MTPak Coffee has made a significant step towards minimising lead times and improving the sustainability of the coffee supply chain by investing in the HP Indigo 25K Digital Press, the latest in green printing technology.
After identifying traditional printing methods as an area that was holding the company back, MTPak Coffee’s founder, Mark Zhou, made the decision to purchase the machine, which has up to 80% lower environmental impact than rotogravure and flexographic printing.
Not only is the HP Indigo expected to significantly reduce turnaround times and contribute to a circular economy, it will also bring high-quality customisable coffee packaging to micro roasters for the first time.
I spoke with Mark to find out more about the HP Indigo and the reasons behind MTPak Coffee’s investment.
The problem with traditional printing techniques
Flexographic and rotogravure printing have dominated the coffee packaging industry for decades.
Favoured for their high-quality results across a range of materials (known as substrates), the two methods have grown to become the most popular for high-volume orders of custom-printed coffee packaging.
However, flexographic and rotogravure printing have flaws that can affect the speed of production, while excluding those who want to make small-volume orders.
Mark Zhou is the founder of MTPak Coffee. He realised that both printing techniques were extending lead times due to the time it took to set up each new job.
“It takes about two or three hours to install the plates for these methods,” he explains. “Then, when we go to the next order, it takes another few hours, plus we have to wash the machine to keep it clean. It’s very labour intensive work.
“Our lead time was getting longer and longer, especially when you combined it with the shipping delays. It jumped to between two and four months. We noticed this and made it our aim to become more efficient.”
There are also the restrictions stemming from the cost of plates. Building a custom-built printing plate can creep up into the thousands, which means manufacturers have to set relatively high minimum order quantities (MOQs) to cover costs.
However, MOQs of 10,000 units, a common figure when using rotogravure printing, mean that roasters cannot be as agile as the market often demands.
Not only can it prevent them from changing designs when they need to, such as for limited edition coffee, it can also put roasters under pressure to sell a quantity of coffee beyond their capabilities.
Why the HP Indigo Digital Press?
To overcome the problems of traditional printing methods by improving efficiency and making customisable packaging available to small-batch roasters, MTPak Coffee has invested in the HP Indigo 25K Digital Press.
Rather than plates or cylinders, the HP Indigo relies instead on liquid electrophotography (LEP) technology, a form of digital printing that can apply water-based inks to a range of sustainable substrates.
These substrates include recyclable and biodegradable materials, such as kraft paper, rice paper, polylactic acid (PLA), and low-density polyethylene (LDPE).
Mark says that this, along with improving efficiency, are the main reasons behind MTPak Coffee’s investment.
“We are growing very quickly and have lots of customers coming in from all over the world,” he says. “With the HP Indigo, we can significantly cut down lead times and generally improve the efficiency of production.
“But it’s also very environmentally friendly and offers a good contribution to the global environment. It reflects our drive for a circular economy.”
According to HP, the technology can cut the environmental impact by as much as 80% compared to flexographic and rotogravure printing techniques.
This extends to the inks, which have sustainability credentials that include the Green Leaf mark and certification from TUV Austria’s “OK Compost”.
This verifies that HP Indigo ElectroInks can be used as printing inks for coffee packaging and are recoverable through composting and biodegradation in accordance with leading standards.
At a time when consumers are increasingly asking businesses to cut emissions and showcase a commitment to the environment, this can have considerable benefits for roasters.
Namely, it can give them a competitive edge by demonstrating they are not only using low-impact coffee packaging materials, but also sustainable printing techniques.
Mark also explains that digital printing breaks down barriers for micro roasters because it allows MTPak Coffee to offer MOQs as low as 500 units.
“We have a lot of customers who ask for 500 or 1,000 bags, which just aren’t possible with other printing methods,” he says. “We want to serve a wider range of roasters, including small-batch roasters. With this investment, we can now do that.”
Working towards a circular economy while consistently serving customers is a priority for the majority of coffee roasters.
Yet with the growing demand for flexible bags, coupled with challenges to shipping, it has become increasingly difficult for packaging manufacturers to deliver products on time. This is having a knock-on effect for roasters, whose ability to serve their customers is being undermined.
With the HP Indigo 25K Digital Press, MTPak Coffee has the ability to meet rapidly evolving roaster needs across a wide range of sustainable coffee packaging types, including compostable and recyclable bags.
This allows roasters to continue providing their customers with an environmentally friendly product, without compromising on materials or designs.
It also opens the door to fully customised coffee packaging for micro roasters and those offering limited edition coffee. Rather than being tied to a single design over thousands upon thousands of bags, roasters can order as little as 500 bags, which they will receive within a few weeks.