It may be unfair to suggest that the packaging sector is not the most exciting sector in the café-bar trade, but it is certainly one of the most vital. Just look at the estimated figures for the size of the takeaway coffee sector alone in the UK – where we would be if we had nothing for those takeaways to be taken away in?
The chairman of the Foodservice Packaging Association recently said that the sector is worth £800 million a year.
Whilst, the packaging industry says very little about itself, there have, in recent weeks, been some serious advances in café-related packaging for the carrying of takeaway beverages and snacks.
Several operators in the food-and-drink to go sector have recently turned their attention to one part of the takeaway cup – the lid. A few years ago there was a design for a kind of takeaway cup lid which was made with shaped spaces for sugar, spoons, milk jigger – but it never really caught on.
A new idea comes from Joe Fogel of Vaiopak (the same operation as the Printed Cups Company) and involves a lid with a recess which can be used for ‘some other ingredient’, and a push-through hole for a straw, which means the user is drinking from the cup while the snack in the top stays in place.
It is, says the company, surprising that nobody has done it before – the concept is not that hard for people to grasp, nor is it difficult to make.
The first version of Vaiopak’s combi-lid was made for very big takeaway cups, the American ‘bucket’ sizes, because initial interest has come from the cinema trade. “Cinemas are very good at creating up-selling ‘deals’,” says Joe Fogel. “You could create the promotional deal of a drink and an ice-cream, because you can get several scoops in this lid. Or a bag of M&Ms or other sweets fit into it nicely; popcorn fits into it. You can see the idea of Wimbledon, with the Pimms in the cup and the strawberries and cream in the lid.
“We’ve tried it with hot drinks, and although a nice idea would be a coffee with a muffin, we think you can’t really drink a hot drink through a straw. However, a large iced tea with something appropriate in the lid sounds like a very good idea.”
The pricing implications are surprising. It may sound obvious, but research has discovered that even if this is costlier than a simple cup, it is still cheaper than using two items of packaging.
Elsewhere, Solo Cup, an immense player in the takeaway coffee market, has devised the Olivine and ‘press & dress’ containers. These are intended to allow both wet and dry ingredients to be displayed for sale and carried away, in the same pack, and the new feature allows a filled pot to be suspended from the inside of the main lid which could be used for salad dressing.
Tri-Star won a Foodservice Packaging award for its Deli Pot Topper, a similar idea in which the pot can be filled with the main ingredient, while the lid is filled with a further ingredient or condiment (Tri-Star is a trade customer of Solo). Tri-Star says that there are hundreds of possible combination uses, from salads and dressings to strawberries and cream, yoghurt and granola, or fruit and nuts.
This, remarks Solo’s managing director Tony Waters, is work which should be seen as taking packaging’s image beyond the ‘commodity’ stage.
Other recent new work in packaging, with regard to hot beverages include Bunzl who showed a new product, ‘never before seen in the UK café bar market’ at this year’s Caffé Culture show. This is a takeaway cup lid with a slightly different shape, and curved lines instead of sharp-edged, for more comfortable drinking.
A different kind of lid idea has been around for a couple of years now, without hitting mainstream use is the Smart Lid. Described as the only hot beverage packaging to offer a visual indication of the contents. This is because the lid darkens in colour according to the temperature of the liquid inside, which should act as a more significant warning than the standard ‘contents are hot’ sign.
A hot-beverage product which has been faster to take off is the re-usable KeepCup, an Australian idea. The invention dates from fourteen years ago, when a family realised that convenience in takeaway coffee incurred too high an environmental cost. Many cafés gave a discount to customers who brought in their own cups, but baristas got annoyed with personal items which would not fit an espresso machine. KeepCup looked at the problem from the operator’s point of view, re-designed its products in a ‘barista-friendly’ design, and has sold two and a half million items across thirty-three countries in less than three years. In the last quarter, 40,000 were sold in the UK.
Back in the disposable-packaging sector, several makers are now able to produce paper cups on which a message can appear or change according to the temperature of the liquid inside. In conventional cup printing, imaginative possibilities have been opened up by the giant International Paper and the rather smaller Vegware.
These are the ‘random-print’ and ‘lottery’ ideas. A typical idea from International Paper is to print on the base of a cup a random number between one and ten; the main cup design is of a poker hand of cards. If the number on the bottom completes a winning hand, there is a prize.
Vegware now offers perforated ‘windows’ which open to reveal a full-colour print design underneath. The operator can choose to have a couple of winning messages in each thousand cups, or a unique code printed under each, to fit with a winning lottery number.
The café operator can choose to regard packaging as purely a commodity item, if he or she wishes… but it does not have to be that way. Today’s packaging can definitely perform a more creative job.