Roasters have a wide choice when it comes to packaging their coffee. Not only can they pick the specific material, they can also select the size, shape, colour, and additional features.
However, over the last few years, one of the most popular packaging options has undoubtedly been stand-up pouches. Versatile, lightweight, and affordable, they are effective at preserving the coffee’s freshness and helping it stand out on the shelf.
Today, the global stand-up packaging market is valued at more than $20 billion and is only set to grow further. But what’s driving this popularity? And how does it compare to other, more traditional types of packaging?
A brief history of coffee packaging
Coffee packaging has gone through several significant changes since the first, beeswax-treated sacks.
The earliest form of coffee packaging can be traced to the early 18th century. During this time, ground coffee in France was being packaged in sacks of greased leather or bags with beeswax exteriors.
Towards the end of the century, bags made from “jute” had become the most popular way of transporting large amounts of coffee over long distances, before being transferred into narrow-mouthed pots and jars that promised to preserve the coffee’s qualities for up to a year.
Then, in 1812, the first commercial metal canning factory was established in Bermondsey, England, which, among other goods, started being used to package roasted coffee.
The concept soon caught on in the United States with the launch of “Osborn’s Celebrated Prepared Java Coffee” in 1863. This was one of the earliest packaged coffees sold directly to consumers.
The early 1900s saw the introduction of vacuum packing, a technique used to remove oxygen and keep the coffee airtight, while Illy Coffee adopted the concept of filling containers with inert gas rather than air, allowing them to export coffee across Europe.
Although flexible packaging was believed to have been around since the second century B.C, its widespread use in the coffee sector wasn’t adopted until much later.
Defined as packaging made from non-rigid materials, it offers an efficient, versatile, and cost-effective way of transporting and storing their coffee.
Behind its popularity – and the reason it replaced tins and paper bags as the go-to packaging choice – is in part thanks to the invention of the degassing valve in the 1960s.
The degassing valve is a one-way vent that allows CO2 to escape without letting oxygen enter. Small, aesthetic, and easy to fit, it revolutionised coffee packaging and has allowed roasters to opt for multilayer pouches that prevent exposure to harmful externalities.
What are stand-up coffee bags?
Flexible coffee packaging comes in a range of shapes and styles, from flat-bottom pouches to side gusset bags. However, one of the most popular options among roasters is stand-up coffee bags.
Characterised by a W-shaped gusset that can be opened out to form a sturdy base, stand-up coffee bags have been used in the coffee sector for years.
They come in a variety of sizes and materials, from kraft paper to low-density polyethylene (LDPE), while they can be fitted with additional layers for added protection. This helps to keep out oxygen, heat, moisture, and light, thus prolonging the shelf life of the coffee inside.
Some stand-up coffee pouches come with features such as spouts and resealable zippers, and most will use a degassing valve to preserve the freshness of the product inside.
For added convenience, roasters can choose to include a tear notch, or “easy tear” option, to make opening the coffee as simple and efficient for customers as possible.
A big advantage to stand-up coffee bags is their versatility. Not only can they be customised to clearly display branding on the shelf, they are also letterbox-compatible, making them a good option for online orders and coffee subscriptions.
How do stand-up coffee bags compare to other forms of packaging?
Over the last few decades, flexible stand-up coffee pouches have replaced many of the more rigid packaging types.
Their versatility, affordability, and effectiveness at preserving freshness, among other things, has made them an immensely popular choice. However, they’re also being put forward increasingly for their environmental benefits.
A recent study by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) compared three types of coffee packaging – a steel can, an HDPE canister, and a flexible stand-up pouch – across various environmental factors.
The stand-up pouch was made from a combination of LDPE, PET, and aluminium foil and was designed to hold 340g (12oz) of coffee.
The study found that during its life cycle, the steel can uses 16 times the amount of water as the stand-up flexible pouch, while the HDPE cannister uses twice as much.
For steel, the considerable water usage stemmed predominantly from the material development stage, when large amounts of water are used to cool the metal. For HDPE, it was due to the injection moulding process.
Greenhouse gas emissions & fossil fuel consumption
According to LCA’s findings, the HDPE canister and steel can produce four and seven times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions respectively compared to the stand-up flexible pouches.
The carbon impact was found to be lower for a lighter stand-up flexible pouch that holds more of the product and uses less material.
It also used fewer fossil fuels, at 6,654 megajoule (MJ) equivalent. This was compared to 36,809 for the steel can and 41,130 for the HDPE canister.
The study states that while many flexible packaging formats are not yet recovered and recycled in any significant amount, “they still result in a substantial reduction in the amount of material sent to landfill versus other types of packaging.”
This is based on the study’s findings, which reveal that for the HDPE canister to have the same net discards as the flexible stand-up pouch, the recycling rate would need to jump from 34% to 84%. For the steel can, it would need to increase from 71% to 93%.
Flexible stand-up coffee bags have grown to become one of the most popular forms of packaging for roasters. Not only do they offer ample branding space, they are affordable, lightweight, and preserve the coffee’s freshness.
If you’re thinking about switching to stand-up pouches to package your coffee, MTPak Coffee can help you. Our expert design team can guide you all the way from concept to completion, where they can offer advice on materials, sizes, and additional components.