Coffee Bag Design Series explores the specialty coffee brands with unique designs that stand out and fire the imagination. This week, we spoke to UK-based Rave Coffee about how their daring approach to branding has helped set them apart.
Rave Coffee’s packaging looks nothing like a specialty coffee brand.
Bold, roaring text on a white background that shouts, “NO JARGON. NO BS”, surrounded by words annotated with strikethroughs, squiggles, and arrows, is more akin to the work of a fiery politics student at 2am than an artisan roaster.
But, then again, this is precisely the point.
When Rob and Vikki Hodge launched Rave Coffee in 2011, their aim was always to cut through the specialty coffee market’s air of exclusivity and try to make it as approachable as possible.
To do so meant not only avoiding the jargon and buzzwords of the sector, but also designing a coffee bag that differed from what consumers had come to expect.
With this in mind, Rob and Vikki summoned the help of The Collaborators, a design agency in Bristol, UK.
The agency’s director at the time, David Webb, is now head of brand and marketing at Rave. He explains that as well as positioning the company as approachable, the aim with the packaging design was to spark a reaction.
“One of the terms we often use is ‘pack-vertising,’” he says. “We own the space on the bag so it’s important to make it work as hard as possible in the short amount of time that people spend looking at and making decisions about a product.
“Part of this is making something memorable, which means using quite a strong, bold brand design that not everyone is going to like.
“Working from branding, I’d rather someone had a strong emotional reaction – be that love or hate – and was noticed in some way, rather than being forgettable. We don’t want people to just think ‘here’s another specialty coffee brand.’”
The role of tasting cards
Although Rave’s roastery includes a small café from which they serve coffees, the majority of income is through online, direct-to-consumer sales.
As a result, their website is one of the most important tools at their disposal – it’s their “storefront”, offering potential customers an opportunity to browse options and find out more about the company.
“We’re always trying to make the website experience as close to a roastery experience as we can,” David explains. “That’s where we’re constantly innovating. We need to make it as easy as possible for people to find a coffee they like and ensure they’re able to brew it successfully.”
Operating predominantly as an ecommerce website opens up a number of opportunities for roasters. However, it can also make it difficult to not only grab attention, but hold onto customers.
One of the ways to maintain interest, particularly for those who offer subscriptions like Rave, is to have a constant rotation of coffees. This keeps customers coming back to sample new origins and flavours.
The only stumbling block to this is cost. With so many coffees coming and going, it isn’t economically viable to produce a bespoke bag for each one.
Instead, Rave attaches custom colour-coded tasting cards containing information on the roast profile, flavour notes, altitude, and processing method. The colours indicate the origin; for example, a red card denotes a Colombian coffee.
As you open the card up, there is a detailed description of the farmers themselves and a checkbox section where customers can mark down their own observations about the coffee.
David says that, for the most part, this has proved a hit with customers. “I saw a great photo of someone who had kept the cards on a pinboard,” he tells me. “They had the dialling in instructions and everything. For some people, they’ve almost become like collectibles.”
Further promoting this idea is the use of numbers on each tasting card, which David suggests act like “recipes”.
“At a minimum, we’re roasting two new coffees every single month,” he says. “So the numbers are there to help customers identify which coffee they’ve had, while subtly reinforcing the fact that we do a lot of roasting and have a decent-sized selection on offer.”
Why LDPE works
On the journey from roastery to consumer, coffee naturally incurs its fair share of bumps and jolts. Even once it has arrived, the package is often squeezed through a letterbox before dropping onto the ground below.
This presents a fresh challenge for direct-to-consumer roasters, who must find durable packaging that both protects the coffee during transit and fends off criticism for being “unsustainable”.
David explains that, at Rave, the material they found ticked the most boxes was low-density polyethylene (LDPE), a recyclable plastic denoted by plastic resin code #4. They also use a box to further protect the beans from damage.
“There were a lot of factors playing into the decision to use LDPE,” David says. “It is a brilliant surface for us to print on – the quality you can achieve on LDPE is fantastic and it’s got a lovely texture to it.
“From a packaging design perspective, it has loads of benefits. Our primary checklist was to preserve the quality of the coffee and limit our environmental impact – which are all there.”
It’s certainly true that LDPE allows Rave’s branding to shine. You can make out the bold black type and coloured sides a mile off.
But that may also have something to do with the shape of the bag itself: a five-sided pouch with a wide, flat base that enables it to stand up securely on countertops and shelves.
As well as attracting customers’ attention, David tells me that this is beneficial when it comes to production.
“It makes it much easier for us,” he says. “When bags are prepped and put into large containers they will sit there open, totally eradicating any spillage problems when it comes to production and dispatch.”
Although Rave’s coffee bags have undergone several changes since launching more than a decade ago, they seem to have landed on a sweet spot, balancing design, convenience, and the environment.
Oh, and their coffee is pretty good too.
Did you enjoy this edition of The Coffee Bag Design Series? Next week, we’ll be speaking to Process Coffee about how they use nostalgia to capture the imaginations of customers.