By Catherine Franks
Two years ago (Autumn 2021) we proudly launched our newest form of coffee packaging - our blue fully home compostable bags. It took us years of trial and error (and two blog posts charting our journey) and lots of sweat and tears. But finally the job was done! And we all lived happily after.
(Sound of a needle scratching across a record)
Er, not quite….
Packaging has been quite the journey for us. I guess the upside is that all journeys are a learning experience. And boy have we learned a lot. So much so, that now (Summer 2023) we are launching yet another new packaging and here is a third blog post about it all. To tell you the truth our hand was forced due to supply chain issues so we have had to move away from our compostable bags. But this caused us to look again at our whole packaging situation and we are really glad that we did so. We are very pleased with the results and hope that you like them too.
The thing is there have been some big changes and we feel those warrant further explanation, hence yet another post about packaging. You would be forgiven for not wanting to read yet more about this subject, but if you are a packaging nerd like me then read on.
The catalyst for change
We started using fully home compostable pouches for our coffee in Autumn 2021, having ordered enough to last us approximately a year. At the time we had those bags made the lead time for production was a couple of months. So in June of 2022 we sent off a request for a further set of bags to the manufacturer, thinking we were in good time to get them in for the Autumn. Ha! Little did we know…
We got quite the shock when the bag manufacturer informed us that the lead time had increased to 6 months due to there being a shortage of the compostable film. It seems that there are only two companies that manufacture it and due to increased demand plus post Covid logistics chaos it was taking significantly longer to get bags produced. After lots of to-ing and fro-ing we decided we needed to cancel our order and go back to the drawing board with our packaging. At this point the packaging company got back to us and told us that due to the cancellation of another much larger order than ours, their factory could now produce ours but that any future orders would need the same long lead times. This means that we would likely have a gap between the finishing of our next set of bags and when we could get the third lot in. All in all this was a really unsatisfactory and stressful situation which looked like it would be a persistent problem whenever we needed to buy in more packaging.
So we decided to get this second order made to buy us time to go back to the beginning and re think our packaging from scratch. We have spent the last year doing this and as we now come to the end of our compostable bags, we would like to introduce you to our newest packaging offering.
Ta da da da….
Tins need no introduction really, being a classic storage option for coffee and tea, basically forever. Tins are beautiful, they are durable, they keep coffee fresh and protected from air and light. They can be refilled and reused endlessly. And finally, when they come to the end of their life, they can be recycled through any curbside collection with metals, glass and plastics. Everyone knows what they are made of and how to recycle them.
We have always loved tins at Steampunk - remember our tins of hot chocolate in the early days? Or those tobacco tins we used for tea? Of course we have also offered our tin canisters for years too. It always seemed like a really big step (and quite a puzzle when it comes to storage of our packaging) to offer tins for all of our coffees. But after looking at and discounting for one reason or another basically every other possible packaging option, we kept returning to the tin over and over again. So this year we decided to take the plunge, and we worked with our talented friend and in house designer Rachel Seago to design our ultimate coffee packaging. We think it is hands down the best packaging we have ever produced at Steampunk, we hope you will agree!
Refills made easy
Tins have enabled us to relaunch our coffee refilling service which we paused during Covid and had only brought back in limited form recently, offering our main espresso as a refill. Now that all of our coffees come in a tin, the refill system is very easy. Just bring your tin back in to us and we can refill it with any of our current coffees. We are offering a discount of £1 off the price of each coffee, if bought as a refill. As a local producer we hope that our many regular local customers will embrace this and come back in with their tins for refilling. Reuse is after all the most environmentally friendly option, much more so than recycling or composting.
But what about our far flung Steampunk drinkers?
Refills if you aren’t local
We realise that many of our regular coffee drinkers are not local and so we have also decided to offer all of our coffees in a 1kg size as well as in the 250g tin. These are packaged in a recyclable plastic zip sealed bag with the idea being that you can refill your tin four times with your current favourite coffee, saving on the individual packaging and shipping of smaller units of coffee. We realise that some like their coffee as freshly roasted as possible and obviously it does vary how quickly folk go through their coffee, so we offer coffee by subscription too.
From the end of July 2023 subscriptions come in a zip sealed recyclable plastic bag, packed flat in a cardboard envelope which fits through your letterbox. Plastic??? Yes, this was an incredibly hard one for us and this decision was not taken lightly. It was the result of speaking to lots and lots of customers and reviewing how our compostable packaging was working for people and how it was being disposed.
When we spoke with customers about our coffee packaging, we learned some interesting things:
- lots of people do not have access to home composting facilities. Even us! We had hoped that the company who composts our cups would take our waste bags plus any returned to us by customers who don’t have a compost bin, but sadly they could not take them. I’ve ended up having to compost customer bags in my own garden compost at home.
- People are confused about where the bags go. Some folk were sending them for recycling with paper. Some were putting them in their food waste. And many many more were just chucking them in the bin, figuring they would break down eventually, being compostable.
- Although people would rather have plastic free packaging, they told us that the most important factor for them was being able to dispose of it correctly and easily. If given a choice between plastic free compostable and plastic recyclable, it was in fact the plastic recyclable which was the better option for them.
It has become really clear that we need to have very simple and easy to understand packaging with clear instructions on it for disposal. Furthermore, the packaging needs to made out of materials that are easily recycled in all the local schemes. Most importantly, we need to figure out a way of reducing the amount of packaging that gets thrown away.
So that is why we have decided on this approach:
- make our main packaging (250g tins) durable and reusable and make the refilling as simple as possible. Click HERE for up to date info on our refills.
- Make our subscriptions as streamlined, lightweight and easily recycled as possible, taking account of kerbside recycling options.
- Provide clear and up to date information to our customers of what the packaging is made from and how it should be disposed. Click HERE for up to date recycling info.
Considering how up and down our packaging journey has been to date, it is really hard to make any predictions for the future. I do hope that our tins will be around for a while and I hope that customers embrace refilling them as a habit when they visit.
Maybe some exciting new innovations in packaging materials or recycling facilities will emerge that will make this a less thorny issue. Maybe AI robots will have taken over everything and they don’t drink coffee (yet).
We are living in unprecedented times as they say so guess we shall all wait and see. In the meantime, let’s refill!