How the role of labels on coffee bags is evolving

Holly Szakal
January 15, 2024
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Once just a means to transport product, coffee bags today play a pivotal role in communicating a wealth of necessary information. Beyond this, they help set the scene for a positive first impression. 

Custom coffee bags must not only capture the brand’s overall personality but also differentiate it from competitors to grab consumer attention. However, budget constraints, high minimum order quantities, and frequent changes to coffee menus mean that custom packaging isn’t always a viable option for several specialty roasters.

A popular alternative is to buy stock bags and apply customised labels to them. As well as keeping down costs, this option helps roasters stay agile – a crucial quality in the early stages of running a business. Labels allow for coffee roasters to apply quick updates without going through an entire print run. Plus, they can be removed to make coffee packaging completely recyclable. 

To learn more about how the role of labels on coffee bags is evolving, I spoke to Colin Loh from Singapore-based Huggs Coffee, and Jeremy Gursey, President at Coffee Manufactory

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Labels on coffee bags: Their original purpose

Without custom printed packaging, coffee wouldn’t be the industry it is today. Admittedly, modern consumer expectations have shifted dramatically from the first recorded introduction of coffee packaging. This took place in France in 1720, where ground coffee was enclosed in sacks crafted from greased leather or bags coated with beeswax. 

This practice was meant to preserve the enclosed coffee’s unique flavour and overall aroma. Many people also believe that it is the precursor to the laminated paper bag. Major advancements made way in just 153 years, when John Arbuckles’s “Arbuckle Ariosa” became the first mass-produced packaged coffee being sold throughout the USA.

Arbuckle went well beyond the day-to-day conventional packaging, opting to add innovative elements to his coffee bags. These included coupons to enhance impulsive sales appeal and beat out competitors. This marketing maven even extended his reach to a younger audience by ingeniously attaching a stick of gum to his custom coffee bags.

Throughout these packaging innovations, labels served an essential purpose: to convey basic details such as coffee type, net weight or portioning, and, to some extent, roasting information. These original labels were intended to facilitate necessary information, allowing consumers to make basic and informed decisions about the coffee they were considering purchasing. 

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The evolution of coffee packaging: custom-printed labels

In today’s custom packaging, labels on coffee bags often provide essential information, such as favour notes, bean origin, and roast profile. However, they also now include brand stories and showcase important company values, including commitments to sustainability or fair trade practices.

This evolution in design mirrors a wider trend in consumer preferences, and coffee businesses must adapt successfully. Studies show that consumers want to know where their coffee comes from and how it is farmed. Therefore, specialty coffee roasters need to be equipped with this information.

Details around coffee origins and fair trade help educate customers about the ethics of the coffee’s source. According to a recent survey, sustainability for many consumers expands beyond climate and conservation to include fairness and corporate citizenship. The expanded definition also includes social factors and are increasingly driving consumer “sustainable” purchasing decisions.

The survey found fair prices, wages, and working conditions are features most likely to influence a consumer’s choice to support a ‘sustainable’ brand. With this in mind, brands can use labels on coffee bags to communicate worker welfare- which could yield incremental purchases and greater willingness to pay a price premium.

For example, labels on coffee bags can include messages about worker welfare and labour conditions, as well as QR codes that link to pictures and videos of workers to create a human connection.

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What to consider when designing labels for coffee bags

As consumer expectations continue to change, specialty coffee roasters may struggle to meet increasingly discerning demands for customising coffee bags. 

Colin, who has worked in the specialty sector for several years, reveals the essential information that Huggs Coffee includes on its custom labels. “For Huggs Coffee, conveying the essence of our brand through labels is not just about relaying facts, but creating an experience,” he says.

“Whether it’s roasting profiles, origin stories, or unique flavour notes, the label acts as a canvas to paint a vivid sensory picture for our consumers, even before they consume it.” Colin explains the brand achieves this by “weaving a narrative that balances origin, craft, and discovery of notes. For example, the use of sensory descriptors and analogies to evoke imagination as opposed to merely stating tasting notes.” 

More importantly, Colin says “we believe a well-designed label should not only inform but also entice.”

Attractive visual branding can have a powerful effect on consumer buying behaviour. Reports indicate design elements can invoke subconscious emotions and shape how consumers perceive a brand and its overall value. For instance, red coffee bags may generate feelings of excitement and passion, while blue can instil a sense of calm and trust.

Coffee businesses can leverage this subconscious understanding to shape consumer behaviour through sound brand design on their custom coffee bags. Strategically selecting colours can help prompt the desired emotional response and, in turn, enhance sales appeal.

When it comes to enticing customers, Jeremy believes Coffee Manufactory understands a thing or two about using colour to convey information. “Coffee Manufactory innovated the colour-coordinated bag and label space back in 2015,” he says. 

“We continue to convey our blends and single origins to customers by choosing colour-coordinated bags and using a number system while placing identifying regional markers on the bags to highlight the farms. We also placed roast profile charts on the bag to appeal to customers’ preferences.”

When a coffee business customises their packaging effectively, they send a critical message to their customers. And, one question that’s on the forefront of consumers’ minds is sustainability, with nearly 90% of Gen X customers willing to spend on brands that prioritise such.

At MTPak Coffee, we know how important it is to appease customers and provide the information they need. We also understand the need to provide sustainable, easy to dispose of packaging. That’s why we offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options that can be customised to reflect the unique offerings of your coffees. 

Beyond this, all of our labelling processes, including inks and adhesives, are eco-friendly and have minimal environmental impact. 

Images courtesy of Huggs Coffee and Coffee Manufactory

For more information on sustainable labelling options for coffee packaging, contact our team

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