A guide to letterbox-compatible coffee bags

Jane Merchant
August 20, 2021
letterbox-compatible coffee bags

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, coffee-drinking habits have changed. The widespread closure of offices and cafés led many to start brewing their own coffee from the comfort of their home.

Online orders for beans and brewing equipment soared, with nearly one third of US consumers claiming they tried to replicate a favourite coffee shop beverage using their own resources.

While this has allowed many specialty roasters to maintain sales, it has also presented a new set of challenges. Chief among them is how they can adapt their coffee bags to not only ensure they’re delivered to the consumer undamaged, but also fit through letterboxes.

Yet with a range of different sizes and shapes, this can prove more tricky than anticipated. Deliveries can end up being sent back to the roastery, left out in the open, or stuffed through, causing damage to the beans inside.

Here’s how you can pick packaging that will facilitate effortless letterbox deliveries while also preserving its quality and promoting your brand.

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coffee home delivery
Product returns are an expense for roasters that could eat into profit margins

Why is it important to adapt the size of your coffee bags?

Choosing the right-sized coffee bags is of the utmost importance to specialty coffee roasters. What may be perfect for the shelf of a grocery store may not necessarily work as an online order, which means they must adapt their packaging accordingly.

One of the main reasons is the risk of returns. Large coffee bags won’t always fit through letterboxes, which means they may end up being returned to the roastery or distribution centre.

Because coffee quickly loses its freshness, this could result in it becoming stale before it can be redelivered. If this happens, the roaster will have no choice but to dispose of the coffee and start again.

In the US, product returns were estimated to have cost businesses as much as $550 billion in 2020 alone, accounting for around 10% of their supply chain costs. For businesses that operate on fine profit margins like roasteries, this can be damaging for their long-term success.

The right-sized packaging is also a question of convenience. While a small bag may fit effortlessly through the letterbox, it won’t be much use if it only carries a small quantity of coffee.

In the UK, the average coffee bag size is between 200g and 250g, while in the US it’s just over 340g (12oz).

As consumers have come to expect coffee in these quantities, it may be to the disadvantage of a roastery if they start selling their bags at anything less to accommodate for letterboxes.

Therefore, specialty roasters need to work out how to distribute coffee in these quantities with packaging that’s letterbox-compatible.

posting a bag of coffee through a letterbox
It’s important to check the letterbox specifications for the areas in which you plan to offer deliveries

Determining the right-sized packaging for home deliveries

To ensure your coffee is designed for letterbox deliveries, it’s important to first familiarise yourself with the size of the letterboxes in your distribution area, as these can vary from region to region.

For example, European letterboxes must be able to accept a 229 mm x 324 mm C4 envelope with bending or damaging it. It must also accommodate a 40 mm high bundle of C4 envelope, a width of 230-280 mm or 325-400 mm, and height of 30-35 mm.

Regulations in Canada, on the other hand, demand that letterboxes have an opening no less than 17.5 cm by 4 cm, and that they must be located in a front door or adjacent panel no more than 125 cm and no less than 60 cm from the finished floor line.

Ageing and damage might compromise a letterbox’s ability to protect its contents from external elements — and not every home will have a government-approved letterbox. 

Older homes often have smaller letterboxes. Roasters might need to check this information with a customer before they place their order to prevent disappointment and delivery delays, factoring in additional components such as pockets and degassing valves.

However, it’s not just about the letterbox dimensions: the distance between the letterbox and the floor can make a difference to how roasters decide to package their coffee. 

If the drop is considerable, it could end up damaging the contents, thus increasing the chances of returns. Ensuring sturdy, durable, multilayer materials are used can reduce the risk of the bag splitting when dropped from a height.

sustainable coffee bags
Roasters should consider making it as easy as possible for customers to recycle their empty coffee bags

What to consider when designing letterbox-compatible coffee bags

Switching to letterbox-compatible coffee bags doesn’t require a complete branding overhaul – but it will require some additional thought.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, many roasters have gone from selling predominantly through retail to setting up their own ecommerce platforms and subscription models. In most cases, this has prompted a number of small changes to the level of information included on the coffee bags to compensate for a loss of face-to-face contact with baristas.

Some specialty roasters have done this by including tasting cards or by adding QR codes that consumers can scan to reveal more details about the coffee, from its origin to the way in which it was processed.

There’s also the question of materials. While wholesale buyers will usually know what to do with their empty packaging, consumers often won’t. Therefore, it’s up to the roaster to make their coffee bags as easy as possible to recycle, such as by adding recyclable degassing valves.

For example, Horsham Coffee Roasters found that when cafés and restaurants closed in Sussex, customers shifted to ordering smaller 250g bags from larger wholesale purchases. As a result, they decided to implement single bag orders in packaging suited for letterbox deliveries. They’ve also made the processing of recycling their packaging easier for customers by allowing them to return their empty bags via post.

Meanwhile, Sidewalk Coffee Company in Cambridge, UK, protect their coffee in its compostable and recyclable packaging by including an outer cardboard wrapper that can also be recycled.

recyclable coffee packaging
At MTPak Coffee, we can help you design the perfect coffee packaging for home deliveries

If you’d like to switch to offering letterbox coffee deliveries — or want to add it as an option to your current packaging lineup — it’s a good idea to work with a packaging expert who understands the unique constraints of working with whole bean and ground coffee.

At MTPak Coffee, we have years of experience helping specialty roasters package their coffee for delivery. Whether looking for letterbox-sized bags made from kraft paper or larger bags suited for wholesale purchases, we can help you.

For information about our sustainable coffee bags, contact our team.

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