Coffee With Style

Every year at the Specialty Coffee Expo, there is an exhibit specifically for the design of coffee packaging, drinking containers, and educational and retail spaces. Since the expo was this past weekend, I came across an article by the Daily Coffee News discussing this year’s entries for coffee packaging, and it got me thinking about the many bags of beans I have purchased over the years (non-spoiler: it’s a lot).

I had to wonder: Are my coffee purchases influenced by the design of the packages? And if so, what is it about a particular package that attracts me?

After much thought, I had to accept the inescapable and unyielding truth: I might be influenced by a package’s design but probably not.

Here’s the thing. While I am highly attracted to brightly colored objects (see my last post for more on that), I am also supremely lazy. Stick something fuchsia in front of my nose, and I’ll have it in a death grip before I even realize what is happening, but if the object is too far away (like 10 feet), well, I’ll just learn how to live without it.

So when it comes to purchasing coffee, the first question that comes to my mind is, “Where is the easiest place to go?” The supermarket doesn’t sell coffee of the quality that I require, and I don’t trust the postal service to safely deliver an online order, so I usually have to pick up my coffee from a specialty shop. Which coffee shop depends on where I will be on the day that I run out of coffee.

But specialty coffee shops sell coffee beans two different ways. They either roast their own coffee (or partner with a roaster to create their own unique line) or resell bags from a variety of roasters, usually in a seasonal rotation.

Now for those selling their own product, package design is unimportant and rarely considered. In fact, it’s pretty standard for shops selling their own roasts to use simple brown bags with logos that are either stamped or printed on a simple white, office label.

For those shops though that resell from other roasters, packaging design, in theory, plays a much larger role. In such a situation, it makes sense that a customer would purchase the coffee that’s in the more appealing bag. I mean, I do this all the time with wine and liquor bottles.

I say in theory for a couple of reasons though.

First of all, most coffee bags look alike. Black with neutral lettering is kind of a thing. I get it. It’s easy. It looks sleek. It’s safe. It’s boring. People eat that shit up. But if all the bags are black with neutral lettering, then can the packaging really affect a person’s buying  decision that much? No, it can’t.

Second of all, if someone is walking into a specialty coffee shop to buy coffee beans for the home, then they most likely are going to be more concerned about the coffee’s origin, roast date, and flavor profile than they are about the packaging. Hell, I usually think the packaging is ugly anyway, and I’ll almost always buy an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe over something that looks prettier.

Why? Because it’s delicious. It’s really that simple.

So what would a perfectly designed bag look like to me? Well, I do love color, so that would be a plus, but in my mind, three things can really make or break the packaging:

  1. Product information. Where is the coffee from, when was it roasted, and what are the taste profiles? I rarely need any more information than that to make a good decision, but it’s a pain when one of those items is missing.
  2. Waterproof seal. I once lost an expensive bag of beans to a rain storm in Las Vegas (of all places!). I wouldn’t have had to suffer that pain if the beans had not been packaged in a flimsy paper bag.
  3. Unique. It doesn’t have to have much flair or color, but the packaging does need to be different. Otherwise, I’m not going to be able to remember it when I’m shopping for coffee in the future.

Anyway, I’m sure there are a lot more things to consider when it comes to designing packaging (such as sustainability), but personally, I’ve just been underwhelmed by the designs that are out there.

Maybe one day (I hope one day) I’ll see a package that wows me, but whether I do or not, I’ll still be buying and drinking coffee.

Peace out, my friends,

The one and the only Pookachino

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