Buzzwords in coffee packaging: What do they mean?

Janice Kanniah
March 13, 2023
An image of a custom printed coffee bag with coffee buzzwords on a custom printed coffee bag label, in an article about Buzzwords in coffee packaging

Words such as “organic”, “Fairtrade”, “washed”, and “micro-lot” are commonly associated with specialty coffee.

These terms, often printed on coffee packaging, convey important information about the beans, such as how they were grown, who grew them, and what the brew may taste like.

Over time, these “buzzwords” have become integrated into coffee packaging and branding. So, it’s easy to forget the majority of consumers may not know what they mean or have incorrect perceptions of each term.

While these words are accurate in their meaning, using them too often or without explanation can also be a ‘silent killer’ of the customer experience. They can leave customers confused or dissatisfied with a potential coffee purchase.

As they have agreed upon definitions, these buzzwords have value and should be used strategically.

Read on to learn more about what buzzwords in coffee packaging can signify to customers and how to use them effectively.

What are “buzzwords” in the coffee industry?

Buzzwords can be defined as “a word or phrase, especially one connected with a particular subject, that has become fashionable and popular.”

Other sources describe buzzwords as words that have become fashionable to use or words that are technical, important-sounding, and impressive to those unfamiliar with the topic.

Buzzwords can grab the attention of others, invoke feelings of excitement, and identify something as part of a community.

They are often created by experts on a topic and may be difficult to understand by those outside of it.

However, as the term is used more frequently, others can adopt it to the point where it develops a different meaning and context.

The specialty coffee market uses a fair share of buzzwords, creating some from scratch and co-opting others from the English language.

In a bid to make specialty coffee more accessible, these terms must be broken down or explained to help customers make informed purchasing decisions.

Terms such as “craft” and “artisan” exemplify this. Originally defined as something created by hand using a special skill, the word has a different meaning when used to describe coffee.

Roasters and cafés often use this word to mean the coffee is of high quality and has been harvested, processed, and roasted with care.

Other specialty coffee buzzwords include “third wave”, “single origin”, “micro-lot”, “nano lot”, “sustainability”, “traceability”, and “transparency”.

While these words can seem straightforward, they have the potential for miscommunication if not used properly.

An image of a custom printed coffee bag, a recyclable coffee bag, LDPE coffee packaging with specialty coffee buzzwords in an article on buzzwords in coffee packaging

Using specialty buzzwords on coffee packaging

It is natural for coffee brands to want to share as many details as possible with customers.

As the coffee packaging is likely to be around consumers for an extended period, it is the bags that are often branded with buzzwords.

It is important to note that this can have both positives and negatives.

It can help communicate details about the coffee’s roast date, country, or traceability credentials — the latter of which can create trust, confidence and fairness in the industry.

However, buzzwords can also have the opposite effect.

A 2020 survey revealed 83% of consumers feel misled by buzzwords such as “biodegradable”, “recycled”, “recyclable”, “carbon-neutral”, “sustainable”, “compostable”, and “zero-waste”.

It also found terms such as “eco-friendly” and “carbon-negative” can confuse customers or put them off making a purchase.

This is likely because consumers feel bombarded by the sheer volume of messaging they receive. 

Furthermore, more customers are aware that many businesses may be using these terms without acting on them.

Notably, environmental buzzwords are most likely to negatively impact consumers. Research shows over 85% of consumers in the UK recycle their waste, with over 60% reducing their plastic use.

These consumers are more likely to question a brand’s claims, and a worrying 62% don’t trust that brands will do what they claim.

An image of a custom printed coffee bag being used by a coffee shop barista, recyclable coffee packaging that features specialty coffee buzzwords in an article on buzzwords in coffee packaging

Using the right buzzwords to market specialty coffee

Most roasters recognise that packaging should communicate details on the coffee’s sustainability.

More so, they understand the packaging should have as little impact on the planet as possible.

When seeking out sustainable coffee choices, up to 40% of consumers want brands to use sustainable materials, reduce emissions, use less energy in operations, and be transparent as to how their coffee and its packaging are created.

This is easier to do when sourcing coffee, as many roasters maintain close relationships with green coffee suppliers. That is, they are not directly sourcing the coffee themselves.

Most roasters can improve how they approach their packaging and the way in which they communicate sustainability credentials to consumers.

For example, many roasters may think mentioning their coffee bags are or compostable is enough. However, this is unlikely to satisfy consumers, and without any way to verify these claims, may negatively impact the brand.

It is important to provide additional information on the packaging, such as what material it was made of and how exactly it can be recycled.

Roasters can also mention what happens to the coffee packaging once collected for processing.

For example, they could mention that, while the coffee bag is made from compostable PLA, it should be placed in a specifically labelled bin available at a local location to ensure it will get collected.

They can also mention that once collected, the coffee bags will be taken apart and repurposed to make tubing for manufacturing purposes.

Roasters can even use this as an opportunity to reach out to and engage customers. Encourage them to collect and return their used coffee bags to ensure it is sent to an accredited and trustworthy recycler.

By involving customers in the process, they can witness for themselves that the brand is taking active steps to meet sustainability credentials.

It can be challenging to rework coffee packaging to better accommodate a revised approach to buzzwords.

However, MTPak Coffee can help you throughout the process, from design to choosing the right material and bag shape and finishing touches such as embossing.

We provide a selection of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options ranging from coffee bags made from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, as well as custom coffee mailer boxes made from 100% recycled cardboard.

Our design team is available to help you customise your coffee packaging in innovative and creative ways using our digital printing technology.

This allows us to offer a low minimum order quantity (MOQ) with a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time.

For more information on custom printed coffee packaging, contact our team today.

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