Your coffee bean packaging does more than protect it from the elements while it travels from your roastery to your customers. It also serves as their first encounter with your business – and first impressions count.
Finding someone to create your packaging for you is relatively simple. However, you’ll need to understand the value and function of specialty coffee packaging to make sure that what is created preserves your coffee’s freshness, while accurately and positively presenting it to the public.
To find out what roasters need to know about designing packaging for their specialty coffee, I spoke with Mark Zhou, Founder and CEO of MTPak Coffee, a business that creates and customizes packaging for specialty coffee roasters. Here’s what he had to say about creating a packaging solution that balances protective benefits and customer appeal.
Everything from your packaging structure to the colours you use will impact how it’s viewed by customers.
The Psychology Behind Successful Packaging
Plenty of research has been dedicated to how packaging influences consumer purchasing decisions and brand perceptions. Last year, the University of Melbourne’s School of Agriculture and Food conducted a study into the effects of packaging design on sensory liking and willingness to purchase in customers.
The study revealed that customers consider your packaging type (shapes, materials, windows), branding (patterns, textures, color combinations, transparencies, fonts, and imagery) and content (labels, origin, dates, contact details) when purchasing from you.
This means that when customers are exposed to your coffee for the first time, all the elements above will collectively shape their view of your coffee – and that they will need to combine harmoniously. Here’s why your packaging material, structure, use of color and font, and more are some of the elements that you should pay attention to.
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The bottom of your coffee bag offers valuable marketing space – even if you just add your brand name and logo to it.
Choosing The Right Bag Structure
The process of designing packaging for your coffee beans starts with the bag’s structure. This will shape how much information and detail you can share on your packaging, so you’ll need to decide what you want your customer to know about your offering. If your brand is well known you might prominently display your logo. If not, you’ll need to highlight your coffee’s attributes, such as its roast profile, origin, and recommended brewing methods.
If your coffee possesses any unique qualities, mention it here. Highlight an exclusive micro lot with a photo of the producer and their farm, or include information on how purchasing the coffee directly benefits farmers. Words aren’t always necessary, as quality stamps or certification logos can also imply a certain level of transparency and social responsibility – telling your customer that their coffee is organic, sustainably produced, and authenticated as coming from its origin.
You’ll need to decide what information goes where, as your packaging has many sides on which to display messages. According to Mark, “Coffee bags can have two to seven sides, without counting additional features, such as a card slot”. This means that it will have space on its traditional laterals (two or four), bottom, inside, and top, for images or copy.
Mark mentions that flat-bottom pouches have stable external and internal printable surfaces. Interior printing adds an element of surprise or can be used to highlight the color of the beans by providing a colorful contrast to their roast color. This could potentially pique a customer’s curiosity about what your other coffee bags might have in store for them.
A card slot can hold everything from a business card with your shop address, to a card that can be stamped with every purchase for a future discount.
If the printing space on the inside and outside isn’t enough, you can add a card slot. This works well with stand up pouches which often provide less marketing space. The card should be informative and visually appealing so the customer is motivated to keep it after disposing of the bag. For example, you could create collectable cards for each origin of coffee in your range, or include a dated card reminding the customer when they’re due to purchase their next coffee bag. This will make your brand and coffee more memorable.
If you’re looking for packaging that combines added print and storage space, side-gusseted bags “are spacious pouches [that] offer options for unique designs to communicate your story to customers while maintaining a strong, solid structure”, says Mark. The main advantage of this structure is that the gussets can expand, acquiring a more box-shaped form. In order to enhance its capacity, foil ties are used for sealing the bags (instead of zippers that can be seen on flat-bottom bags). This option is suitable for larger volumes of coffee, and for customers wanting more control over their coffee’s freshness.
Once you’ve chosen the ideal structure for your packaging and what information you’d like to communicate on it, you can turn your attention towards your choice of material.
Showing is better than telling. Offer customers a sneak peek of your roast profile using clear windows or a transparent bottom.
Choosing The Right Bag Material
Mark tells me that different packaging materials exist and each has a different appearance, texture, and durability – which may or may not suit your coffee and your brand. How your packaging material feels to the touch is also important. Research published by the Journal of Sensory Studies has found that packaging texture can impact a customer’s product perceptions and even their enjoyment of the product itself
Whichever option you choose, it will need to align with your brand values and audience. Mark explains that an eco-friendly material like sustainably sourced, 100% natural kraft paper or rice paper can show that your business strives towards healthy environmental practices, from coffee production to retail packaging. However, each option will come with its own caveats. For example, these kinds of natural materials must often be used in layers for long term protection of its contents.
Your material choice will also impact your printing. “Some patterns might look better or different on different materials,” says Mark. The printing technique used should be noted, as Mark says this can include “water-based inks and various techniques, including spot varnish, UV craft, embossing, and debossing. This [can] create an array of effects and finishes”.
Keeping your packaging colours simple and using large, easy to read text makes your coffee easy to identify at a distance – and more accessible to customers.
Choosing The Right Colors & Typography
The brand guidelines you created when you first started your coffee roastery will have included a selection of colors, fonts, and imagery – which you’ve no doubt chosen as it represents what your business is about or who your audience is.
Your packaging will need to integrate your brand’s existing colors and fonts. However, if you will be selling several items in your product range, you might need to vary your use of colors or typography to ensure each one is easily differentiated from the rest. For example, you might keep your packaging red in line with your branding, but italicize the font on all coffees originating from Kenya.
You could also tailor your use of color to match your coffee’s various profiles? For example, does the coffee in question have a citrusy, bright profile? Adding a splash of orange to its design can increase its chances of being noticed and associate it with its cup profile. Are you selling exclusive auction coffees? Mark says that you can bring a touch of exclusivity and luxury by adding metallic lettering.
More sure that your choice of fonts and colors work with your packaging’s size, structure, and material. For example, italics can work well on sample pouches for end consumers but might be invisible when placed on a one-kilogram side-gusseted bag.
Accessibility is also something you need to consider. While you want your coffee to be easy to recognize when placed on a shelf with other coffee bags, your coffee bags also need to be easy to use. Packaging should be user-friendly and easy to open and close, where applicable to your audience. For example, many people might find zipper bags easier to operate than ones with foil ties.
By adding gold snowflakes to their coffee packaging, the brand is visually communicating that their coffee was created for the festive season.
Don’t Forget About Sustainable Packaging
Modern packaging options means that it’s never been easier to create something that preserves the flavors and aromas you’ve worked hard to showpiece during roasting while taking into account the environment.
However, as Millennial and Generation Z aged consumers continue to dominate the beverage market, they’re increasingly demanding more transparency and ethics from product labels and packaging. “We are constantly exploring packaging solutions that are recyclable or biodegradable,” Mark tells me. “It’s important to us, our clients, and coffee consumers.”
This is something that you will need to consider at every point, and it goes beyond communicating how your coffee was harvested and processed in an environmentally friendly manner. Mark suggests that you clearly communicate details on your eco-friendly packaging on your labels. For example, you can add a brief guide on how to dispose of the bag correctly or mention how recycling it saves natural resources.
Using recyclable kraft paper for your packaging can communicate your brand’s commitment to eco-friendliness without saying a word.
Whether you’re designing your packaging from start to finish or entrusting the process to someone else, Mark stresses the importance of communicating openly with your packaging supplier, as they should provide you with support from concept and design to manufacturing, printing, and delivery. They should also allow you to explore their manufacturing processes and request samples.
Managing this kind of relationship isn’t easy when you’re managing a roastery full time. However, if you partner with a packaging supplier that shares your values and passion for coffee, you can rest assured that your ideas will get turned into three-dimensional objects that help your business thrive.
Photo credits: Allie Smith, MTPak Coffee, Neil Soque, Calvin Craig.
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