Online coffee sales: Is shared shipping and reduced packaging the future?

Janice Kanniah
October 2, 2023
coffee bags, coffee packaging, online coffee sales, Senja Roasters, reduced coffee packaging, shared shipping for coffee

As the negative environmental impact of product packaging becomes clear, specialty coffee roasters have yet another challenge to overcome. They must balance the protective qualities of packaging materials and their ability to attract customers for online coffee sales – all while having as little negative impact on the planet as possible.

Popular solutions for specialty coffee roasters include investing in compostable or biodegradable packaging materials. Another solution has been to reward customers for recycling empty coffee bags by offering discounts or returnable packaging collection programmes.

Beyond this, some specialty coffee roasters have also begun looking into shared shipping or “ship on own container” options. This allows customers to order items without secondary packaging. Alternatively, it gives them a chance to share shipping costs with other customers for a reduced fee and less packaging. 

Norwegian coffee roasters, Senja Roasters sell coffee online through reusable containers. The brand delivers and picks up these containers, washing and refilling them in between uses. We spoke to the brand’s CEO, Juan Mantero, about how this option could impact the future of online coffee sales.

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Why is shared shipping with reduced packaging increasing in popularity? 

Online coffee sales and subscription services are a popular option for today’s customers. These allow consumers to order coffee conveniently, using their existing digital communication channels.

It’s estimated that as of 2022, a third of customers choose to take out subscriptions instead of purchasing coffee in-store for at-home consumption. According to a recent report, the international direct and third-party coffee subscription market is set to exceed $1.5 million by 2030. This allows customers to save an average of 15% off their usual spend.

Most recently, global specialty coffee chain Pret A Manger recorded its first profits since 2018. Predominantly, this is because it introduced a coffee subscription service that saw the average customer spend almost 30% more per transaction than those without a subscription.

Another example is premium coffee chain Blank Street, which secured a $20 million investment to scale up its subscription services across the US.

Senja Roasters, based in Norway, currently offers its customers a bi-weekly or monthly coffee subscription service for ground or whole-bean coffee. Customers can choose their brewing methods, ranging from AeroPress, French Press, filter, espresso, or moka pot. 

The subscriptions are available in 200g or 1kg measurements and customers can choose between six coffees. This includes a washed single origin and single origin dark roast. 

Understandably, this type of offering can generate excess packaging. As it is an added cost that negatively affects the environment, excess packaging is often frowned upon by customers for being disproportionate to order sizes. 

Larger businesses allow customers to place bulk orders. This allows a group of consumers to share a single shipping container to deliver goods to one location – saving on packaging and delivery costs. Amazon is currently trialling a form of this by making select online orders available with minimal or zero packaging at checkout, via a “ship in own container” option.

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Benefits of shared shipping and reduced packaging

“Customers have reacted positively to our initiative to reduce packaging,” explains Juan. “Especially when they see it is part of a wider environmentally conscious way of doing business, which also affects our coffee sourcing, roasting, delivery, promotion, marketing and every other aspect of the operation.” 

This aligns with statistics that show 30% of respondents believe a brand’s shipping practices are essential to its sustainability practices. More so, research shows almost a fifth of consumers favour products with minimal packaging. Reusable packaging can help facilitate this. 

“Retail customers should be encouraged to use their own containers,” Juan says. “However, business-to-business clients might expect a solution from their provider.” 

While the option may work well for individual customers, Juan notes it may be an issue for larger orders. “Committing to reusable packaging may pose a disadvantage for business growth beyond local markets, as the return shipping of empty containers may become a burden for clients.” 

For these types of orders, offering shared shipping containers may be a better option. Both options can help brands provide sustainable choices throughout their supply chain, instead of just past the point of sale. 

Furthermore, it can help businesses focus on their triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit as it demonstrates a commitment to reducing environmental impact. However, this can come with drawbacks.

Juan explains that no matter which form of packaging or shipping container you choose, “these methods don’t entirely eliminate your economic or environmental packaging costs”. It can also bring with it concerns about customer privacy and whether the collective packages will be protected during bad weather.

Additionally, he notes that reusable containers can be more expensive than single-use packaging. “Plus, if they break, they may become waste that is difficult to recycle. Reusable containers must also be cleaned before each reuse, which takes time and space.” 

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Is this the best option for online coffee sales?

Whichever option a business goes with, Juan says it will “create a new workflow for clients and providers that should be integrated as seamlessly as possible in daily operations. This will require an initial effort to implement the new routine and a sustained effort to keep it in place.

He adds that if this execution is successful, both economic and environmental benefits arise. In turn, this allows an increase in margin for the provider and a price reduction for the client.

Depending on your current approach to packaging, you may need to redesign it with new materials to create a returnable offering. Alternatively, you may need to explore more environmentally friendly materials that your current designs can be supported by. 

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.

Images by Senja Roasters

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team

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