MTPak Coffee are coffee packaging specialists and can help you brand your takeaway coffee cups, sleeves, and more. Get in touch with us today to start designing your own.

For information on our sustainable coffee cups, contact our team.

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A guide to customising coffee cup sleeves

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