Paper cans for RTD coffee: The latest in sustainable packaging?

Hayley Osbourne
August 18, 2023
An image of paper cans for RTD coffee, RTD coffee packaging, packaging RTD coffee, in an article on sustainable packaging for RTD coffee

The ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee market is one of the fastest-growing food and beverage sectors in the world. Projected to reach a global value of more than $42 billion by 2027, it has seen several key players enter the market in recent years, including Blue Bottle Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, and LongStory Coffee Co.

The popularity of RTD coffee shows no signs of slowing down. This presents specialty coffee roasters with an opportunity to increase revenue streams and appeal to a wider range of customers by offering their own range.

More so, it offers roasters a chance to experiment with new forms of sustainable RTD coffee packaging. For example, 2021 saw a range of paper cans enter the packaging market. These cans are made with recycled paper and wood fibres and claim to have the lowest carbon footprint.

So, could paper cans be the most sustainable way to package RTD coffee? 

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What are the most common ways to package RTD coffee?

For centuries, convenience has been cited as one of the biggest drivers of growth and innovation across the global coffee industry. That said, convenience with coffee is constantly changing as innovations such as instant specialty coffee, RTD beverages, and coffee capsules have entered the market.

One thing to remember about RTD coffee is that it is packaged for convenience. 

Aluminium cans

Aluminium cans are one of the most common ways for roasters to package RTD coffee, as they are lightweight and robust. Furthermore, cans offer superior protection against light, oxygen, and other external contaminants. 

Beyond this, aluminium cans are considered an eco-friendly option, as they are infinitely recyclable. This means they can be recycled several times without the materials degrading. Aluminium cans also offer broad printable surfaces, allowing coffee brands to create bold packaging that is firmly on-brand. This increases the likelihood of a supermarket or restaurant choosing to sell and display them.

Glass bottles

Glass bottles provide an affordable option that can be conveniently outsourced to a packaging company. More so, glass bottles are also infinitely recyclable – making them highly sustainable.

That said, glass bottles come with a risk of breaking during transit and storage. If this happens, it may present a serious health and safety hazard. In turn, this may compromise a large quantity of product, and result in profit loss. 

Therefore, it is essential that glass bottles are stored correctly: they should be placed in a cool environment and roasters should avoid stacking crates on top of one another.

Recyclable plastic bottles

Plastic bottles are often preferred over those made from glass, as they’re more durable. Notably, plastic bottles made from recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are a classic form of cold brew coffee packaging. 

As PET is 100% recyclable, it offers consumers a convenient form of eco-friendly packaging that is easy to dispose of. 

Flexible pouches

Notably, RTD coffee pouches are fast outpacing rigid formats such as glass and cans. In shipping, their efficiency shines, as the space of one glass bottle can accommodate ten cold brew pouches.

Flexible pouches make cold brew more fun to drink, which instantly appeals to younger generations, who tend to post unusual products on their social media platforms. Plus, they are a convenient option that customers can fit into their bags and drink on the go.

An image of cylinder coffee packaging, paper tubes for coffee, RTD coffee packaging, packaging RTD coffee, in an article on sustainable packaging for RTD coffee

Could paper cans be the latest in sustainable RTD coffee packaging?

German-based company, Hörauf introduced a can made of paper in 2021. The brand claims the cans are made from renewable resources, such as paper and wood fibres. These are both sourced from sustainably managed forests and hold the FSC certification.

Beyond this, the brand claims that as the cans are highly recyclable, they have a significantly lower carbon footprint. Notably, its clients include Oatly and Pulpoloco Sangria, who recently launched RTD beverages in paper cans.

While these paper cans have gained traction in the US, they have yet to reach overseas shores. Until then, specialty coffee roasters may benefit from investing in more established forms of RTD coffee packaging, such as flexible pouches or paper cartons. 

An image of RTD coffee bottles, RTD coffee cartons, RTD cartons, Stumptown Cold brew coffee, in an article on sustainable packaging for RTD coffee

RTD coffee: Flexible pouches and paper cartons

One of the most appealing qualities of cold brew and RTD coffee is that they offer businesses access to a wider range of consumers, principally by selling through supermarkets and small grocery stores. 

In one survey, over 50% of Generation Z consumers said they had purchased iced RTD coffee drinks from stores rather than coffee shops. This staggering percentage demonstrates the importance of coffee businesses considering the retail market.

Therefore, specialty coffee roasters looking to offer RTD coffee must consider which packaging is most convenient to them as well as their consumers. For instance, recyclable cartons can amplify both sustainability and user-convenience. 

Cartons for cold brew coffee help lower shipping costs thanks to their practical shape, while also requiring less packaging material. Plus, they are often easy to store, easy to use, and easy to dispose of. Plus, they can be fully customised to ensure branding stands out. 

Alternatively, flexible coffee pouches promise adaptability and shelf stability. Pouches for RTD coffee drastically reduce waste as they collapse after use and can be recycled. 

Flexible coffee packaging has been around for decades and has grown to become the most popular option among specialty roasters. Versatile, sturdy, and easy to customise, it both protects the coffee inside and allows roasters to showcase their brand identity.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable packaging options for specialty roasters, whether selling whole bean, ground, or RTD coffee. Our selection of recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials can be fully customised to your needs, helping to shape your brand identity and showcase a commitment to the environment.

Our packaging options for RTD beverages include recyclable flexible coffee pouches available in grab-and-go sizes or larger multi-serve variants, cartons made from sustainably sourced materials, as well as infinitely recyclable aluminium cans.

Furthermore, we use eco-friendly digital printing methods and sustainable water-based inks to reduce energy emissions. This means your branding will stand out while also reducing the carbon footprint of your business.

For more information on RTD coffee packaging solutions, contact our team.

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