Coffee subscription boxes: What should they contain? 

Tori Taylor
March 7, 2024
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Factors such as sustainability and the consumer experience have taken centre stage in the specialty coffee sector. Recent studies show that 77% of UK consumers believe brands should use as little packaging as possible. Beyond this, brands should avoid adding unnecessary materials to products such as coffee subscription boxes. 

Therefore, the size and contents of coffee subscription boxes have become important for brands to consider. Consumers have become increasingly vocal about their disdain for the excess packaging that accompanies online deliveries. Research indicates consumers view excess packaging as an inconvenience. More so, it reflects a brand’s commitment to environmental responsibility. 

So what exactly should coffee subscription boxes contain to avoid alienating eco-conscious consumers? 

Rohan Cooke from Golden Brown Coffee, alongside Rebecca Zaynidinova and Paul Farmiga from Penstock Coffee Roasters, share their thoughts on the topic. 

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The problem with excess materials in coffee subscription boxes

It’s only logical that using fewer materials in subscription boxes reduces weight, which helps lower shipping and costs. Additionally, investing in a box that perfectly houses coffee bags can help ensure a superior consumer experience. Creating a memorable customer experience is paramount for coffee roasters looking to stand out in a saturated market.

However, 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. It can also include packing tape and a shipping label. Notably, recent reports suggest that 81% of consumers expect each of these to be made from sustainable materials.

Golden Brown Coffee, based in Australia, offers various subscription services, each roasted daily to order in small batches. “Every year, consumers become more conscious of their waste, and they want to see that the brands they buy from are also conscious,” explains owner Rohan. 

“I don’t think they expect brands to be perfect, but they want to see that they aren’t being purposefully wasteful with excess packaging, marketing materials, and oversized boxes. On the other hand, consumers don’t like it if the sustainable packaging leads to damaged bags or stale coffee, so roasters need to find a balance.”

The type of subscription service offered plays a crucial role. For instance, subscriptions that focus solely on coffee may use smaller boxes than those including additional items such as brewing equipment or branded merchandise. 

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What to consider when offering coffee subscriptions

Theoretically, subscription-based models should be good for the planet. These services have shifted society from an ownership model to a sharing-based one, which should help maximise resource efficiency and minimise waste. 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. Essentially, subscriptions offer customers the convenience of regular delivery, personalisation, and automated payments. However, it appears that convenience comes with the price of excess packaging. 

Excess packaging refers to an unnecessary or disproportionate amount of packaging materials. It involves using additional materials for product protection, preservation, or presentation. The use of excess packaging often increases costs for businesses, while leaving consumers with large amounts of unusable, unnecessary waste.

At Golden Brown Coffee, Rohan explains, they have set coffee bag sizes, “so it’s easy to design boxes that fit them perfectly for different subscriptions. We’ve also designed our bags to have matching width and length so that they were interchangeable across box sizes.”

Rohan says this method not only uses less packaging but also allows for a more satisfying unboxing experience, as the bags fit perfectly within the box. “This also leads to less damage as the bags don’t bounce around inside the box during transit. We like to use a fully recyclable cardboard box, as it’s easy for consumers to dispose of correctly, but it also protects the bags from being crushed and damaged.”

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What do coffee subscription boxes need?

Penstock Coffee Roasters in New Jersey, US, offer an impressive subscription coffee box to consumers. “We love coffee subscription boxes,” says Rebecca, who is the green buyer from the brand. “Boxes are the easiest way to bundle our favourite items and present them in a way that is fun and feels special, premium, and exclusive.” She notes that the brand often reserves its custom-printed coffee boxes for special releases and bundles rather than subscriptions.

“The nice thing about coffee subscription boxes is that they don’t just have to contain coffee; the possibilities are endless,” adds Paul, who is also a coffee roaster for the brand. “We’ve bundled coffee equipment, chocolate, mugs, stickers, candles, and other goodies before.”

For example, in previous years, the brand’s holiday box has included coffee from the same farm, processed in two variations: Hacienda La Papaya Natural and Oak Barrel processes. Penstock Coffee then named one bag ‘Merry’ and the other ‘Bright’: a unique opportunity to have a bit of holiday fun with its customers.

For its Valentine’s Day subscription coffee boxes, the brand took a similar approach, which turned out to be a major hit with customers. Alongside the coffee bag was a candle, which was an exclusive partnership with a small local business. The candle reflected the characteristics of the coffee inside, which had notes of cream, peach, citrus, and white blossoms.

Paul and Rebecca believe coffee boxes allow coffee brands and their consumers to build relationships with and support smaller businesses. “And, of course, the fun, unexpected, and delightful combinations of products make really special gifts,” Rebecca adds.

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. “Sustainable options are becoming more and more accessible and cost-effective,” Rohan explains. “Sometimes the right choice can be a little more expensive, but when it adds to the consumer’s overall experience, I think it pays itself off very quickly.”

At MTPak Coffee, we offer custom coffee subscription boxes in various sizes that are crafted from 100% recycled cardboard for strength, durability, and weather resistance. Additionally, we provide recyclable coffee packaging options with customisation features such as debossing, embossing, holographic effects, and UV spot finishes. 

Images courtesy of Golden Brown Coffee and Penstock Coffee Roasters

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

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Tori Taylor
Tori Taylor

Victoria is a highly experienced content creator, writer, and editor based out of South Africa. With the experience gained by working in newsrooms and writing for lifestyle magazines, she is now focussed on creating insightful and relatable content for the specialty coffee community.

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