How To Design Coffee Packaging That Appeals To Generation Z

Deniz Karaman
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April 27, 2021
generation z

Champions of individuality, inclusivity, authenticity, and ethical living, Generation Z has grown to become one of the most influential age groups in recent years. Defined as anyone born between 1997 and 2004, they have an estimated spending power of $150 billion in the US alone, making them an increasingly important target market for companies.

Alongside millennials, they are the highest consumers of specialty food and beverages, presenting an excellent opportunity for specialty coffee roasters. However, unlike their aspirational older siblings, Gen Zers look for brands that feel “genuine”, respect independence, and offer a full customer experience.

For roasters, one of the most effective ways of appealing to Gen Z coffee drinkers is through packaging. Not only is it often the first interaction consumers have with a brand, it can also influence perceptions of the coffee, with everything from the colour and typography, to the shape and size having an impact.

To find out more, I spoke with 2018 Finland Cup Tasting Champion and Head of Production at The Gentlemen Baristas, Roosa Jalonen.

See also: Are Generation Z Trends Redefining The Coffee Sector?

cold brew coffee

What Are The Biggest Generation Z Coffee Trends?

Despite being frequently grouped together with millennials, those in Generation Z have a distinct set of demands and values when it comes to buying products. And, as more and more Gen Zers join the workforce, many specialty roasters have realised that a failure to cater to these new purchasing behaviours could be to the detriment of their business.

“There’s definitely differences between each generation,” Roosa says. “This covers everything, including things like milk. It’s much more common for the younger generation to be more open-minded about plant-based milks, for example.”

In 2017, the National Coffee Association (NCA) reported that “gourmet” coffee was becoming increasingly popular amongst Gen Zers compared to former generations. Indeed, in a recent study, Packaged Facts found that consumers aged 18-24 were more than twice as likely to consume gourmet coffee as coffee drinkers aged 60 and above. Gourmet coffee, in this context, is defined as premium, non-instant arabica or arabica blend coffee products.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, Gen Zers are also recognised for their preference for cold beverages. Ready-to-drink (RTD) and cold brew coffee frequently ranks as Gen Z’s most-purchased drinks, largely due to perceived health benefits in comparison to carbonated energy drinks.

Made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water overnight, cold brew coffee is not a recent invention. However, over the last few years it’s become a fixture in many coffee shops and households around the world. In the US alone, the market is predicted to grow to more $900 million, with a large part of this growth driven by Gen Z consumers.

According to Roosa, one of the most significant trends she’s noticed among younger generations of coffee drinkers is an interest in the “story” behind their coffee. No longer is it enough to know about flavour notes and origin; they want to know what happens at every stage of the supply chain, from who grew it to how it was roasted.

“I’ve seen that many of those in Gen Z are interested in where their coffee comes from,” Roosa says. “They have different views to previous generations when it comes to coffee as a product, and they’re willing to pay more for better transparency and traceability.”

If they discover the coffee they buy or the brand itself doesn’t align with their values, Gen Zers are more likely to ditch companies than previous generations. Their sense of brand loyalty can very quickly be disrupted if they believe the roaster has sourced unsustainable or unethical coffee.

generation z coffee

Designing Coffee Packaging That Will Appeal To Gen Z

While packaging used to serve only to transport, store, and protect products, it has now become one of the most important marketing tools at a brand’s disposal. Known as the “secret salesman”, it can be used to entice customers, reflect brand values, and influence expectations of a product.

“Packaging plays an absolutely enormous role,” Roosa says. “Even those who are familiar with the industry and are knowledgeable about coffee can still buy something based on the packaging. It’s becoming more and more important; if you’re spending that extra pound for speciality coffee you expect that the packaging will have some added level of quality to it.”

She tells me that to add value to their products, specialty coffee roasters should communicate their brand story on their packaging, as well as any information about the coffee itself.

“People are increasingly buying into brands. So, you’re no longer necessarily buying just the coffee, but you’re also buying into the brand. It’s no longer enough to be just a coffee brand, you almost have to be like a lifestyle brand.”

This is all part of offering a greater customer experience, something highly valued by younger generations of coffee drinkers. An example of a coffee brand that has done this to great effect is Onyx Coffee Lab. From the feel of their website to the fonts, colours, and style of their coffee bags, they feel much more like a high-end fashion brand than just coffee roasters.

“It almost has to be Instagrammable,” Roosa explains. “If I compare it to the wine industry, Gen Z and even millennials, often buy a bottle of wine because it has a cool label, and I think the same sort of thing is starting to land in the specialty coffee industry as well”.

But there’s a fine balance between looking “cool” and overwhelming consumers with information. According to Chief Packaging Officer, minimalist packaging is the most effective way to convey sustainability, honesty, and transparency.

In adopting minimalist packaging, specialty roasters can put forward their values in a clear and concise way without confusing potential customers. One of the best ways of doing this, Roosa says, is by using scannable QR codes.

“Something that’s becoming more common is QR codes,” she explains. “I’m guessing it will be the new norm to provide more information. It’s almost like the packaging is getting more simplified, but then the information is either on Instagram, Facebook, or on the company’s website. You’ve got the cool packaging and it’s a stripped down version because the rest of the information is online.”

QR codes are an excellent way to extend the information available to your audience as they create a second screen which allows you to go into detail regarding the exact journey of the product.

In doing so you increase lines of communication with your audience and show them that you are addressing their ethical concerns by providing detailed information in a convenient and accessible way.

coffee packaging generation z

What Are The Best Materials For Gen Z Coffee Packaging?

Despite the impact of Covid-19 on consumer packaging demands, sustainability still tops the list of priorities for younger generations. 

When it comes to packaging, sustainable and environmentally friendly materials are a must, as you can be sure that Gen Zers will be paying attention to this element of their purchase.

Recyclable plastic options for coffee packaging include materials like low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polylactic acid (PLA) which can be easily reused as well as recycled. Instead of the traditional three to four layers, LDPE coffee bags need two, while using less energy and fewer raw materials during production.

Compostable and biodegradable materials have also become popular. Kraft paper and polylactic acid (PLA) packaging with water-based inks can be disposed of in industrial composting facilities where they will usually break down in as little as 90 days.

“When you’re designing packaging, it’s almost quite shocking if it’s not recyclable,” Roosa says. “Also, there’s the questions that customers ask: ‘How is this recyclable?’ ‘Where can I recycle it?’ ‘Is it compostable?’ It’s also becoming more and more important that the packaging can potentially be reused”.

generation z coffee

At MTPak Coffee, we cater to a range of different packaging preferences and work with you to design coffee packaging that accurately reflects your brand. We’ve worked with a range of specialty coffee roasters from around the world, designing packaging that’s recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable, while simultaneously preserving the freshness of the coffee inside.

With our expert knowledge of the industry, we can help you appeal to younger generations of coffee drinkers, whether selling single origin whole beans or RTD cold brew coffee.

For more information on our sustainable coffee packaging for Gen Z consumers, contact our team here.

MTPak Coffee

Photo credits: Deniz Karaman, Roosa Jalonen/The Gentlemen Baristas


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How To Design Coffee Packaging That Appeals To Generation Z

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