January 27, 2021

Three emerging trends in coffee packaging


In the last couple of years, coffee packaging has become a topic of focus for roasters and consumers alike.

With each day that passes, the coffee sector pays more and more attention to the environmental impact of packaging. Beyond that, the emergence of innovative design options shows that roasters are always looking for new ways to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market. 

To understand some of the most important emerging patterns in coffee packaging, I spoke with Mark Zhou and Corina Ye from MTPak Coffee. Read on for some more insight into these trends.

You might also like our article about how packaging affects a coffee’s aroma.

Freshness first

We all know that 2020 has been a strange year for the global coffee sector, and that it has changed the way we buy and drink coffee.

When countries around the world started going into lockdown, some consumers switched away from buying food and drink in person to ordering it online. As a result, the coffee sector has seen a rise in subscription boxes, takeaways, and deliveries. 

For home brewers, roasters started by offering smaller coffee bags more suited to these changing consumption habits. This helped to not only reduce waste, but also to preserve the quality of the coffee by ensuring oxidation was less of an issue. 

However, oxidation becomes an even bigger concern once coffee is ground. When this happens, its surface area increases. This means that more of the volatile flavour compounds present in the beans are consequently exposed to oxygen. This means that they effectively become “stale” and lose their more delicate flavours more quickly.

Despite this, as online orders skyrocketed in response to Covid-19, more and more customers came to demand the convenience that preground coffee offered.

Corina Ye is a Senior Account Manager at MTPak Coffee. She tells me that most of the roasters they work with predominantly package and sell whole bean coffee, although many offer the option to grind the coffee after roasting. 

A reliable way to seal and reseal the bags (to prevent continued oxidation) is essential, she says.

Corina explains that resealable solutions have been incredibly popular among specialty coffee roasters in recent months. Traditional zip locks, and pocket zippers (which are initially opened by pulling a tab), are two of the most common options, she says.

Corina explains that pocket zippers in particular can be applied to any bag structure, no matter its shape. “This makes it so much easier for roasters to fill the bags and gives consumers two opening options: using the pocket zipper or cutting the top to empty the entire pouch,” she explains.

“Our most popular coffee bag this year was probably the flat bottom bag, closely followed by the stand-up pouch,” Corina adds. 

She adds that while sizes of the bags varied, orders increasingly turned towards direct-to-consumer sales, rather than wholesale to cafés or other coffee businesses.

Mark Zhou is the CEO and President of MTPak Coffee. He says: “This trend is likely to continue. Coffee consumption is only expected to recover in the second half of 2021 and throughout 2022, based on USDA figures.”

Mark adds that he received a number of requests this year to make coffee bags both sturdier and lighter. He says that this was because the major concerns were reducing shipping costs and protecting beans more effectively during transport.

Flexible packaging is both strong and malleable, meaning that it takes up less space without compromising the integrity of the roasted coffee within.

Custom designs

Full customisation has been another growing trend. By experimenting with their coffee bags, roasters have been able to bring their brand to life on their packaging, and even target specific customers or market segments through uniquely designed coffee bags.

Corina says that digital printing in particular is a great way to make this customisation quicker and easier. She says that it “opens the door to an infinite number of ways to tell your story and build trust with customers”. 

Despite the appeal of custom designs and digital printing, it’s important to note that attracting coffee consumers goes beyond the visual appeal of your bag.

Award-winning label designer Mario di Paolo said in an interview that “consumers need inspiring new materials… materials that make them dream, and transmit the story behind the products they’re consuming”. 

In line with this, specialty coffee roasters in recent years have experimented heavily with materials. Unbleached kraft paper and rice paper in particular have been notably popular, giving a rustic and artisanal feel to roasted coffee packaging in a way that resonates with consumers.

In comparison, however, some roasters have shown a preference for glossier, smoother materials such as bioplastics like LDPE and PLA. As well as being easier to print on, some roasters feel consumers prefer the “cleaner” aesthetic of these materials.

No matter which material you use, it’s clearer than ever that design is important to specialty coffee consumers. With so many options in-store and online, it’s important that roasters use their packaging to grab consumers’ attention, differentiate themselves from the competition, and win mind share in a competitive marketplace.

Matte or gloss?

Glossy paints and coatings are a staple in the packaging sector. They often use bright and vibrant colours to grab the consumer’s attention. As such, they have been a key part of the specialty coffee sector for some time.

Despite this, in recent years, more specialty coffee brands have turned towards using matte coatings on their bags. However, this isn’t just because of the unusual, striking visual appeal of matte colours, according to Corina.

She says consumers actually make a completely different association with matte packaging. Matte coatings “soften” colours, and the light bounces off them in a unique way. As such, the brain subconsciously associates them with the idea of a smooth or velvety surface, which looks more appealing.

The associations don’t stop there, however. According to a study by Eva Marckhgott and Bernadette Kamleitner, “food in matte packaging can be perceived as more natural”.

There are more roasters out there than ever looking to capitalise on the ever-growing consumer demand for sustainable coffee. Using matte packaging may communicate a commitment to responsible sourcing practices in a completely new way.

Another study conducted by Nayar and Oren suggests that the association between matte surfaces and “naturalness” is because the texture is typical of organic materials. In comparison, glossy sheens and bright colours are far more prevalent in artificial materials, such as plastics.

Marckhgott and Kamleitner add: “When matte packaging increases perceptions of product naturalness, consumers also expect the product to be tastier and are more likely to buy it.” 

In specialty coffee, matte packaging has become increasingly popular among roasters who source organic coffee. It is also a common choice for those who want to outline their commitment to environmental sustainability. 

Corina adds: “When standing in front of a row of roasted coffee bags, environmentally conscious coffee consumers will be immediately attracted to kraft paper bags, or other materials, colors, and coatings that are often associated with eco-friendliness.”

However, if you do choose to use matte coatings on your coffee bags, you should take additional care to make sure the material doesn’t look too soft. If you do so, consumers could subconsciously dismiss it as dull. 

To avoid this, Corina says that it’s often a good idea to add detailing in a contrasting, bold colour. This could even be metallic, for example. “This helps your bag ‘pop’ on the shelf, while [metallic details] give it a more luxurious look,” she says.

Quality coffee packaging played an important role in the coffee sector throughout 2020. It allowed roasters to deliver coffee in a safe, reliable, and hygienic way, without ever compromising on quality.

Mark says he thinks these trends will continue throughout 2021. “The higher demand for flexible packaging has sped up research into sustainable solutions that prolong shelf life,” he explains. “That’s why we launched our recyclable coffee bags and compostable pouches earlier this year. We are also interested in exploring other sustainable materials.”

Mark adds that another important thing to consider when “going green” is educating the public about what it truly means.

“When we started talking about recyclability and biodegradability, we realised that there’s been some confusion. This has predominantly been about the terms and what they mean when it comes to disposal,” Mark explains. He adds that transparent communication about sustainability is important, and that roasters should focus on making this information clearer.

Ultimately, keeping these trends in mind and acting on them can help you set yourself apart from the competition. With every day that passes, specialty coffee is becoming a more competitive marketplace for roasters. By differentiating your packaging, you can make sure that it stands out on the shelf and wins mind share among consumers.

Found this interesting? Don’t forget to check out our article about how to design packaging for your roasted coffee.

Photo credits: MTPak Coffee, Cottonbro, Nima Izadi

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: MTPak Coffee is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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