Infinitely recyclable coffee cans: How sustainable are they?

Hayley Osbourne
June 21, 2023
An image of digitally printed infinitely recyclable coffee cans from West Berkshire Roastery in an article about infinitely recyclable coffee cans

From 1812 to the 1900s, cans were one of the most convenient and hygienic ways to package and transport roasted coffee. As more people realised the importance of fresh coffee, manufacturers began looking for packaging that would effectively maintain flavours and aromas.

R.W. Hills of Hills Brothers invented vacuum packing in 1900. This process involved sucking the oxygen out of the coffee container before sealing it in order to prevent the roasted coffee from being oxidised and going stale. While Hills was the first to package coffee in vacuum-packed tins, it was Francesco Illy who brought the concept of pressurised packaging containers to the coffee market in 1934. 

That said, the invention of the degassing valve by Italian company Goglio in the 20th century transformed the way in which roast coffee is packaged. This allowed coffee roasters to opt for multilayer flexible pouches that prevent exposure to harmful externalities. Since then, the use of coffee bags has become the most common way for roasters to package their coffee offerings. 

However, some roasters choose to use custom-printed coffee cans to showcase limited edition offerings or exceptionally rare coffees. One such brand is West Berkshire Roastery, which packages some of its Signature Gold coffee in infinitely recyclable cans, as well as in recyclable multilayer pouches. 

To learn more about why the brand has invested in recyclable coffee cans and how this has benefited business, I spoke with the marketing manager for West Berkshire Roastery, Mark Kinder.

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Are custom coffee cans rising in popularity?

The specialty coffee market can be a fiercely competitive place, with hundreds of brands lining the shelves. As a result, more roasters are choosing to package their products in innovative ways in order to stand out. In addition to West Berkshire Roastery, another specialty roaster using coffee tins to capture consumer attention is Grind.

When subscribing to a coffee subscription, first-time consumers will receive a branded refillable tin filled with compostable coffee pods or roasted coffee beans. From then on, any additional orders are packaged in recyclable cardboard packaging, encouraging consumers to transfer the contents into the tin.  

Sumo Coffee Roasters, run by 2019 World Cup Tasters Champion Daniel Horbat, is another brand that has used coffee tins to highlight a unique offering. When launching its Kule Geisha offering, the brand invested in custom-made coffee tins in order to make the 90+ coffee stand out. Additionally, Tribe Coffee Roasting based in South Africa packages its entire range in custom-printed coffee tins, and customers seem to love it. 

At West Berkshire Roastery, Mark reveals the brand wanted to provide the cans to offer customers an alternative to the recyclable plastic bags the brand currently offers. “Our coffee cans can be recycled via the local council kerbside collection. However, our coffee bags need to be deposited at special collection points.”

“As our cans are infinitely recyclable, this reduces their impact on the environment. We also found that we could fully customise the tins in lower order quantities, allowing more flexibility in our roastery,” Mark explains. 

An image of custom-printed coffee cans, customised coffee cans, customised coffee can labels, in an article about infinitely recyclable coffee cans

Are coffee tins effective in capturing consumer attention?

“For us, the coffee cans have been extremely popular,” Mark reveals. Notably, the customised cans are labelled as a ‘best seller’ on the brand’s website. “The eye-catching design certainly helps, but it is also the idea of buying coffee beans in a beverage can that attracts consumer attention. Many pick them up and ask ‘What is this?’” 

“Plus, the cans make a delightful addition to any kitchen worktop,” Mark adds. West Berkshire Roastery claims to be the UK’s first craft coffee roaster to package its beans in 100% digitally printed beverage cans. As the coffee cans are customised using digital printing, they do not require labels, making them even easier for consumers to recycle. 

“We wanted to offer a staple coffee of a very high standard, so we named the offering ‘Signature Gold’ as it seemed quite fitting. This is partly due to a customer reviewing calling the coffee ‘liquid gold’, and now, even in-house, we refer to them as ‘cans of gold’,” Mark laughs.

The design of the cans was inspired by both the brands’ logo and the country flag. Featuring a stag and an oak, the design’s connection with the country dates back to Michael Drayton’s 1627 poem ‘Battle of Agincourt’. “The poem describes the men of Berkshire marching under the symbol of a stag under an oak. The stag and oak together represent the county’s forestry and deer herds,” Mark explains.  

An image of a customised coffee tin, customised coffee can, custom-printed coffee can, in an article about infinitely recyclable coffee cans

Should roasters invest in custom coffee tins? 

“The biggest pros for us as a business is these cans make us stand out among the dozens of other bags on the shelves,” Mark explains. “As well as the improvement in terms of the environmental impact.” Infinitely recyclable packaging materials have several benefits, as they help to save energy and resources. When the materials can be reused, fewer raw materials have to be extracted, which benefits the environment. 

“Admittedly, the only con of the cans is they still require some natural resources to manufacture the aluminium,” Marks reveals. So, it is by no means perfect, but it certainly provides a more sustainable alternative to the dreaded plastics, in my opinion.”

Recyclable customised coffee tins can help roasters promote exotic coffees or seasonal offerings while remaining sustainable. Additionally, they can be offered in coffee subscriptions, providing customers with exclusive branded merchandise. Merchandise is without a doubt one of the most effective ways of boosting brand awareness and reaching new corners of the market, as well as helping to increase customer loyalty.

It is important to note customised tins can be a costly option compared to their bag counterparts. More so, as they are considerably heavier than coffee bags, transport costs may increase. Factors such as these may make them a less viable option for smaller roasters. 

Infinitely recyclable plastics may form part of that future. In the meantime, roasters and coffee shop owners looking for suitable packaging solutions might want to consider alternative options. MTPak Coffee offers a range of high-quality recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable packaging options made from kraft paper, rice paper, or LDPE with a PLA-lining

We provide fully customisable stickers that can be used on coffee tins or canned coffee offerings. Our digitally printed die-cut stickers can be used across other packaging options, such as coffee bags, coffee boxes, and bottles.

Our range of coffee packaging options is fully customisable to help maximise the coffee-drinking experience and boost brand awareness. Our eco-friendly customisation techniques include spot UV with a glossy, satin, or matte finish, embossing and debossing, as well as hot foil stamping in a variety of colours.

Get a quote for your sustainable coffee packaging or customised labels today!

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