Should roasters print decaf certifications on coffee bags?

Hayley Osbourne
April 26, 2023
An image of specialty decaf coffee in custom-printed coffee packaging with a decaf certifiction in an article on whether roasters should print decaf certifications on coffee bags

The certifications found on coffee packaging help create transparency within every stage of the supply change. Additionally, they demonstrate that a business has adhered to voluntary standards regarding environmental, social, ethical, and food safety issues. Certification standards are reviewed by independent organisations, which assess what is required, and if your packaging and product meet these standards, it will be certified. 

In the coffee industry, some certifications may reference the packaging materials, while others are generally used to prove a specific coffee is grown or purchased in an environmentally, socially, or financially sustainable way. This could mean producers adhering to specific farming practices which respect the local environment, or green coffee buyers proving that all of their lots have been purchased at or above a “fair” market rate.

For decaf offerings, certifications such as the Swiss Water® Process help guarantee the coffee has undergone a 100%-chemical-free, organic process to remove caffeine. The specialty industry is seeing more of these certifications appear on packaging, as consumer demand for decaf coffee increases.

To learn more about decaf certifications on coffee bags, I spoke with Erin Reed, the director of marketing at the Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Inc.

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Certifications often found on coffee packaging

Certifications indicate the product aligns with the integrity and ethics of the business and can provide clients and customers with trust and confidence. Several certification logos are often found on coffee packaging:

USDA Organic Coffee

Within the US, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for certifying organic coffee. It is important to note that several verifications must be made to ensure the coffee is of a high standard prior to a brand receiving the certificate. For instance, the coffee must be identified as organic, which means no synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, or pesticides were used during the growing phase.

Other requirements include a designated space between organic and non-organic crops, and the farm must be able to prove it partakes in sustainable farming. Once an organic certification is obtained, coffee farmers can increase the price of their crops.

Fairtrade Certification

Essentially, the idea behind Fairtrade is to empower coffee farmers by paying them a fair way and providing them with access to credit and direct trade. This helps to promote global equality in coffee farming and reduce levels of poverty. Notably, numerous organisations claim to certify fair trade coffee, with some having stricter criteria than others. As a result, there is a lack of common standards across the board.

That said, Fairtrade certifications guarantee farmers get a minimum price per pound for their harvest, with more premium prices being provided for higher-quality crops. Interestingly, a recent survey shows the popularity of fair trade among consumers, with 61% wanting to know how farm workers’ rights are protected. More so, 84% of consumers want to know how brands are taking action on key sustainability issues, with environmentally friendly production and fair wages ranked as the highest priorities.

Rainforest Alliance Certification

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit organisation that certifies many agricultural products. In 2017, it merged with the UTZ certification, and the pairing has since made a new set of criteria for certification in 2020. The organisation’s primary focus is to improve agriculture from both an environmental and socio-economic standpoint. In addition to focusing on workers’ rights and fair pay, this certification ensures farmers use eco-friendly methods of farming to ensure the protection of the local environment.

Bird-Friendly Coffee

Developed by ecologists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre, a bird-friendly coffee certification is one of the most difficult to obtain due to the volume of criteria that needs to be met. Certain standards include that the farm’s canopy of trees is of a specific height and the workers prioritise the growth of native plant life.

The coffee must also be certified organic, and all the criteria must be met to receive this certification. All the certifications require a fee to be obtained, but all collected fees for Bird-Friendly Coffee certifications go back into supporting bird conservation support.

An image of Swiss Water decaf process with a custom printed coffee bag with a decaf certification in an article on whether roasters should print decaf certifications on coffee bags

Decaf and the specialty coffee market

“The popularity of decaf coffee has grown recently,” explains Erin, who has over two decades of marketing experience. “According to consumer data, decaf coffee has experienced positive growth in both the U.S. and Western Europe for many years now. In particular, specialty decaf coffee has grown at a faster annual rate than regular coffee.”

Erin believes the main reason for this is the improved quality of decaffeination from chemical-free methods. “In the past, roasters would purchase poor-quality green coffee for decaf, as it was well known the chemical processes would compromise the coffee’s quality. However, innovations in chemical-free decaffeination methods have resulted in higher quality green coffee purchases due to their quality retention capabilities – and in turn, a better final cup for the consumer.”

Original decaffeination methods included a direct-solvent process, which saw the beans steamed and then rinsed in methylene chloride or ethyl acetate for up to 10 hours. While it is these solvents that extract the caffeine, the use of chemicals can be worrisome for the majority of consumers.

The indirect solvent process involves soaking green coffee in hot water, allowing the caffeine and flavour compounds to dissolve. Then, the green beans are removed from the water, which is mixed with a solvent that absorbs most of the caffeine and less of the flavour compounds. The water and solvent are then separated, with the green coffee once again added to the water in order to absorb the flavour compounds previously lost.

The carbon dioxide process is a relatively new method of decaffeination, where the beans are soaked in water and then placed in a steel container, known as an extraction vessel. This vessel is flooded with liquid carbon dioxide (CO2), which enters the beans at 1,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. This extracts the caffeine and leaves all the flavour components behind. The CO2 is then moved to an absorption chamber where the pressure is released and it returns to its gaseous state, leaving only the caffeine.

All the processes are considered safe for use and then consumption, however, the Swiss Water Process is deemed the most popular as it only uses water, the naturally occurring soluble solids in green coffee, and carbon filters to decaffeinate the beans. Green coffee is soaked in water to prepare the beans for caffeine removal. Then, they are soaked in a green coffee extract. This allows the process of diffusion to extract the caffeine molecules naturally and trap them within the solution. The green coffee extract, which is now filled with caffeine, is pushed through carbon filters to remove it. The now clean solution is then reused to soak the beans again. This process is repeated until the coffee is 99.9% caffeine free, which can take up to ten hours per batch.

“The Swiss Water® Process has become popular because it aligns so well with the pillars of specialty coffee: high quality and sustainability,” Erin explains. “Our process is able to best maintain the original characteristics of the green coffee that producers have so painstakingly grown and importers and roasters have so meticulously sourced.”

An image of two custom printed coffee bags featuring decaf certifications in an article on whether roasters should print decaf certifications on coffee bags

Should roasters print decaf certifications on coffee bags?

By custom printing certifications on coffee packaging, roasters can increase customer loyalty, gain new customers, and increase profits. For instance, by showcasing the Swiss Water® logo on their packaging, roasters can assure customers the coffee was decaffeinated using one of the safest and most reliable methods and left the flavour intact.

“Consumers are paying more attention to what they put in their bodies,” Erin explains. “They want control over what they consume. The fast-growing non-alcoholic beverage trend is a good example: people still want to enjoy the taste and cultural experience but are looking to control, or eliminate, the amount of alcohol they consume. It is quite similar when it comes to decaf coffee, although the focus is on chemical-free decaffeination and controlling caffeine intake, while still enabling people to be a part of coffee culture and enjoy the taste of coffee. Based on the decaf data trends we’ve seen and those in our own business, we expect that decaf consumption will continue its positive growth trajectory.”

As the popularity of decaf coffee continues to grow, roasters can benefit from displaying their certifications on coffee packaging. This ensures customers feel confident in their purchase, and understand how coffee decaffeination methods are evolving and becoming more sustainable – along with the rest of the specialty industry.

MTPak Coffee is able to provide a range of packaging options that are made from renewable materials. Our coffee boxes are made using recycled cardboard, while our sustainable coffee bags are made using kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining

All of our packaging options are fully certified, which ensures whichever packaging you chose will be too. We also offer our clients a quick turnaround time of 40 hours and 24-hour shipping time in addition to low minimum order quantities (MOQs) for those looking to remain agile while showcasing a commitment to the environment.

For more information on coffee certifications and how to integrate them into your packaging, contact our team.

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