Between 2019 and 2020, coffee subscription sales increased by 109% in the US, while the number of companies offering coffee subscriptions grew by 25%. This is according to research done by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).
Notably, video subscriptions are the most popular, with 98% of consumers subscribing to at least one service. However, box subscriptions are a rapidly growing part of the segment. In the past year, ecommerce subscriptions, which include coffee boxes, have grown by 65%.
As of 2023, the market size of subscription boxes stands at $22.7 billion and is expected to reach $65 billion by 2027. But, a recent report argues there are unseen environmental costs to this, such as excess packaging and costly returns ending up in landfill.
So, how can specialty coffee roasters ensure their coffee subscriptions form part of a circular economy? To learn more, I spoke with Andy Newbom, the cofounder of Torque Coffees, which uses 100% recyclable coffee subscription boxes.
What are the benefits of subscription services?
Theoretically, subscription-based models should be good for the planet. These services have shifted society from an ownership model to a sharing-based one. This should help maximise resource efficiency and minimise waste.
Essentially, subscription services encourage consumers to move away from a take-make-dispose mindset towards a more sustainable, circular economy. Rather than making a one-time purchase, customers can subscribe to gain access to several products or services over a period.
Coffee subscriptions provide consumers with freshly roasted coffee when they need it, allowing them to brew it when it’s at its best. Although each coffee subscription service will differ, customers are able to customise several factors, such as the amount of coffee they want and whether it is ground or whole bean.
Subscriptions offer customers the convenience of regular delivery, personalisation, and automated payments. For roasters, coffee subscriptions allow for a better forecast of revenues, reliable client data, and better consumer engagement.
Beyond this, coffee subscriptions provide roasters with the opportunity to form stronger, long-term relationships with customers through personalisation. This is because when customers sign up for a subscription service, they must enter details about their preferences, such as roast profile, brewing method, flavour notes, and number of cups consumed per day.
Roasters can then personalise products according to the needs of the customer. For example, sending links to videos on how to improve their brewing method or including a leaflet on the ‘story’ behind the coffee.
What packaging is commonly involved in subscriptions?
As subscription packages continue to flood into homes, so does the packaging that keeps the contents intact. Secondary packaging often includes padded mailers, shrink wrap, and air pillows.
A typical online order for coffee often includes a coffee bag, a label on the bag, marketing materials, a packing list or receipt, as well as a shipping box, packing tape and a shipping label. As a 2023 report reveals 81% of consumers demand sustainable packaging, roasters must package subscriptions in an environmentally friendly way.
A prime example is Torque Coffee, which has combined its retail coffee box and shipping box into one simple package to reduce materials by 50%. “We have always been obsessed with reducing waste, improving efficiency, and reducing our negative environmental impact,” explains Andy, who has worked across several facets of the specialty coffee industry.
“As I was packing orders one day, I counted up all the items that a typical shipment has to transport a single bag of coffee, and I thought there has to be a better way. So, I set out to reduce that by half.
“We designed our packaging from the ground up specifically for e-commerce and shipping to use 100% recycled paper products.” The brand uses no stickers or tape, investing only in compostable shipping labels that are easy to recycle or for consumers to compost at home.
The Torque Coffee box comprises a coffee box, an inner coffee bag, and a compostable shipping label. By stripping it down to the bare essentials, Torque Coffee offers a subscription box that is 100% plastic free, 100% plant-based, and 100% home-compostable.
How can reducing coffee packaging waste benefit the sector?
Product packaging has been a major contributor to pollution and global warming for many years. By extension, a company’s packaging choices can either reduce or expand its product’s carbon footprint.
Reducing the carbon footprint associated with coffee packaging can help lower the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the industry. Beyond this, it helps to preserve brand identity and customer loyalty.
For Torque Coffee, the reduction in packaging allowed the brand to lower the cost of coffee shipments by $.25. “This means we were able to pay our farmers that extra $.25 a lb,” Andy explains. “Immediately after launching our coffee box, we were able to buy our first African coffees and pay the producers an extra $.75 a lb on top of what they were already paid for their coffee.”
For roasters, it’s important to ensure their packaging caters to the demands of consumers. However, they must also ensure all materials used for coffee subscriptions have a purpose and do not contribute to unnecessary waste.
When coffee is delivered to the consumer, the packaging is usually the first interaction they have with the product, which means it needs to leave a good impression.
At MTPak Coffee, we can help you create the perfect packaging for a coffee subscription service, from design and materials to inks and components. With our range of biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable coffee packaging materials, you’ll be able to offer a fully sustainable product to your consumers. More so, both our sustainable coffee bags and coffee boxes can be fully customised to accurately reflect your brand, or inform customers of how to dispose of empty coffee packaging.
Additionally, our low MOQ options will help keep costs down, allowing you to remain agile in an increasingly competitive market. More so, thanks to our eco-friendly and innovative digital printing technology, we are able to offer our clients quick turnaround and shipping times.