Month: June, 2016
Two seemingly divergent but in some ways overlapping trends have dominated coffee consumption in North America for the last decade and a half: one is about simplicity and the other complexity. Let’s start with the latter.
The underlying ethos of the artisanal or craft coffee movement is an appreciation for coffee as more than just a mass-produced commodity. There’s an increased interest not just in which region a coffee bean comes from but which farms, when it is harvested and how it is roasted. There’s a new lexicon about tasting notes similar to that of wine enthusiasts and a romanticization of the meticulousness that could go into producing a cup of coffee using traditional methods. This is often called 3rd wave coffee—the first wave refers to the period when freeze dried ground coffee was being bought for almost every home and the second wave refers to the rise of Starbucks coffee house culture and espresso based specialty drinks.
In reality, the 3rd wave coffee culture is a small subset of the much, much larger coffee community. But even if you had no interest in becoming a student of coffee beans or never been near a 3rd wave coffee house “cupping” to learn about tasting notes, the North American cultural zeitgeist has absorbed the idea that coffee could and should taste better than what our parents and grandparents consumed through most of the 20th century. That’s good. But it also brings us to our second trend.
Busy people love simplicity and there’s nothing wrong in a hectic world with wanting the small pleasures of your day—like a really good cup of coffee—to come just a little easier and be just a little more convenient.
In roughly the same period that craft coffee was catching on, the at-home coffee market has been transformed by the remarkable surge of single serve coffee makers.
The single serve option is perfect for coffee drinkers who love the convenience and variety that the traditional drip machine doesn’t offer and, very importantly, the coffee is much fresher. Oxygen is a cruel enemy of great tasting coffee. As soon as you open that vacuum packed bag the coffee starts to stale. Not so with airtight single serve coffee capsules.
It’s an option that barely existed at the start of the century, but one that has seen sales increase by more than 133,700% since then. (No, we’re not kidding, it is one hundred and thirty-three THOUSAND). Most of that growth occurred towards the end of last decade. By last year single serve coffee accounted for nearly 40% of all retail coffee sales in Canada and the U.S.
But as popular as single serve machines became, says Brian Miller, director of business development at Mother Parkers, some people were, frankly, underwhelmed with the taste. “They felt the flavour, the body, the aromas, the mouthfeel with single serve just wasn’t the same as what they were getting from their old drip brewer.”
That shortcoming was a central focus for the product development team at Mother Parkers when the company decided it was time to start making coffee pods for single serve machines. “We didn’t want to just be compatible with the single serve machines, we wanted to deliver a better single serve experience,” says Miller. “We wanted to taste better.”
What changed, of course, is the actual brewing process itself. With a traditional household drip brewer the brew time—can last several minutes. With a single serve brewer, this process is typically less than a minute.Mother Parkers has been in the coffee business for more than 100 years and has grown into the fourth largest roaster in North America. Its reputation for high quality coffee comes from a deep institutional understanding of the ethical sourcing of the best coffee from around the world, the roasting process and the packing process to maximize freshness in every pack. Those coffee fundamentals remained the same for Mother Parkers as it prepared to get into single serve.
Taking that into account, Mother Parkers still wanted to give consumers a full bodied cup of coffee with the richer aromas and better taste that was more similar to the coffee produced from a French Press—generally considered the gold standard for home-brewing. They wanted a better tasting coffee with the push of a button. The goal was simplicity, but the solution wasn’t.
“One of the key innovations is the filter,” says Paul Yang, Mother Parkers’ manager of packaging development and sustainability, when explaining Mother Parkers RealCup® single serve format. Inside the plastic cup of most single serve coffee pods the ground coffee rests inside a paper filter. The problem is that paper filters are very absorbent and so during the brewing process, as the coffee passes through the filter, the paper actually captures and retains a lot of what makes coffee taste great.
The breakthrough at Mother Parkers came with their FlavourMaxTM Filter that allows all of those flavours, the natural oils, the aromas to flow right into the cup. The result is RealCup® coffee using FlavorMaxTM filters delivers a more authentic beverage experience.
In addition the team at Mother Parkers can tailor the FlavourMaxTM filter to customize the single serve experience for different blends & beverages.
Fresh, high quality coffee beans, sourced ethically, expertly roasted, precisely ground, mixed with the right amount of water for just the right amount of time in an innovative coffee filter that was years in the making. Mother Parkers spent a great deal of time and effort perfecting its RealCupÒ single serve coffee format. But all consumers have to do is pop a RealCupÒ into their machine and push a button. It’s simple. And it’s simply a better tasting cup of coffee.
Twelve billion. That’s the staggering number of single serve coffee pods sold in 2015. It’s no exaggeration to say that single serve coffee has totally revolutionized the at home coffee market in just over a decade.
In 2000, single serve coffee was almost unheard of in North America. Today, industry estimates have a single serve machine on a third of American kitchen counters and coffee pods accounting for 40% of all ground coffee sales in the U.S.—the vast majority of that are K-Cups made for Keurig brewers. The speed with which the format took off was astonishing.
People love the convenience, variety and ease with which they can quickly brew a fresh cup of coffee in their home. But in the last little while a growing number of people have been asking out loud that all-important question: what about the environment? While concerns about used coffee pods ending up in landfill have been around for years, 2015 felt a bit like a turning point for the industry.
At the start of the year, a mysterious video called “Kill the K-Cup” appeared on YouTube and quickly went viral. The short film depicted giant aliens made of plastic coffee pods invading the planet. Subtle, it wasn’t. In case viewers missed the point, in the notes below the video the creators presented a list of concerns about K-Cups: In 2013 enough K-Cups were sold to circle the planet more than 10 times (that number has of course gone up since then). The vast majority of recycling operations don’t accept the pods. Recycling facilities need clean, separated materials to sort into clean streams in order to repurpose. These pods are mixed components of plastic, foil and organic that are not easy separated.
A few months later in a much-discussed article for the influential magazine The Atlantic about the environmental concerns of the K-Cup, John Sylvan, inventor of the Keurig coffee machine, told the writer James Hamblin he doesn’t own a Keurig anymore. “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” he said of his invention. “No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable.” Well, that’s not entirely true anymore.
Keurig is planning to launch their recyclable K-Cup® capsule, but unfortunately the roll-out will take time and the full transitionwon’t be complete until 2020. However, an easily recyclable K-style capsule option already exists; enabling consumers to reduce the waste going into landfill by 95%.
Mother Parkers has been in the coffee business for more than 100 years and has grown into the fourth largest roaster in North America. The company has always embraced cutting edge technology and product innovation to produce the high quality coffee it is famous for. That predisposition towards reinvention and original thinking also explains how Mother Parkers created its RealCupÒ capsules and became one of the first mass-market coffee companies to get serious about addressing the very real environmental concerns surrounding single serve coffee.
There were two primary motivations behind the creation of the RealCupâ capsule format, says Brian Miller, director of business development at Mother Parkers.
“Taste and Waste.” “First, we knew that a lot of consumers were unsatisfied with the quality of the coffee coming from single serve options. For this we invented the FlavorMaxä filter to bring the full bodied authentic taste they love in the convenience of single serve. But secondly, we knew right away that we wanted to address the waste that the format caused. Sustainability has always been built into the DNA of the company and incorporated into all the areas of the supply chain. This includes, activity at origin such as the Water Wise program in Ethiopia to manufacturing and distribution decisions that reduce energy use. However, a very visible post-consumer issue still remained with the capsules. While many thought that most consumers didn’t care about sustainability in the single serve world, we disagreed and saw a lot of people who love the convenience and the variety of single serve but are very uncomfortable with the waste that it caused.” Says Paul Yang, Mother Parkers’ manager of packaging development and sustainability. From here the company started by researching the needs of the recycling industry and heard loud and clear that they need clean, separated materials.
Now the challenge was to make a cup that delivered the authentic beverage experience but enabled consumers to easily separate its components. “We wanted to make sure that we didn’t sacrifice any of the first goal “taste” as we dealt with the “waste” which meant delivering the same freshness, the same taste and the same compatibility with the system. And easy separation is exactly what they created with the RealCupÒ format. After the brewing process is complete, users can simply wait for the pod to cool, click a tab on the cup, pull the filter and lid away, dump the wet grounds into their municipal compost bin or backyard garden and the cup is “clean” and ready for recycling wherever No. 6 plastics are accepted. Fully 95% of the capsule by weight can now be diverted with just the lid and filter going into landfill.
While the end product is easy for consumers, there were lots of technical challenges for us to overcome in development, says Miller.
They found that balance. Is it a perfect solution? John Sylvan might say no. Mother Parkers doesn’t believe it is either and is already working on ways to further improve.
But we all have to start somewhere and it is absolutely better than what we’ve been doing the last 10 years, dumping billions and billions and billions of plastic cups directly into landfill. We simply don’t have to do that anymore.