Designing takeaway coffee cups for cup holders

Jane Merchant
December 29, 2021
disposable coffee cup in a car holder

Takeaway coffee cups and cup holders are a natural pairing. Both inventions help consumers enjoy their favourite coffee beverages conveniently on the go.

Customers might use a freestanding cup holder built for placement on stationary surfaces. However, things get a little trickier when designing cups for vehicles. Not only do they need to be ergonomic and non-intrusive, they also need to reduce the risk of spillages.

While your takeaway cups exist primarily for customers to drink out of, they also need to meet other specific requirements. For example, they need to be compatible with the standard dimensions of most cup holders. Otherwise, they might shift or spill – if they even fit in the first place.

You also won’t want to design your cup in such a way that its branding is concealed when it’s placed in the cup holder. Whichever way your customers use your cups, it’s important your branding remains as effective, memorable, and eye-catching as possible.

If you’re considering offering takeaway cups to your customers, here’s how to ensure they are cup-holder compatible.

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coffee cup holders in a car

A brief history of cup holders

The patent for the first cup holder was filed by American inventor Jack Fazakerley in 1950. It was able to attach to a range of surfaces, including car doors.

The popularity of drive-ins and drive-thru windows made cup holders an absolute necessity. Cup holders remained popular aftermarket accessories through the fifties through the seventies, until the first built-in car cup holder appeared in a Chrysler minivan in 1983. 

When an elderly woman sustained serious injuries from a coffee spillage in the 1990s, the importance of cup holders became a serious issue in the public eye.

As time has passed, the number of cars on the road has increased exponentially. People are spending more time commuting, meaning they’re spending more time in their cars. Interestingly, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of drivers revealed that the number of cupholders in a car is more important to drivers than the car’s fuel efficiency.

The history of patents suggests that desktop and freestanding cup holders were only developed and introduced in the 1980s. This was likely influenced by an increase in desk-bound jobs in front of PCs and laptops.

The risk of damaging expensive equipment and injuring oneself led inventors the world over to create designs for many different types of cup holders. Ultimately, however, few of them were realised or actually manufactured, but these are the ones we see today.

takeaway coffee cup in a car cup holder

Understanding cup holder designs

Cup holders were invented long before brands started offering takeaway cups en masse. As a result, a significant amount of time and effort is spent researching the dimensions of these cup holders. In fact, car manufacturers have reported that unsatisfactory cup holders are a common reason for customers returning a vehicle within 90 days of buying it.

Most manufacturers test their cup holders against common cup, can, bottle, and flask sizes and regularly review the largest sizes being served in different markets to determine if changes need to be made.

According to a 2016 survey by automotive manufacturer Ford, a cup holder should be deep enough to contain a tall cup while also allowing users to remove smaller cups from the holder with ease. Ford maintains that if a holder can contain a 30oz (887 ml) takeaway cup, it should be able to hold most takeaway cup sizes.

The survey suggests that the ideal cup holder size can be influenced by the consumption patterns of customers in the area. For example, American customers tend to consume larger, taller beverages, while Asian customers tend to enjoy drinks in wider vessels.

iced coffee in a cup holder

Offering takeaway cups to suit cup holders

Making sure that your takeaway cups match the size of the most cup holders will ensure that your customers enjoy a spill and stress-free drinking experience. Most standard-sized takeaway cups cover a range extending from extra small (4oz/120ml) to large (16oz/454ml).

However, factors such as adding takeaway cup sleeves to your cups could impact their dimensions, potentially making them incompatible with certain cup holders.

When placed in its holder, the cup shouldn’t self-eject from the holder. It may be able to tip somewhat, but this should result in minimal spillage. The cup should also be easy and effortless to insert and remove.

You’ll also need to consider the positioning of your takeaway cup branding. Research shows that the placement of your logo can impact how customers view your brand. Having a visible brand logo helps customers recognise the brand and evokes positive feelings around it.

Logos that appear near the top of packaging can create a strong brand impression and can lead customers to view a business as more prominent than it actually is.

If you design your takeaway cup packaging without keeping its placement in a cup holder in mind, your logo might end up being concealed. Branding will also need to remain visible should a sleeve be placed over the cup.

As an alternative, you could consider using double walled cups instead. This way, your branding won’t be hidden, and customers won’t get their fingers scolded.

recyclable coffee cup

Choosing the right size of takeaway cup involves balancing what your customers want with the types of drinks you offer. However, you need to balance that with requirements pertaining to cup holders.

On top of this, you’ll also need to make sure your cups are attractively and appropriately branded. Don’t forget that they should also be easily recyclable or compostable once disposed of. After all, that’s what your customers want.

Working with an experienced supplier of takeaway cups for the coffee industry can help you ensure your cups are practical to use while also being well suited to containing hot or cold beverages on the go.

MTPak Coffee is an expert in coffee packaging and can help you design and produce takeaway cups for your business in a range of sizes. We offer cups in three different sizes: 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz.

Each one is available to order as either single or double wall, while we also sell sleeves for all three sizes.

For information on our takeaway coffee cups, contact our team.

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