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According to recent research, independent coffee shops have changed the way customers engage with coffee, educating them on producers, processes and even packaging. Mainstream coffee lovers are now looking for a more niche experience, mirroring the sophistication of the trendsetting global coffee shop scene. Online coffee sales also take their cue from vibrant café innovators, with distinctive packaging and clear messaging a must in a crowded market.
Specialist coffee shops and online retail are two of the fastest growing channels for coffee purchases.
So how can brands tap into boutique attitudes while still remaining accessible? And how are these new trends influencing changes in coffee packaging?
Scott Larritt, creative director of Melbourne design studio Swear Words, has enjoyed a long collaboration with the city’s iconic micro roaster Market Lane Coffee. Larritt talks about the studio's packaging for Market Lane, and gives his thoughts on what makes great packaging design and his hopes for coffee packaging in the future.
Design and functionality
Larritt’s work with the specialty coffee roastery and retailer includes generating the graphic black-and-white identity for the brand, and evolving its packaging and web design. “Part of a microbrewery’s core brand offering is rotating roasts, with new beans every few weeks,” says Larritt, “so you need a packaging label that is small batch. It also needs to be digitally printed so it’s flexible for small quantities of roasts and constantly changing names.” Label size options tend to be limited, though, as with wine and beer label design. “What would be good would be an entire bag that could be printed digitally, so you could use the whole real estate to communicate boutique batches.”
Coffee needs to be stored in highly functional packaging to maintain freshness. “The way forward with coffee will be when we have other interesting, unique packaging alternatives and can get more creative.”
When designing coffee packaging for online purchases versus in-store, Larritt doesn’t see a huge difference, as “coffee transports very easily in soft package form, although businesses wanting to grow online sales might desire more compact packs.”
Bringing the cafe experience into the home
So how can packaging recreate some of the specialist coffee shop experience at home? Nespresso’s luxurious pod designs – with glossy, opulent colours denoting different flavours – let users channel their inner barista when operating their own coffee machine. “Pods are experiential. They allow you to bring the café experience home and wrap it into your daily routine,” says Larritt.
Market Lane’s mission is to make good coffee accessible and exciting, and they understand not everyone will be consuming their product in-store. Larritt says, “Market Lane Coffee’s owner, Fleur Studd, is very good at selling beans and all the coffee-making equipment in-store, encouraging customers to make great coffee at home.”
Two take-home coffee sets, designed by Swear Words, continue that campaign, including a ‘Jet set coffee kit’ for mobile coffee lovers and a ‘Pour over start-up kit’ for making filter coffee. “The packs were inspired by cosmetics and fashion gift boxes,” explains Larritt. “They were intended to feel special but be used daily.” The kits combine a basic corrugated card box, printed with a single-coloured map, with a more polished, vibrant matte laminate sleeve that describes the product. Crucially, the packaging balances that touch of artisanal luxury with a strong connection to the product:
“We used colour and texture to design something that’s not too bling, but not too austere. Coffee is a warm product, roasted by hand – it hails from a grower – and that needs to come through to ground it.”
Sophistication and approachability
While boutique, luxury goods have had an aspirational influence on coffee culture, packaging can still be used to cultivate approachability. “At the beginning [of the coffee trend], coffee was quite exclusive – it was all about heritage, single-origin varietals and the tech aspect. Now it needs to be more inclusive. Coffee is trying to be more approachable, to let the general audience in.” Larritt explains how in Market Lane Coffee stores staff will make you a fantastic cup of coffee, then hand you a story card telling you about the farm, family or background of the growers "connecting the product in the cup with the story."
Soulful storytelling is key for coffee packaging too, both online and in-store, but it's important to avoid alienating geek speak (early-adopter hipsters may have attended cupping sessions, but the general public wants more basic guidance on flavours and easy coffee-making methods). For Market Lane Coffee, Larritt says, “simple use of colour was a key differentiator for communicating flavour notes. Restraint is core to a sophisticated brand.” Less is more in terms of design impact.
Additionally, an exciting future trend could be biodegradable, compostable packs, predicts Larritt, with eco-friendly, re-usable packaging solutions in tune with the socially responsible ethics of forward-thinking coffee producers.
Above all, Larritt believes it’s vital to make your product stand out in a level playing field where there’s not much packaging variety. A case in point is the monochrome paper cups Swear Words designed for Market Lane, bearing the graphic, witty words, 'We love to make coffee for the city that loves to drink it.' Make a simple, authentic, emotional connection and it's a buzzy brew.
 Euromonitor International, Coffee in 2016: From Premium to Luxury
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