Choosing the perfect packaging for coffee can be challenging. Roasters must ensure it protects the quality of their beans and caters to the ever-changing demands of consumers, while remaining within budget. It should also reflect brand identity and stand out from competitors when on the shelf.
In recent years, sustainability has risen to become one of the most important factors when deciding on packaging. According to a 2020 report by McKinsey & Company, more than 55% of US consumers said they’re either extremely or very concerned about the environmental impact of product packaging.
However, sustainable packaging isn’t enough to guarantee the success of a product: it must also preserve the freshness of the coffee and provide information on the product, brand, and story.
To find out more about what to prioritise when choosing coffee packaging, I spoke with three-time barista champion and MTPak Ambassador, Ishan Natalie.
See also: Using The Colour Of Coffee Packaging To Shape Consumer Perceptions
Green Packaging: How Important Is Sustainability?
Over the past few years, sustainability has shot to the top of the agenda in almost every industry, from fashion to agriculture. Growing concerns over the effects of global warming in particular have led a drive towards more eco-friendly practices, with many consumers making concerted efforts to change their purchasing behaviour.
According to research by Trivium Packaging, 74% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, while half will actively avoid products that use “environmentally harmful” packaging. As such, it has become crucial for specialty roasters to adopt sustainable packaging for their coffee. Although packaging only accounts for a small percentage of coffee’s carbon footprint, single-use plastics have come increasingly under the spotlight, prompting widespread change.
Recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable materials have gradually replaced conventional petroleum-based plastics as the go-to choice for roasters. Kraft paper, which comes from renewable sources, has become particularly popular thanks to the ease with which it biodegrades.
The lining of coffee pouches has changed too. While aluminium foil or polyethylene (PE) plastic used to dominate, many roasters have now switched to polylactic acid (PLA), a plant-based bioplastic made from cornstarch and maize. It offers the same protective qualities as PE plastic, but will completely break down in a commercial composting facility in just 90 days.
However, it’s not just consumer demands that are driving the push for more sustainable packaging. Ishan Natalie, who’s worked in the coffee sector for more than two decades and won multiple barista championships, tells me that many feel as though it’s their moral duty.
“A lot of roasters feel pressure to use sustainable packaging due to the environmental concerns of consumers,” he says. “But many are guided by a moral compass to improve the industry and be less wasteful, too. In most cases, it’s a personal choice more than a professional choice.”
Indeed, a number of studies have revealed how devastating it could be for the coffee industry if environmental concerns are ignored. For example, a recent report details how climate change could cause Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer, to lose nearly a third of all arable land for growing coffee by 2070.
Therefore, it’s important not just for the success of a coffee business, but for the industry as a whole that roasters factor in sustainability when choosing coffee packaging.
Why Does Coffee Packaging Need To Preserve Freshness?
The moment coffee is roasted, the steady decline of freshness begins. External factors including oxygen, light, moisture, and heat all start to affect the coffee, causing it to lose aromatic compounds and become stale.
As a specialty roaster, it’s your job to prevent exposure to these externalities and preserve freshness right up until the point of consumption. If not, consumers may decide to try other coffee brands with a longer shelf life.
In a survey by McKinsey & Company, a group of consumers from ten different countries all ranked “shelf life” as one of the most important factors in product packaging. For every country, from Germany to Japan, it was placed above factors such as durability, appearance, environmental impact.
Ishan tells me that over the last several years, the emphasis on consuming coffee within a few days of roasting has grown.
“More and more roasters try to sell and market coffees to be consumed as close to roast date as possible,” he explains. “They want to maximise the experience for customers by ensuring that as many of the original, unimpaired qualities remain, especially aroma. This is because 85% of a coffee’s flavours are derived from aroma.”
One of the main challenges for roasters is how to let coffee degas without exposing it to the oxidising effects of its surroundings. Degassing is a process by which roasted coffee releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other volatile gases built-up during roasting. As Ishan points out, it can have a considerable impact on the development of a coffee’s flavour and can “heighten aroma”.
Most coffees have an optimal in which the level of CO2 is at its peak in terms of flavour and aroma. However, to arrive at this point, the coffee needs time to degas without being exposed to external factors.
Choosing multilayer packaging fitted with degassing valves is an effective way of giving coffee time to rest before being consumed. The degassing valve (a one-way vent that releases CO2 inside the bag without letting oxygen in) prevents the packaging from rupturing, while the multilayers add strength and prevent exposure to light and moisture.
Not only does this extend the shelf life of coffee, it also protects it during journeys from the roastery to the consumer or café. Other components, such as resealable zippers and aluminium ties, are useful for preserving freshness once the coffee has been opened.
Packaging Design: The Silent Salesman
When it’s done right, packaging can sell your product more effectively than any other form of marketing. It’s often the first point of contact customers have with your brand and it can reveal a considerable amount of information about the product.
“Coffee packaging is the single most important marketing tool for roasters,” Ishan says. “Consumers are heavily influenced by the visual aesthetics of products, from colours to textures.”
Indeed, research carried out by Coffee Sensorium found that the colour of packaging can influence perceptions of flavour. The colour red, for example, indicates sweetness, while blue is associated with milder flavours. As coffee is a multisensory experience, this can dramatically affect how consumers feel towards your product.
However, it also needs to stand out on the shelf. With so many specialty coffee brands appearing in both supermarkets and cafés, it can be difficult to stand out. Ishan tells me roasters should highlight the distinct characteristics and put it in front of consumers in an obvious way.
“Generally, the best coffee packaging has bold, standout fonts informing the customer of the origin of the coffee and the flavour notes,” he explains. “This can be supported perhaps by images that reflect the flavour notes to strengthen the customer’s emotional association with that flavour.”
This is important as consumers typically only spend a few seconds deciding whether to buy a product or not. Offering the most relevant information in multiple forms is an effective way of encouraging sales.
Ishan also makes a point of the functionality of coffee packaging. From his perspective, when packaging is designed in a way that makes it as convenient and easy to use as possible, it’s likely people will want to buy it.
“Coffee packaging should be attractive but functional,” he says. “It needs to be easy to handle for dispensing, and putting overdosed coffee back without a fuss. But it should also make a statement.”
There are lots of factors to consider when it comes to choosing coffee packaging. Sustainability is still one of the most pressing concerns for many roasters, but preserving the freshness of coffee and standing out on the shelf are also important.
At MTPak Coffee, we can help you design coffee packaging that maximises sales, protects your coffee, and reduces your carbon footprint. Our range of recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable coffee pouches can be customised with artwork of your choice, while you can also choose from additional components, such as BPA-free degassing valves, transparent windows, and resealable zippers.
For more information on our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team here
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