Why should micro coffee roasters care about sustainability?

Jane Merchant
July 16, 2021
micro coffee roaster

The specialty coffee industry has exposed consumers to a wider range of coffees, helped producers fetch better prices, and created unique opportunities for micro-roasters. Additionally, it’s always working towards increased sustainability and transparency in the supply chain.

While the coffee industry has been hit hard by Covid-19, many micro-roasters have survived by pivoting to online sales. However, further adjustments may be required to remain competitive once demand returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Sustainability might seem like a differentiating factor better left to bigger roasters with more time and money, but it’s something micro-roasters could benefit from focusing on today. Let’s explore what sustainability means and how micro-roasters can focus on it.

Micro roasters offer consumers the chance to connect more intimately with the story behind their coffee

Why size doesn’t matter when it comes to sustainability

Consumers want to explore more types and varieties of coffee, but few of the world’s commercial coffee chains provide this. It’s why the number of specialty micro-roasters is rising in major markets like Europe and North America.

Micro-roasters are best placed to offer customers high-scoring single origin coffees. They’re also well placed to build direct trade relationships with producers and can detail how and where a coffee was grown – something customers have shown a willingness to pay a premium for.

Most micro-roasters don’t plan to remain small forever. Growth is positive and associated with higher profit margins and a greater reach. While some of the changes larger roasters make might seem unfeasible, there are a few changes that even the smallest coffee roaster can make today.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected most businesses. For those who have managed to remain in operation, it’s apparent that there’s little chance of things going “back to normal”.

The World Economic Forum says that going forward, businesses must “manage climate-related risks if we’re to create a world that’s sustainable and well-equipped to combat impending crises”.

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Despite these calls, however, many businesses continue to view sustainability as someone else’s problem. 

Businesses that neglect sustainability put themselves at a disadvantage. Research by NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business shows that products marketed as sustainable grow their sales 5.6 times faster than non-sustainable alternatives. 

The same research also shows that coffee marketed as sustainable has one of the highest shares in its category, which means that customers are already purchasing coffee that meets their eco-friendly standards.

When it comes to coffee, this commitment to sustainability goes beyond the actual product. It means that even if the coffee itself was ethically sourced and sustainability grown, customers will consider its transportation, marketing, and packaging as part of the brand’s environmental impact.

There are a number of little changes micro roasters can make to promote sustainability

Benefits of integrating sustainability principles into your micro-roastery

Few studies have been undertaken to determine the exact financial benefits of integrating sustainability principles into a roastery. It’s something that will vary from business to business, depending on size, budget, and other unique factors.

For instance, large roasters with a wider reach and bigger investment budget could transition to more eco-friendly equipment, or generate enough roasting byproducts to be reused or recycled elsewhere. Bellwether Coffee in California has switched to using electric roasters, reducing each roasting cycle’s carbon footprint by an average of 90%. 

In the UK, Union Coffee Roasters recycles thousands of kilograms of coffee chaff, supplying it to farmers to use as cattle bedding. They also collect the used coffee generated during barista training sessions to be recycled as biofuels.

For micro-roasters, replacing equipment can be expensive. It also might not be feasible to collect roasting waste for recycling or reusing. This doesn’t mean that sustainability should be neglected, but that micro-roasters should consider smaller and simpler ways to make sustainable changes. For most micro-roasters, it can start with packaging.

Swapping plastic packaging for recyclable or compostable packaging is a simple way of improving sustainability

Why micro-roasters should start with sustainable packaging

Traditionally, coffee packaging is made from fossil fuel-based plastics or recyclable plastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Switching to compostable and biodegradable packaging is a simple but effective change that micro-roasters can make. 

Amamus Coffee is a UK roaster that has followed this path. They previously used single-use plastics lined with aluminium to package their roast coffee. As these bags don’t decompose and usually end up going to landfills, they switched to fully compostable bags. If the coffee is used within a month of delivery, its quality remains unaffected. 

This might seem like a small change, but it has a significant impact. A recent study commissioned by the European Paper Packaging Alliance revealed that paper-based single-use products use less fresh water to produce, while resulting in fewer CO2 emissions. They also use fewer fossil fuels and produce less particle pollution.

Micro-roasters might hesitate to implement sustainable packaging over concerns that it won’t pay off, or that it won’t contain their coffee adequately and preserve its quality. However, research shows that while the cost of implementing sustainable packaging is initially higher, it does become lower over time.

Essentially, making the switch is something that will eventually pay off for your micro-roastery and benefit the environment in the process.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable coffee packaging options for micro-roasters

The switch from plastic packaging to sustainable materials is worth the initial investment. It’s also a step worth taking before your business scales up and the process becomes more complicated.

It will also help your business establish its eco-credentials to its current audience, which will help grow customer loyalty and demonstrate that your commitment to sustainability has existed from the very beginning.

The process doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive if you partner with a packaging expert with experience in sustainable coffee packaging solutions. At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options specifically for micro-roasters, available in recyclable materials such as LDPE.

With a quick turnaround and MOQ of just 500 units, it’s the perfect choice for those looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

For more information on our sustainable coffee packaging, you can contact our team.

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