How to ensure your branded coffee bags don’t lead to a lawsuit

Holly Szakal
June 25, 2024
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Specialty coffee has become an incredibly competitive industry, with new brands appearing almost monthly. With this rapid growth comes increased scrutiny over marketing and sourcing claims, as well as sustainably branded coffee bags. Several studies show that consumers around the world have become more aware of their buying habits. Therefore, brands must learn to navigate a complex landscape to ensure they meet compliance expectations and avoid potential unwanted legal battles. 

Some of the most recent issues coffee brands have faced include sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) claims. Furthermore, issues may involve inaccurate serving sizes, lack of transparency about the ingredients used, and the credibility of claims regarding the ethical sourcing of coffee. 

Even though you might feel that your brand is ticking all the boxes, it’s crucial to take a step back and ensure your branded coffee bags won’t lead to a lawsuit. 

I spoke to William Murray, President & CEO of the National Coffee Association (NCA), about compliance with the retail coffee industry labelling requirements and how meeting customer information needs can be a complex issue. 

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Ensuring your branded coffee bags are compliant

Branded coffee bags are a blessing in an industry where each retailer is fighting to stand out in a competitive landscape. While custom printed coffee packaging serves as a valuable marketing tool, it also doubles as a compliance challenge. More so, it is at the centre of many of the legal issues the industry is continually facing. 

Coffee brands, especially within the US, must ensure the information on custom packaging is accurate and meets regulatory standards to avoid confusion or misleading consumers. Failing to do this may result in financial repercussions, a damaged brand reputation, and may even lead to class action lawsuits.

The first step is to understand what specific topics are being brought to the courtroom so you can prioritise your efforts accordingly. 

Sustainability and ESG claims

A failure to prioritise sustainability can alienate a large majority of your consumer base. However, any claims made must be accurate to avoid unwanted accusations of greenwashing. Greenwashing refers to the practice of making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company to appear more environmentally friendly than they are. The practice of greenwashing can lead to lawsuits and severely damage a brand’s reputation.

Coffee brands must conduct regular audits of their entire supply chain to ensure sustainable credibility. Beyond this, you must collect reliable third-party certifications, such as Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance, to support sustainability claims. These logos are recognised worldwide and bring high levels of social credibility among consumers.  

Serving sizes and the number of servings

Consumers detest being misled about a product they’re investing in. Therefore, you must provide accurate labelling of service sizes that are consistent with the advertised number of servings per container. 

This involves conducting constant, precise service size quality assurance checks to prevent discrepancies. Misleading serving sizes can lead to lawsuits, negative reviews, and a loss of consumer mistrust.

Product source

Transparency is of the utmost importance in today’s market. According to a recent Forbes survey, transparency benefits businesses, as “94% of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand that’s completely transparent.” 

More so, consumers love to know about the origin of their coffee and any relevant certifications, like the ones mentioned above, used in the supply chain. Telling this back story builds trust and also paints a human picture in the consumer’s head, giving them a higher appreciation for their coffee.

However, as mentioned, any misleading or false claims about the product source or origin story can result in severe legal consequences.

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What happens if my custom coffee bags lead to a lawsuit?

There have been several cases of coffee brands, large and small, facing lawsuits due to non-compliance with labelling regulations. Even Starbucks is currently being sued for a ‘100% ethical’ sourcing claim for tea and coffee.

An article on the case mentions that a US consumer advocacy group is suing the brand for allegedly misleading customers with promises of ethically sourced products, despite procuring from farms and cooperatives that, the lawsuit says, have committed human rights and labour abuses.

The article further states that the National Consumers League “alleges that producers in the coffee giant’s supply chain have a documented record of child labour and forced labour as well as rampant and egregious sexual harassment and assault.”

Therefore, it’s crucial to repeatedly audit your supply chain, particularly when making claims of ethical sourcing. It’s important to note that a coffee brand can also be sued for claiming the coffee is ‘organic’ without certification to prove this. This may also happen if the coffee is labelled as single origin while containing beans from multiple global locations. 

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Mitigating the chances of a lawsuit

Mitigation and constant audits are the shining keys to avoiding lawsuits as much as humanly possible. 

William has worked with the NCA for over 10 years. He suggests that brands make use of Association’s resources to stay informed about labelling requirements. 

“Complying with retail coffee labelling requirements and meeting customer information needs can be complex,” he says. 

He also mentions that the NCA’s exclusive member resources help members navigate those complexities. Their site offers a Coffee Labelling Guide, all the way to a new Product Labelling Class Actions Article, including guidance on required, conditional, and optional labels, as well as examples and further regulatory and compliance-related resources.

At MTPak Coffee, we help coffee businesses create bespoke coffee bags that perfectly reflect their brand and its values. Our team of expert designers will guide you through the process, ensuring your coffee bags or custom coffee boxes stand out on the shelf, attract attention, and adhere to your unique style.

Find out if your branded coffee bags are compliant. Contact our team today

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Holly Szakal
Holly Szakal

Holly Szakal is a Melbourne-based copy and content writer and is deeply immersed in her city's vibrant specialty coffee culture. She infuses the rich aromas of the specialty coffee scene by delivering compelling narratives on the industry's current events.

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