How to make custom printed coffee bags look natural

Janice Kanniah
April 23, 2024
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Thanks to its variety of delectable flavour profiles and inviting aromas, specialty coffee attracts at least one billion consumers worldwide. Custom printed coffee bags are one of the most effective ways to attract the attention of consumers and give them essential product information in a single glance.

That said, recent research suggests that the modern customer base has a limited attention span. Beyond this, as the amount of product information on packaging has increased, consumers are feeling more negative emotions, less decision satisfaction, and more buyer remorse. 

So, how can brands benefit from custom printed coffee bags without overwhelming customers with the design? One way is to integrate natural themes into every visual touchpoint a customer could have with the business, such as coffee bags that comprise natural packaging materials. 

Elizabeth Kuyt is an in-house graphic designer for Aldea Coffee in Muskegon, Michigan. As Aldea Coffee designs its own packaging Elizabeth shared her insight into how brands can make custom printed coffee bags look more natural. 

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Why do I need ‘natural-looking’ custom printed coffee bags? 

There are several crossovers between packaging that looks natural and that which is sustainable or non-toxic. Research shows that customers are more aware of the environmental impact of product packaging and are willing to pay more for high-quality, eco-friendly alternatives. 

Additionally, consumers can identify packaging options that are better and worse for the environment. Materials such as glass, paperboard, and paper are often perceived as more sustainable than traditional plastics. 

Customer perceptions, such as these, are a serious consideration Elizabeth had when designing Aldea’s coffee packaging. “As the existence of climate change has become more widely accepted, consumer interest in sustainable products has become more widespread, prompting a response from the design industry,” she says. 

“To meet that trend, designers often turn to colours, textures, and materials reminiscent of nature to convey earth-consciousness. Natural looking coffee bags can be a great way to express your sustainability efforts with your customers. We see our bags as an amazing avenue for communication, so every detail of [them] was created with great intention and mindfulness. Customers are very observant, so tiny details make a big difference,” she adds.

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Natural packaging options for coffee roasters

When designing Aldea Coffee’s packaging, Elizabeth took the brand’s underlying principles into consideration. 

“Aldea’s ethos is centered around authenticity, community, and sustainability, which stem from our origins as a non-profit organisation in Honduras,” she says. “We’ve worked directly with coffee farmers since our founding, and the inspiration for our branding comes from those relationships. We aim to bridge this connection between coffee farmers and consumers.”

She explains that the brand opted for a natural packaging appearance to accentuate its labels, “symbolising the meaningful relationships we share with coffee producers.” She adds that the natural look also brings a “sense of grounding to our design, which aligns with our values of authenticity and approachability.”

Elizabeth emphasises that it’s important that packaging doesn’t just appear to be eco-friendly and natural looking. It should also have a sustainable end of life. 

“After extensive research, we’ve found that recyclable coffee bags are more likely to be discarded responsibly in our area since commercial composting isn’t readily available,” she says. “We’ve opted for post-consumer recycled bags for our coffee. 

“A matte texture feels more natural compared to a high-gloss plastic finish, so we chose a rough matte texture on our bags, which feels reminiscent of a matte paper finish. While we loved the look and feel of our previous bags, which were kraft paper with a plastic liner, we learned that the bag’s liner was not backyard compostable, so they didn’t make sense for our customers.”

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Tips for designing custom printed natural packaging options

According to a recent survey, 66% of all respondents and 75 of Millennial respondents say they consider sustainability when making a purchase. More customers are aligning themselves with brands that are compatible with their values and priorities. As environmental stability becomes a priority for many, it’s important that businesses do their part to lower their carbon footprint.

“If you’re going for a natural look with your packaging, find materials that are not only aesthetically natural looking but also genuinely sustainable,” Elizabeth advises. She adds that brands should assess factors like production methods and end-of-life options, and find a solution that’s right for their customers and locality.

“There are many options available that look sustainable but may not be easily disposable in your community,” she says. Brands should consider materials such as kraft paper, which has natural fibres that can degrade upon disposal. Kraft paper has become a widely used packaging material for a range of goods. In its natural form, its light brown colour and rough texture is favoured for its earthy, natural associations.

Interestingly, research shows that customers strongly prefer paper packaging over plastic and would choose an online retailer offering paper over one that doesn’t. 

Elizabeth cautions that whatever option you choose, it should avoid falling prey to greenwashing. “Greenwashing is when companies employ natural-looking packaging or misleading language to imply sustainability without genuine sustainable practices,” she says. 

“It’s important to know your stuff: look for the certifications that matter to consumers, like B Corp Certification, Rainforest Alliance, or Forest Stewardship Council. For instance, Aldea got B Corp Certified in 2020 and recertified last year. These certifications ensure that genuine sustainable action is supporting our natural-looking packaging.” 

She concludes by explaining that while Aldea’s particular packaging choices are the “right solution for our customers in this area, this choice may not be universally superior. Each region and customer base may require a different approach to packaging sustainability. Take your time and find a solution that really works for you, your customers, and your location.” 

Read our interview with Brittany Goode, the Operations Manager for Michigan’s Aldea Coffee, about which kind of coffee packaging is best suited for B Corp-certified brands.

Images courtesy of Aldea Coffee

Reach out if you’re curious about custom printed coffee bags. 

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Janice Kanniah
Janice Kanniah

Janice is freelance writer based in South Africa and has written for MTPak Coffee since 2020. Her interests are in writing about sustainability, the circular economy, and the future of the environment.

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