How To Design Coffee Packaging For International Distribution

Kahwei Yoong
March 19, 2021
shipping coffee overseas

For many specialty coffee roasters, expanding into the international market is part of the natural progression of their business. It offers an opportunity to not only broaden their customer base, but also diversify their product range and gain global exposure for their brand.

What’s more, with the advancement of ecommerce in recent years, it has become easier than ever to access foreign markets. According to Statista, there were 1.92 billion digital buyers in 2020, with that number predicted to grow to 2.14 billion in 2021.

However, before specialty coffee roasters begin offering their products abroad, there are a number of factors to consider. One of the most important is how they will package their coffee, from materials and components, to the design of the bag itself.

Read on to find out how to create the perfect coffee packaging for international distribution.

See also: Sea vs. Air: What’s The Best Way To Ship Your Coffee?

international distribution of coffee

What Are The Challenges Of Distributing Coffee Overseas?

Selling coffee for domestic consumption is relatively simple. Green beans are roasted, packaged, and distributed to cafés, consumers, and grocery stores by either a delivery service or the roaster themselves. 

The roaster usually has good knowledge of the market as well as insight into the culture, language, and preferences of the people who buy their coffee. Any problems with delivery or the quality of the coffee upon arrival can usually be quickly and easily resolved.

Selling coffee abroad is significantly more complex. Not only do roasters tend to have less control once their coffee leaves the roastery, it also becomes more difficult to ensure maximum freshness for consumers. Therefore, prior to offering international distribution, specialty roasters should consider the following challenges:

Transport conditions

Whether distributing your coffee via ship or plane, the conditions during transit can be harsh, unnatural, and potentially harmful to your product. In addition to bumps and jolts, it’s not uncommon for coffee to be exposed to extreme temperatures and high levels of moisture.

While air conditioned units may be available on ships, it can end up costing more money than it’s worth, particularly for small to medium-sized roasteries. With air freight, cabin pressure can adversely affect the quality of coffee and may interfere with the degassing valves on packaging. This can result in coffee losing its freshness before it’s reached the consumer.


When coffee is distributed domestically, roasters can usually predict when their product will arrive at the consumer and roast their coffee accordingly. For example, UK-based coffee subscription service Pact roast their beans on the day they receive a customer’s order and ensure they’re delivered the next day.

When shipping internationally, it can be much more difficult to put an exact date on when the delivery will reach its destination. Problems at ports can cause hold ups for weeks, while adverse weather conditions can also lead to delays.

Each country has its own set of rules and regulations for imports, which means it may come under greater scrutiny and handling at borders. For roasters, there is a risk their coffee will arrive at the consumer stale or well after the due date.

Cultural & Linguistic Differences

Every country around the world has its own set of socially accepted values, beliefs, and rules of conduct, most of which have developed over centuries. While it isn’t necessary for roasters to know every single custom, they should do everything they can to make sure their product adheres to the cultural norms of the country in which they are distributing their coffee.

Different languages must also be taken into account. Coffee consumers around the world are becoming increasingly interested in the story behind the coffee they drink. Therefore, roasters must provide as much information as they can wherever their coffee is sold.

selling coffee internationally

Designing Coffee Packaging For Foreign Markets

Packaging plays a vital role in the distribution of coffee, not just in protecting the product but also as an important marketing tool. It’s often the first contact consumers have with a brand, which means it needs to have an immediate impact.

For coffee sold internationally, it’s even more crucial to use packaging to promote the brand. Roasters are usually unable to provide international consumers with the same in-person, point-of-purchase experience they can at home. The responsibility, therefore, falls on packaging to act as both brand ambassador and “silent salesman”.

To effectively connect with consumers, coffee packaging design must be culturally sensitive. It needs to strike a chord with people and convince them that your brand is trustworthy.

In his pioneering research on cross-border cultural differences, Professor Geert Hofstede defines six “dimensions of culture” that distinguish one culture from another. He uses a scoring system based on the dimensions, which he suggests can be used to gain insight into different markets. This is invaluable for specialty coffee roasters, who can use the ranking to adjust the way they present their brand to consumers.

For example, in countries where people are more community-based, coffee brands may have more chance of being understood if they appeal to the collective rather than individual needs of the people. This might be through illustrations of people holding hands or producers working together on a farm.

sustainable packaging

Along the same lines as cultural sensitivity is language. By changing the language on your pouches, it can help build trust and add legitimacy for your brand. Some companies even adapt the name of their product to cater to foreign markets.

Coca Cola’s low calorie option is perhaps the most well-known example of this. Throughout Europe, the drink is branded as “Coca Cola Light”, whereas in the US it is branded as “Diet Coke”. This is because in Europe, the word “light” is associated with healthy alternatives more than the word “diet”.

Small to medium sized roasteries don’t necessarily have to go to such extremes, but providing information in a country’s given language will go a long way in securing loyal customers abroad.

In addition to the visual design of their packaging, roasters also need to ensure their coffee is protected during the long journey between roastery and consumer. Conditions during transit can be harsh, while delays at borders are not uncommon. Therefore, roasters need to make sure their product will survive the trip and arrive at the consumer in the best condition possible.

Using sturdy, multilayer packaging with degassing valves will help extend the shelf life of your coffee and preserve its freshness long after it has been roasted. Multilayer packaging will prevent exposure to external factors such as oxygen, light, and moisture, while degassing valves allow the coffee to release built-up carbon dioxide (CO2).

With MTPak Coffee’s range of sustainable packaging materials, you can design lightweight coffee pouches that will keep transport costs down and ensure the coffee inside is protected. Our quad seal pouches, for example, are ideal for international distribution as they allow more coffee to be transported while minimising the amount of material used.

We offer a range of sustainable coffee packaging options, whether for local or international distribution. Our packaging is fully customisable, from design and material to labels and coffee pouch type.

For more information on our sustainable packaging, contact our team here.

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