What is flexible coffee packaging?

Jane Merchant
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May 18, 2021
flexible coffee bags

Flexible packaging dominates today’s global packaging market. Characterised by its non-rigidity and versatility, it’s used to protect and transport a variety of goods, including chocolate bars, juice pouches, and single-use detergents.

In the coffee industry, flexible packaging has been used for both whole bean and ground coffee for decades. In addition to being affordable, convenient, lightweight, and hygienic, it offers specialty roasters a versatile surface on which to print their designs and attract customers.

However, despite the obvious benefits of flexible packaging, some coffee businesses still opt for rigid glass or plastic packaging. Find out why specialty roasters should consider switching to flexible packaging for their coffee.

Read next: Does Recyclable Packaging Affect The Characteristics Of Coffee?

flexible coffee packaging

The evolution of coffee packaging

Over the centuries, packaging has played an essential role protecting and storing coffee. It has enabled roasters and cafés to safely distribute their products far and wide, ensuring it arrives at consumers with all its original qualities intact.

When coffee packaging first emerged in the 18th century, its main purpose was to get coffee from A to B. But by the mid 1800s, its marketing potential began to develop thanks to the efforts of James Arbuckle and Maxwell House.

Arbuckle’s one pound paper coffee packages carried distinctive yellow labels with large red lettering that became familiar to coffee drinkers up and down the United States. Maxwell, meanwhile, had started displaying the tagline, “Good to the last drop”, across all its tins of coffee.

The 20th century ushered in a new focus on the “freshness” of coffee and, with it, packaging that would effectively preserve it. Multilayer pouches lined with aluminium foil became increasingly widespread, while Italian company Goglio introduced the degassing valve, a revolutionary one-way vent for releasing CO2.

Today, sustainable flexible packaging is the go-to for tens of thousands of roasters and coffee businesses worldwide. Favoured for its versatility, affordability, and widespread availability, flexible coffee packaging’s role as a protective layer and vehicle for transporting the coffee is as important as its role as a marketing tool for brands.

flexible coffee packaging

The benefits of flexible coffee packaging

Aside from items such as alcohols, perfumes, and confectionery, flexible packaging is the top choice for food and beverages. Not only is it hygienic and cost-effective, it’s often considerably more environmentally friendly to produce and transport than glass and tin packaging. This is especially true of when made from kraft paper, rice paper, or polylactic acid (PLA).

One of the main reasons for this is its lightweightedness. Flexible packaging is designed to use as little material as possible to package goods, ensuring a high packaging-to-product ratio. This has the dual benefit of reducing the amount of waste and keeping down carbon emissions involved in transportation. Large quantities of flexible packaging can be packed and shipped in single containers, helping to limit the number of journeys between supplier and roaster.

Flexible packaging is also favoured for its convenience and versatility. For coffee, it can be adapted to include multiple layers and additional components such as degassing valves and resealable zippers to preserve freshness. For example, kraft paper can be laminated with PLA to improve its barrier properties and prevent exposure to oxygen, heat, light, and moisture. Modified atmosphere and vacuum packaging can also be used.

Research from Arthritis Australia shows that 92% of customers surveyed have split or damaged a product trying to open it. It also shows that over a fifth of customers will seek out a competitor’s products if their packaging is easier to open and close. Therefore, flexible coffee packaging presents a good option for roasters who want to make their product as convenient as possible for consumers.

Challenges to consider before making the switch

Flexible packaging is used by the majority of specialty roasters whether selling whole bean or ground coffee. But despite its obvious benefits, there are a few things to consider before making the switch.

One of the most important is deciding which materials to use to maximise its eco-friendly qualities. For example, flexible plastic packaging accounts for around a third of total plastic packaging produced in the UK thanks to its lightness, versatility, and recyclability.

However, studies show that this type of packaging often has low recycling rates. Compared to materials like glass and paper, these recyclable plastics are not accepted by all councils, which means they may end up going to landfill instead. This is because to be properly recycled, each layer must be separated, a process that many facilities do not have the equipment to carry out.

To ensure flexible packaging is properly recycled, some specialty coffee roasters offer a collection scheme. The idea of this is to encourage customers to return their empty pouches to the roastery, where they will then be taken to a recycling facility that can deal with them.

Scotland-based Modern Standard Coffee is just one example of a roastery that offers this service. Their customers are asked to post back their empty coffee bags for collection by Terracycle, an innovative recycling company that specialises in hard-to-recycle waste. 

The collected bags undergo extrusion and pelletisation , before being moulded into various recycled plastic products. To incentivise customers, Modern Standard Coffee sends a code for 10p off the next order for each bag sent back, as well as refunding the full cost of postage.

coffee equipment

Flexible coffee packaging has been around for decades and has grown to become the most popular option among specialty roasters. Versatile, sturdy, and easy to customise, it both protects the coffee inside and allows roasters to showcase their brand identity.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of flexible packaging for specialty coffee. Our selection of biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable materials will help reduce your carbon footprint, while communicating a commitment to sustainability. All our pouches are fully customisable to your needs, from the colours and images, to the shape and components.

For more information on our flexible coffee packaging, contact our team.

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