How to make coffee subscription boxes as lightweight as possible

Maira Kanai-Nasir
January 2, 2024
coffee subscription boxes, coffee subscriptions, coffee boxes, custom coffee boxes, custom coffee subscription boxes, Bluebird Coffee Roastery,

The popularity of online ordering and next-day delivery has given rise to a phenomenon many consumers find frustrating: excess packaging. For instance, a typical coffee subscription box includes a coffee bag, marketing materials or brew guides, a packing list or receipt, as well as a shipping box, packing tape and a shipping label.

These often unnecessary additional materials can have detrimental effects on the environment and lead to a negative consumer experience.

As a result, several coffee brands are exploring ways to make coffee subscription boxes more lightweight. ‘Light weighting’ is a concept typically used in the automotive industry to describe making individual components lighter without compromising their performance or safety.

Using fewer materials in subscription boxes reduces the weight, which helps to lower and optimise shipping costs. 

So how can specialty coffee roasters avoid excess packaging in subscription boxes without compromising on their product? To learn more, I spoke to Dario Scilipoti, founder of Bluebird Coffee Roasters in South Africa. 

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Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a 109% increase in subscription coffee sales and a 25% increase in the number of brands offering subscription coffee services. This is according to research done by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)

The popularity of coffee subscriptions has continued to grow, and competition within the specialty sector is increasing. Several brands now offer custom coffee subscription boxes, tailored to the consumer’s tastes and brewing preferences. 

Successful subscription boxes result in brand loyalty and help to cement repeat purchases. Beyond this, they promote growth in the specialty coffee community as customers expand their knowledge and palates. 

However, research shows that 77% of UK consumers believe brands should use as little packaging as possible. Excess packaging often refers to an unnecessary or disproportionate amount of packaging materials. It involves using additional materials for product protection, preservation, or presentation.

Excess packaging in coffee subscription boxes can look like packing peanuts, shredded cardboard, bubble wrap, and honeycomb packaging paper. Subscription boxes can also contain tissue paper, natural wood excelsior or ‘wood wool’, and shrinkwrap.

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The problem with excess packaging in coffee subscriptions

The majority of coffee subscriptions operate on a rolling basis – typically weekly or monthly – with the flexibility to cancel at any time. The majority of these services are also offered to an international audience. 

The further a coffee roaster will likely have to ship a subscription, the more packaging materials it will need. This, in turn, can increase shipping costs. Bluebird Coffee Roasters, which is located in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands in South Africa, has had to adapt its packaging for international subscribers. 

“We ship our subscriptions in a cardboard box,” Dario explains. “It’s not very lightweight, but the box fits two of our coffee bags inside perfectly. The idea was to make the subscription feel special and custom coffee boxes help us do that for our customers.”

He adds all the brand’s subscriptions are shipped in the same boxes, which contain no additional materials, such as bubble wrap.  Dario explains “The cardboard boxes house all our subscription bags safely.”

However, for international subscriptions, Bluebird Coffee Roasters must negate its cardboard box. “The weight of the parcel is important when international couriers charge for shipping,” Dario explains. “So, we often have to leave the box out as some customers prefer to have lower shipping costs.”

In addition to increased costs, excess packaging can result in a negative consumer experience – particularly if they’re receiving it every two weeks. This increases the risk of the customer forming the wrong impression of the brand or cancelling their subscription.

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How to make coffee subscription boxes as lightweight as possible

It starts with choosing the right box. Essentially, your subscription box should house the coffee bags perfectly, so that there is no need for additional ‘filling’ materials. Custom boxes allow coffee roasters to determine not only the aesthetic of the packaging but also the size and shape

“It all comes down to efficiency,” Dario says. “Smaller, lighter weight packaging is easier to handle, easier to ship, creates less waste, and is easier to store in the roastery.”

Custom coffee boxes also allow for optimised branding. For example, instead of loading the box with marketing materials, coffee roasters can print directly onto the cardboard. Alternatively, they can highlight a QR code that will redirect customers to all the information about the subscription or coffee. 

David Pierce, the owner of Hammer & Chip Coffee Roasters in Alberta, Canada, suggests additional ways to make coffee bags for subscriptions lighter. “Opt for tear zippers and gusset style bags with roll bottoms instead of block-bottoms and tin ties,” he says.   

“Making coffee packaging lightweight can result in reduced shipping costs, emissions, and damage incurred by stacking heavier products. In my experience, retailers also prefer lighter, thinner, and taller bags that efficiently use their shelf real estate,” he adds.

One specialty coffee brand that takes packaging extremely seriously is Torque Coffees. The brand combined its retail coffee box and shipping box into one simple package to reduce materials by 50%. “We designed our packaging from the ground up specifically for e-commerce and shipping to use 100% recycled paper products,” explains the brand co-founder Andy Newbom

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.

At MTPak Coffee, we can help you create coffee packaging that has a minimal impact on the environment. 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. 

Images courtesy of Bluebird Coffee Roasters

For more information on custom coffee subscription boxes, contact our team

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Maira Kanai-Nasir
Maira Kanai-Nasir

Discovering specialty coffee whilst working in Australia, Maira has previously worked in Specialty Coffee as a trainer and coffee product buyer for many years. She currently resides in Dubai, UAE working as a specialty coffee writer, with a strong passion for all things coffee.

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