In 2016, Mark Zhou founded MTPak Coffee after noticing a rapid increase in the number of specialty coffee brands in Asia. Five years later, his company is one of the most widely recognised coffee packaging providers in the industry, directly supplying roasters from Europe to North America to Australasia.
Today, their commitment to sustainability and innovation is helping the coffee industry work towards its goal of creating a circular economy, while allowing specialty roasters to reach their customers like never before. This is their story.
How Did MTPak Coffee Begin?
It all started at Hotelex Shanghai. As Asia’s largest annual hotel and catering equipment trade show, Hotelex attracts companies and professionals from all around the world.
In attendance at the 2015 show was Mark Zhou, a young businessman and third wave coffee enthusiast who had recently founded his own packaging company. As he wandered around the show, he noticed a number of coffee brands that he hadn’t heard of before.
“In 2015 a lot of new coffee brands appeared, which is amazing because before that we only knew Starbucks and Costa,” he says. “We didn’t really know what specialty coffee was.”
Returning to Hotelex Shanghai in 2016, Mark noticed that the number of specialty coffee brands had risen yet again, this time to between 150 and 200 companies.
“The numbers just kept going up. At the time, we were mainly supplying flexible packaging and only a few coffee bags. But after the show, I realised there was a lot of demand for high-quality coffee packaging,” he explains.
Expansion & Sustainability Goals
After setting his sights on the specialty coffee market, Mark expanded MTPak Coffee’s operations in Shanghai and abroad. In 2017 his brother joined the team, helping to oversee operations in the domestic market, while Jack Zhai (now marketing director) helped expand the business overseas. Offices were opened in Europe and Australia.
Mark explains that it took a little while for the coffee community to recognise MTPak Coffee as reputable and trustworthy, particularly by those outside of Shanghai.
“Initially, people were sceptical,” he says. “But when we explained we could provide the same high quality package that roasters and coffee shops were already receiving but at a lower price, more and more companies came to us.
“Realistically it takes three or four years to build a solid foundation. We were lucky because despite various hurdles along the way, people stuck by and trusted us.”
As operations expanded and their client portfolio grew, more and more people joined the MTPak Coffee team. The sales team went from just three people to more than 40 in the space of a few years. Specialty roasters, particularly in North America, Australia, and Europe, were taking note.
“We launched a new marketing strategy in 2019, which included redesigning the website and creating an Education Centre for roasters,” Mark says. “People started talking more about MTPak Coffee and our followers across LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter grew.”
One of the main driving forces behind the growth was the decision to offer fully sustainable coffee packaging. Concerns over the impact of plastic coffee bags on the environment were increasing, leading to calls for more environmentally friendly alternatives.
As a result, MTPak Coffee prioritised biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable pouches. They focused on materials such as kraft paper and polylactic acid (PLA), sourced recyclable degassing valves, and secured certifications from TÜV Austria.
Mark explains that achieving a circular economy in which resources are in constant use is one of the most important aims of the coffee industry and plays a key role in working towards UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“We’ve been able to get ahead of competitors because we understand how important it is to achieve a circular economy,” he says. “Not only for the roasters and consumers, but also for the future of coffee.”
As well as a circular economy, their goal is to help specialty roasters reduce their carbon footprints. Many brands have already stated their intention to become carbon neutral as soon as 2025, and sustainable packaging is a big part of reaching that target. This plays into MTPak Coffee’s vision as being part of something bigger than themselves.
“We’re more than just a packaging company,” Mark says. “We’re part of the wider coffee community.”
Direct Trade For Coffee Packaging
In the coffee sector, “direct trade” is often talked about between roasters and farmers; sourcing green beans without any intermediaries has basically become the norm. However, for one reason or another, direct trade for packaging rarely comes into the equation.
Noticing this, Mark saw an opportunity to not only introduce high-quality sustainable packaging solutions to the market, but also to leave out the large-scale distributors and focus on working directly with the roasters themselves.
“Direct trade for coffee packaging is important because it allows roasters to communicate their needs to the people who are actually manufacturing the products,” Mark explains. “It’s a simple concept but very few packaging companies offer it. They prefer to go through large distributors who are often less equipped to handle client requests.”
New Trends & The Micro Roaster Solution
Last year, the outbreak of Covid-19 caused people to change the way they consumed coffee. Many coffee shops and cafés were forced to close due to widespread lockdowns, while a large portion of the global population took to working from home.
Rather than buying coffee on their way to the office, people suddenly started brewing their own coffee at home, using equipment such as V60s, Aeropresses, and cafetieres. According to Mark, the pandemic also caused drip coffee bags and online orders to soar in popularity.
“Because more people are drinking coffee from home, online orders have become incredibly popular,” he says. “They’re quick and convenient; people can order the coffee right from their phones.
“The other trend we’ve seen, particularly in Asia, is the growth of drip coffee bags. With these, you can enjoy great specialty coffee in a very simple way.”
MTPak Coffee responded to the changes brought by Covid-19 by adapting their offerings. Roasters can now request drip coffee bags alongside their regular pouches to cater to the growing numbers of at-home coffee consumers. Their sturdy, multilayer coffee pouches have also been designed to survive the journey between roastery and consumer.
As for their latest projects, Mark is excited to announce a new printing solution for micro roasters. Based on an innovative UV printing technique that can deliver high-quality packaging in just a few hours, the “micro roaster solution” is angled at those looking for low minimum order quantities (MOQs).
“Before, small scale roasters would buy plain stock bags with a single-colour logo,” Mark explains. “Although this is a good option, the new UV printing technique provides coffee bags with high-quality, multicolour designs. It’s ideal for roasters who want to display their branding without committing to a large order.”
Since 2016, MTPak Coffee has grown from a small packaging supplier to one of the most widely recognised coffee packaging brands in the world. By keeping up with the latest trends, listening to roasters, and responding quickly to changes in the industry, they’ve been able to stay on top in a highly competitive market.
With sustainability and innovation at their core, their packaging solutions have helped to improve the circular economy of coffee and reduce the carbon footprint of specialty roasters around the globe.