Specialty Retailer: Paper or Plastic?

Paper or Plastic?

By Brenda Porter-Rockwell
The latest trend in the coffee business is focused on ways to satisfy a triple bottom line of reducing your coffee shop’s environmental foot print, yet still providing a suitable vessel for hot beverages, all while making a profit. While it sounds like a tall order, manufacturers of next generation cups, sleeves and lids, not to mention cutlery, are increasingly heeding the call with solutions to aid coffeehouses in winning customer loyalty and earning points for helping save the environment with sustainable, yet functional and affordable, products.

“Whether you’re manufacturing cups, sleeves or even a press like we do, we’re all trying to meet the same objectives: is everything recyclable and then can it actually be a closeable product?” notes Kent Rhodes, CEO of Auburn, CA-based SmartCup, makers of the Xpress recyclable, French Press lid.

Dr. Benjamin Punchard, Global Packaging Insights Director, Mintel Group Ltd. (London, UK) added that in fact, consumers have come to expect companies — more than themselves — to do their part to protect the Earth, yet offer a quality product (even in a coffee cup, for example). He added that if given the choice between two products — one of which addresses the issue and one that doesn’t — most customers are more likely to choose the one that does address the issue, thereby earning customer loyalty.

Answering the Challenge

The crisis faced here is that a thin paper cup simply won’t do. And more and more neither will styrofoam cups, Punchard says. Next is the use of a polymer lining on the cup to prevent hot coffee from soaking through. Alternately, double cupping would work. But with sustainability of top of mind for customers, suppliers have heeded the call for greater stewardship on your part, reducing the need to double cup (a costly endeavor) while tackling the basic need of allowing a customer to safely hold a hot beverage.

According to BriteVision Media’s Vice President of Custom Sales Don Scherer, an easy, yet still eco-friendly option, is a single-walled paper cup and coffee sleeve which still uses up to 40 percent less paper than a double walled paper cup. The company produces sleeves made with 100 percent compostable and 100 percent recyclable organic materials, including vegetable-based inks.

“As far as sleeves go, this is the easiest of the things to be ecologically minded with. Most sleeves on the market, and all that we sell, are made from a large percentage of post consumer paper. Ours are 85 percent post-consumer paperboard compostable and recyclable,” explains Craig Warner, President of Your Brand Cafe.

The company is a supplier of low cost, eco-friendly, hot and cold beverage cups and custom printed sleeves.

Next generation alternatives to paper fiber include cups fashioned from polypropylene, high density polyethylene, and other alternative resins.

“Many of these new alternatives offer innovative solutions to achieve insulative properties sufficient to obviate the need for either a second fiber/paper cup or fiber/paper sleeve,” says Stefan Ebert, Marketing Manager at UVU Technologies Packaging.

Also, cups are available with linings made from compostable, plant-based starch polymers instead of the standard petroleum-based ones. While it’s a welcome advance toward good stewardship, the downside here is that contrary to what a lot of people think, these plant-based polymers won’t just turn to dirt when tossed in the regular trash. They have to be processed through specialized commercial composting facilities, which are pitifully few and far between in this country.

“Many consumers don’t have ready access to a compost. It’s a great solution, but how many will go out of their way to compost a cup?” laments Punchard.

For cafes that serve food and offer cutlery, StalkMarket Products, a provider of compostable food service products, recently became the third U.S. company to gain Carbon Trust Certification for carbon foot printing for its sugar cane plates and bowls. Stalkmarket is also behind the first Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certified compostable Ingeo hot cup and lid system.

From cup to lid, you can now order a complete hot beverage container and lid that meets the composting requirements of BPI and standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials.

My Smart Cup is experimenting with going to a fully compostable product as well as a reusable Xpress lid system. “We anticipate over time delivering a more sustainable and disposable product,” Rhodes says. But as with all advances, there needs to be a high degree of buy in from the market to keep costs in line.

“It’s a chicken and egg type thing,” Warner says. “When it comes to making sleeves from other natural alternatives, the problem is cost, mostly because the scale of manufacturing is still small and somewhat inefficient. This only changes as demand increases, which is slow because of the higher cost.”

Rhodes acknowledged that the Xpress lid offers a number of advantages to earn customer loyalty through a more personalized approach to coffee, for example, but acquiesced the press system, even in its current form is still a little costly for independents.

“The retailer has to balance the need for the consumer to be environmentally sensitive, but still deliver the beverage in a quality product. But they also need to understand that there’s a premium for that trade-off,” Rhodes says.

Looking Good and Doing Good

Shops looking to add a little pizzazz to cups or sleeves can still be eco-friendly without incurring too much of an up-charge for four color sleeves and cups.

“Our business model at Your Brand Cafe from the beginning was to develop a branding process that was priced low enough for the coffee houses. With minimums as low as one case, any coffee house can afford to brand their product, eco or not,” Warner says.

BriteVision’s Scherer agrees that a café’s eco-friendly values can coincide easily with printing in full color on cup sleeves, too. “We are stewards of the industry in that we provide full, four-color printing for the same price as our competitors’ one color products,” he says.

Huhtamahki’s Chinet Insulated Hot Cup, for example, also helps shops upgrade the image of their hot beverage program. With an insulated sleeve, the Chinet cups keep beverages hot, while allowing customers to comfortably hold it sans sleeve or extra cup. Huhtamaki offers five different sizes with three distinct lid styles.

Simply Lids’ Simply Slider with Adsert is a disposable, eco-friendly lid option with a larger hole than traditional lids that’s positioned vertically at the base of a liquid reservoir. According to the company this option allows the liquid to flow more freely, and the vertical orientation of the hole keeps it from splashing out. But with the added option of the Adsert, shops can add a message of their choosing to the Simply Slider. Options include logos, QR codes or any other message to reach customers. Limited edition Adserts from special events can be added, and the Simply Slider easily pops off as a souvenir.
Keep a Lid on It.

It’s every customer’s worst nightmare — an insecure lid. The uVu lid takes away some of the uncertainty that comes with snapping a lid into place. The uVu’s inner seal process combines with visual cues along the outer side of the lid that clearly indicates and verifies when a lid is properly seated to the cup.

“We have refined this technology so that the method of forming this lid is no more costly than the production of conventional domed coffee lids (removing cost as an impediment to implementation) and, through our own thermoforming laboratory, we can provide tooling and instruction to any lid converter such that this ‘seal and seal’ technology can be applied to any current lid design for a safer customer experience,” explains Ebert.

From Simply Lids comes the Simply Slider. Offering the same functionality of the traditional lid, the Simply Slider (available in three options) features a sliding tab. When closed, the company says, it keeps liquid from splashing out of the drinking and air holes.

The Xpress lid by SmartCup is a one-use, recyclable iteration of the French press. Enthusiasts believe pressed coffee is the best way to experience the flavor and aroma of quality coffees because the coffee grounds remain in direct contact with the brewing water and the grinds are filtered from the water via a mesh instead of a paper filter. Coffee brewed with the French press captures more of the coffee’s flavor and essential oils.

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