For specialty coffee roasters, it’s essential to do everything you can to protect your coffee once it’s been roasted. This involves not only limiting its exposure to environmental factors such as oxygen, moisture, and light, but also means ensuring it’s able to withstand long periods of time in storage and transit.
Multilayer packaging is a popular choice among roasters thanks to its stability, strength, and protective barrier properties. It is a flexible and versatile option that retains aesthetic appeal.
To find out more about multilayer packaging and its benefits for specialty roasters, I spoke with Laura Fornero, Social Media Manager for Producer Roaster Forum.
Why Do Coffee Roasters Use Multilayer Packaging?
While coffee is considered a “shelf stable dry good”, factors such as oxygen, light, and moisture can cause it to quickly lose its freshness, often as little as seven days after roasting.
In particular, oxidation can have a devastating effect on both flavour and aroma. When oxygen replaces the carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the beans during degassing, it alters the aromatic compounds present in coffee. This results in coffee that’s stale and flat-tasting. According to research by the Journal of Food Science, increasing the oxygen levels in coffee by as little as 1% can cause a 10% increase in the rate of degradation.
To prevent this, specialty roasters must use packaging that protects their coffee from exposure to oxygen, light, and moisture. They should also ensure their coffee is protected from the bumps and jolts involved in the transportation from roastery to cafés and consumers. Once it arrives at its destination, it should be able to be stored for up to 12 months.
In most cases, the simple solution is multilayer packaging. Multilayer packaging comprises composite materials that provide additional barrier properties, strength, and storage stability. It’s formed by coextrusion, lamination, or other coating technologies that enhance the protective qualities of materials and extend the shelf life of coffee.
Multilayer packaging was first designed in the 1950s by Procter & Gamble who used it to make collapsible tubes of toothpaste. Since then, it has been adopted for use in a range of goods, from drinks to pharmaceuticals. According to recent figures, more than 100 million tons of multilayer thermoplastics are produced globally each year.
For specialty roasters, multilayer packaging offers a flexible and versatile option for containing their coffee. It enables them to choose eye-catching designs using kraft paper or rice paper, while ensuring their coffee is well protected.
Multilayer structures are more effective at protecting coffee beans than single-layer structures, as a single layer of material doesn’t usually provide the necessary strength. To effectively protect and preserve coffee, packaging tends to have two layers as a minimum.
“Few materials can properly protect roast coffee on their own,” Laura says. “For example, kraft paper bags are eco-friendly, but without additional layers, the beans would be exposed to moisture, oxygen, and light.”
How Is Multilayer Packaging Made?
There are various ways of adding multiple layers to packaging materials, each one with their own advantages.
Coextrusion is a typical method of creating multilayer packaging. It is a process by which materials are melted into granule or pellet form, before being extruded through a die, cooled, and given a final finish. Coextrusion is a cost-effective and eco-friendly process, and the result is easy to reprocess, recycle, and integrate back in the system.
Lamination is another common process for adding layers, providing enhanced stability, strength, and function to materials. It’s done by bonding a multilayer coextruded lamination film to a material of choice. It has a longer lead time and lower production output than coextrusion, but uses less energy.
With both manufacturing techniques, the layers are microscopically thin and invisible to the naked eye. This creates a visually appealing, slim package that’s lightweight. This has obvious benefits for roasters looking to reduce their costs involved in transport, as well as lowering their carbon footprint from CO2 emissions.
The inner and outer layer of packaging performs different functions. The outer must be printable, provide structure, and protect against the elements. The inner layer must be food-safe and sealable.
Common inner layer materials include polyethylene (PE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE), while outer layers are typically kraft paper or rice paper. Sometimes a third middle ethylene-vinyl alcohol (EVOH) layer is used as an additional barrier against light and oxygen.
What To Consider Before Choosing Multilayer Coffee Packaging
Before choosing multilayer packaging, there are a few points that need to be considered.
Laura tells me that adding layers can sometimes make packaging difficult to recycle. “The recyclability of multilayer coffee bags largely depends on the materials used and the location of the facilities that will process them,” she says.
This is often the case for unbleached kraft and rice paper, two of the most commonly used materials for packaging coffee. They are biodegradable and made using renewable resources, making them popular choices for eco-friendly coffee bags.
However, to effectively protect the coffee, they require a second, inner layer, usually made of plastic or aluminium foil. To recycle the bags once they’re empty, the materials must first be separated; this is a process that not all recycling facilities can carry out.
Laura says that for roasters who want to show a commitment to sustainability, they can choose to reduce the layers to two or three to make it easier to recycle. Alternatively, roasters can offer a collection service that will pick up coffee pouches from consumers once they have finished all their coffee, and arrange recycling internally.
Modern Standard Coffee is one such company that offers this service. They work with US recycling company TerraCycle who collect used coffee bags for extrusion and pelletisation, before moulding them into various recycled plastic products.
If roasters have a limited budget or know they won’t be transporting coffee long distances, Laura suggests considering single-layer packaging. For example, those who have just started to sell coffee could use single layer kraft sample bags to test the market before investing in more robust packaging.
Not only will this help keep costs down in the early stages, it will also provide roasters with the opportunity to find the best packaging for their coffee.
At MTPak Coffee, we have a range of sustainable multilayer packaging options that will protect your coffee from moisture, light, oxygen, and other factors that affect quality.
Specialty roasters can choose from a range of materials, including kraft paper, rice paper, reinforced with multiple layers that can be easily separated and recycled. What’s more, our water-based printing inks and coatings use low volatile organic compounds, which are compostable and easily removed during the recycling process.
For more information on MTPak Coffee’s multilayer coffee packaging, contact our team here.
Stay updated about our products and services. Sign up to our free newsletter.