Could roasters benefit from offering refillable coffee packaging?

Pavel Corena
May 26, 2023
An image of a consumer holding a refillable coffee bag with a resealable zipper in an article on whether roasters benefit from offering refillable coffee packaging

Between 1950 and 2019, plastic production increased from 1.5 million metric tons (MT) to 368 million MT. If this continues, it is estimated plastic production could reach up to 2 billion MT by 2050. Moreover, single-use plastics, such as food and beverage packaging, account for 40% of all plastic produced annually. In response, we have seen a range of sustainable alternatives emerge.

These include packaging materials that are made from renewable resources and are completely recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable. Packaging made from these materials can contribute to a circular economy and minimise unnecessary waste. In the specialty coffee industry, which values sustainability, these materials have become more popular.

In some cases, specialty coffee roasters package beans in containers such as custom coffee tins or resealable jars. As well as standing out among competitor products, these are also likely to appeal to consumers who prefer reusable packaging

So, could roasters benefit from investing in refillable coffee packaging? And how does this affect the quality of the product?

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What is refillable packaging and how does it work? 

As the name suggests, refillable packaging is packaging which can be refilled. Generally speaking, refillable packaging allows us to completely eliminate the energy and waste associated with creating new packaging, minimising its effect on the environment. As such, it should be durable, easy to use, and straightforward to clean.

Specialty coffee roasters could benefit from offering durable, custom containers that consumers will want to use repeatedly rather than dispose of after a single use. For example, consumers can buy coffee in refillable bags and return to the roastery to fill them up. 

Alternatively, the consumer can return the empty bag to the roaster in exchange for a discount, similar to a packaging return programme. This approach is particularly popular with glass containers.

Refillable or reusable packaging can also reduce the environmental impact of coffee across various stages of the supply chain. This includes reusable pallets, tanks, and bulk storage containers, for instance.

What types of refillable coffee packaging could roasters offer?

By using refillable packaging, coffee brands can showcase a commitment to the environment, which is becoming a priority for consumers. Studies show 83% of Millennials try to be environmentally conscious, compared to 77% of older generations. 

One brand that is trialling refillable coffee packaging is Nescafé, which recently released an instant coffee refill pouch. This claims to contain an average of 60% less plastic than the lid of a 200g glass coffee jar. Furthermore, the packaging is completely recyclable. 

The empty bags can be recycled at over 5,000 in-store locations across the UK, as well as through curbside collection in Ireland. Nescafé hopes the pouch will contribute to the brand’s sustainability commitments, specifically the aim to reduce virgin plastic use by one-third by 2025. 

Specialty coffee roasters who already have a clear strategy for packaging may be reluctant to change. Luckily, they may only need to make small adjustments to their existing packaging; traditional forms of coffee packaging, such as stand-up bags, flat-bottom pouches, and side-gusset bags can be fitted with resealable zippers. These allow consumers to open and close the bag when needed while retaining freshness. Alternatively, roasters can choose to invest in shaped spout boxes or customisable paper tubes. Offering limited edition coffees or seasonal blends in boxes or tubes instead of bags can help drive interest in the product. As well as being intrigued by the rarity of the product, consumers may also appreciate the reusable nature of the packaging.

An image of a coffee roaster filling a refillable coffee bag with freshly roasted coffee in an article on whether roasters benefit from offering refillable coffee packaging

The pros and cons of a refillable packaging model

Before investing in refillable packaging, there are several considerations roasters should make. For instance, while refillable bags can help brands meet consumers’ demands for sustainability, they must also be convenient and easy to use. If it is a challenge to refill, consumers are unlikely to buy into them. Poorly designed refillable packaging may actually end up driving away customers. 

Refillable coffee packaging can also help roasters build long-term customer relationships. For instance, consumers can be rewarded for returning empty bags with discounts, encouraging repeat business. That said, roasters must ensure the packaging is 100% resealable and keeps the coffee fresh in order to ensure repeated customer satisfaction. 

Overall, investing in refillable packaging can help brands save money. A brand could reduce production costs if each customer refills a bag ten times, for example. While customised refillable coffee packaging may be costly during initial design and manufacturing phases, it can help save money in the long-term. However, it is important to remember the roaster risks a loss of packaging costs if the packaging is not returned. 

At MTPak Coffee, our coffee packaging solutions offer high-barrier protection, while being made from biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable materials that will help reduce your carbon footprint. Our line of coffee packaging options is made from renewable materials, such as compostable kraft paper, and rice paper, as well as multilayer LDPE coffee bags with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy. Our kraft paper and PLA packaging are certified by TÜV Austria as OK compost HOME and OK compost INDUSTRIAL, while our degassing valves are also compostable.

More so, our stand-up bags, flat-bottom pouches, and side-gusset bags can be fitted with resealable, recyclable zippers. Our spout boxes can be made from corrugated board or kraft paper, and when fitted with our recyclable spout, are completely recyclable. Our paper tubes are the perfect option for those looking to create a unique and personalised packaging experience for their customers. Our paper tubes are specifically designed to protect and add value to rare, microlot, and ultra-specialty coffees.

Our printing process leverages low-energy, environmentally friendly inks. This gives you the ability to print as many colours as you need on your personalised tubes without incurring additional setup costs or increasing your carbon footprint.

It also means you have complete control over the look and feel of your packaging – from the finish to additional features such as QR codes – allowing you to create a product that truly stands out on the shelves.

For more information on sustainable, resealable coffee packaging, contact our team. 

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