A guide to coffee packaging for small-batch roasters

TJ Grant
June 22, 2021
small batch coffee roasters

Naturally, the needs of a small-batch (or micro) roaster are significantly different to large commercial roasters. Not only do they operate on a far smaller scale, their target audience tends to place emphasis on alternative aspects of the coffee, such as processing method, freshness, and terroir.

As a result, small-batch roasters require packaging that complements their business model and caters to the demands of their customers. In a relatively saturated market, they need low MOQ packaging that protects their coffee, reflects their brand identity, and attracts attention on the shelf.

To learn more about coffee packaging for small-batch roasters, I spoke with the founder and managing director of Kofra Coffee Roasters in Norwich, José De León Guzmán.

Read next: Low minimum order quantities (MOQs) for packaging

micro roaster

Defining small-batch roasters: A focus on freshness & quality

According to Roast Magazine, a small-batch roaster is someone who roasts fewer than 100,000 lbs (around 45,000 kg) of coffee annually. Unlike commercial roasters, their focus is on catering to a small number of customers interested in specific characteristics of the coffee.

Because they tend to roast their coffee in small batches (typically under 150 lbs), it is generally associated with higher quality and freshness than large-scale roasters. The reasons for this are manyfold, including the evenness of the roast, and the time between the roasting and consuming.

José De León Guzmán is the founder and marketing director of Kofra Coffee Roasters, a small chain of specialty coffee shops based in Norwich, England. He opened his first location six years ago, before expanding into various neighbourhoods around the city. From the very beginning, his focus was on delivering consistently fresh and high-quality coffee.

He tells me that the key to this is roasting small batches of coffee at any one time. “Micro roasters tend to buy small roasters – 6kg is usually the size first-time roasters will buy – which allows, depending on the roast profile, the roasting of 4kg of coffee at a time,” he says.

“I love small-batch roasting because it allows me to experiment and customise roast profiles. It also leads to fresher coffee.”

Indeed, maintaining a lower coffee inventory and selling coffee quicker than large-scale roasters mean that customers will typically receive fresher coffee. Most small-scale roasters will roast to order, which means they minimise the time between roasting and brewing, a key determinant of freshness.

“Moving coffee quicker is a great advantage because it allows roasters to be much more dynamic and makes competition a more interesting field to navigate,” José explains.

sustainable coffee packaging

Using packaging to tell stories

While coffee packaging is vital to the transportation and protection of coffee, it also serves an important role as a marketing tool for brands.

Third wave coffee consumers are interested not only in drinking fresher, higher quality coffee, but also in different aspects of the coffee, such as where it was grown, how it was processed, and who roasted it.

José believes that small-batch roasters should use their packaging as a means of putting out their brand story and telling consumers more about the coffee.

“Apart from the origin, altitude, processing, and the name of the producer, I would encourage a system of traceability, such as a batch number or a codename for the profile they used,” he says.

The more information a consumer has, the more likely they are to form an attachment to the brand. Recent research also shows that storytelling can be 22 times more memorable than facts, helping to consolidate a brand or product in people’s minds.

“Packaging is the bridge between the end-consumer and the roaster,” José explains. “It facilitates a conversation between both, while developing brand loyalty.”

roststatte coffee

The importance of sustainable packaging

As concerns over the environmental impact of buying habits grow, sustainable packaging has become a priority for coffee roasters, both big and small. 

According to a survey by McKinsey & Company, 55% of US respondents say they are extremely or very concerned about the environmental impact of product packaging. Therefore, it is vital for the long-term success of specialty roasters to search for sustainable alternatives when it comes to packaging their coffee.

However, with freshness at the top of the agena for many small-batch roasters, there is often some doubt around the ability of sustainable packaging to protect the coffee from external factors, such as oxygen and light.

Some feel as though recyclable materials are less effective at preventing exposure, causing their coffee to quickly lose aroma and become stale. To combat this, José says that when choosing coffee packaging, he always asks himself the question: “Does this packaging do justice to the beans I am roasting?”.

While it’s true that some materials by themselves are not ideal for packaging coffee, when these materials are laminated or multilayered, their barrier properties improve substantially. 

In a recent study on how packaging affects the freshness of coffee, recyclable bags were found to be better at preserving characteristics than biodegradable bags and standard paper bags with aluminium foil linings.

low moq coffee packaging

Low minimum order quantity (MOQ) packaging

One of the persistent problems for small-batch roasters is minimum order quantities (MOQs) for packaging. MOQs are the smallest number of coffee bags that can be bought in a single order.

While plain stock bags may have a relatively small MOQ, custom printed options will typically have an MOQ of 10,000 units due to the costs involved in producing print rollers. Packaging manufacturers need to ensure they can cover their costs and it’s often not financially viable to take orders for any less than 10,000 units. 

However, this doesn’t align with the needs of most small-batch roasters, who generally want to remain agile, sell a limited amount of coffee, and offer produce from multiple different origins. Storage space in small roasteries may also be limited, leaving no room for stacks of empty coffee bags.

“At Kofra, we have an average of 64 different coffees per year,” José tells me. “So we need packaging options with low MOQs.”

Thankfully, UV printing technology has allowed printing manufacturers such as MTPak Coffee to offer fully customised coffee bags with MOQs as low as 500 units. This allows small-batch roasters to easily switch between packaging designs without spending a large portion of their budget on custom print rollers.

What’s more, UV printing enables a fast turnaround, sometimes as little as five working days, which means small-batch roasters can quickly meet the demands of their customers. 

sustainable coffee packaging

At MTPak Coffee, we understand how important it is for small-batch and micro roasters to meet the demands of their customers. Building a loyal customer base is crucial to long term success, and that means providing consistently fresh and high-quality coffee on time.

Our range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options mean that you can order as little as 500 fully customised units in just five working days. Our UV printing technology is designed specifically for small-batch roasters who want to remain agile while ensuring their coffee stands out on the shelf.

For more information on our coffee packaging for small-batch roasters, contact our team.

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