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Is cold brew concentrate more environmentally friendly?

Modern coffee enthusiasts have several brewing methods to choose from. This has seen an explosion in the cold coffee segment; over the past few years, options such as cold brew, nitro, and iced coffees have become more prevalent on coffee shop menus. 

In addition to being able to use freshly brewed coffee or espresso for these beverages, cafés can also use a cold brew concentrate. This is usually prepared as a concentrated filter or full immersion brewed coffee, which is then diluted to make other beverages, such as cold brew or iced lattes. 

While the concept of cold brew concentrate is relatively simple, there are a number of factors to consider when making it. This includes the sustainability aspects of the production process, packaging options, and overall environmental impact of the product. 

I spoke to Ashley Prentice, the founder and CEO of Gento Coffee Roasters, and Adam Holliefield, Cold Brew Manager from Coffee Support, to learn more about how eco-friendly cold brew concentrate truly is. 

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The environmental impact of cold brew concentrates

Cold brew concentrates are made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for an extended period, usually 18-24 hours. This method extracts a highly concentrated coffee, which can then be diluted to taste. 

The production process of cold brew coffee can be quite energy-efficient, as it often requires no electricity–something Gento Coffee Roasters takes note of.

“Our cold brew preparation does not require electricity, making it 100% environmentally friendly and reducing our carbon footprint in the process,” Ashley explains. 

Packaging is another critical factor in the environmental impact of cold brew concentrates. Standard packaging formats often include recyclable Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) kegs, aluminium cans with perforated labels for easy recycling, and glass or plastic bottles

“We currently package our concentrate in fully recyclable PET kegs as well as aluminium cans,” says Adam of Coffee Support. “These choices support our sustainability values, but we are always looking to improve.”

The environmental impact of these processes is significant. Concentrates reduce the need for multiple single-use containers, as one concentrate container can produce multiple servings of cold brew, thus cutting down on waste. For instance, a single litre of cold brew concentrate can make up to 10 litres of cold brew coffee, drastically reducing the number of bottles needed compared to pre-made ready-to-drink (RTD) cold brew. 

Additionally, packaging materials such as glass and aluminium are more sustainable than plastic, especially when part of a circular system where materials are reused or recycled. Research suggests that using recyclable and reusable packaging can reduce the overall carbon footprint by up to 30%, significantly contributing to a more sustainable coffee industry.

Packaging cold brew concentrate: What to consider

When packaging cold brew concentrates, brands need to consider several factors to ensure sustainability and efficiency. 

The first is distribution and sales methods, as these will significantly impact the choice of packaging. For brands focusing on online sales, lightweight and durable packaging options are essential to minimise shipping costs and reduce the environmental impact. For instance, flexible pouches or small, concentrated bottles that are less prone to damage during transit can be advantageous.

Conversely, brands selling through physical stores might prioritise packaging that is visually appealing and emphasises reusability or recyclability to attract eco-conscious consumers. 

Gento Coffee’s use of glass bottles not only aligns with their sustainable practices but also appeals to customers who prefer a premium and environmentally friendly product.

Second is the business model: will it be online or physical? Online retailers might benefit from compact and easy-to-ship packaging, such as recyclable plastic bottles or pouches. Both options can be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Physical retailers, however, might focus on sturdier and more visually appealing packaging, such as bottles or aluminium cans. Both can enhance the in-store shopping experience and highlight the brand’s commitment to sustainability.

The third factor would be compatibility with other brand offerings. Ensuring that the packaging of cold brew concentrates fit with the rest of a brand’s product lineup is vital for maintaining brand consistency and reinforcing the brand’s values. For instance, a brand that emphasises sustainability across its product range should choose packaging for its cold brew concentrates that aligns with this commitment. This could include using materials that are consistent with those used for other products, such as recyclable or reusable materials, and implementing similar design elements that convey the brand’s eco-friendly message.

Additionally, brands can enhance their sustainability image by offering incentives for customers to return or recycle packaging. Gento Coffee’s bottle return programme, which allows customers to return empty bottles for reuse in exchange for a discount on their next purchase, is an excellent example of how brands can promote recycling and build customer loyalty simultaneously.

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The benefits of offering cold brew concentrate

Offering cold brew concentrates has several benefits for both wholesale and retail avenues. For wholesalers, concentrates are a more cost-effective option due to their longer shelf life and reduced need for refrigeration, leading to lower storage and transportation costs. Retailers can benefit from the versatility and convenience of concentrates, which allow consumers to prepare their cold brew to their preferred strength and quantity.

Moreover, the environmental benefits are substantial. “Cold brew concentrate is inherently a smarter option in terms of sustainability as it can produce 2-10x the volume of cold brew compared to an RTD product,” Adam explains. 

This efficiency translates to fewer resources used per serving of coffee, reducing the overall environmental footprint. Additionally, the compact nature of concentrates means less packaging material is required, further decreasing waste.

Consumers also benefit from the convenience and customization options that cold brew concentrates offer. They can prepare their coffee to their desired strength, add their preferred flavours, and store the concentrate easily for future use. This flexibility not only enhances the consumer experience but also supports a more sustainable lifestyle by reducing the need for single-use coffee products and packaging.

Both Gento Coffee and Coffee Support highlighted a commitment to sustainability through innovative practices and packaging choices. Gento Coffee focuses on sustainably sourcing raw materials and using energy-efficient production methods. It also implements a bottle return program to promote recycling. 

“Our customers are often surprised to learn that preparing cold brew requires no energy, which adds to its appeal for the conscientious consumer,” Ashley shares. 

Cold brew concentrates offer a potentially more environmentally friendly option compared to traditional RTD cold brews. Their energy-efficient production process, combined with sustainable packaging choices, can significantly reduce the environmental impact. Brands like Gento Coffee and Coffee Support are leading the way by implementing practices that prioritise sustainability, from sourcing materials to innovative packaging solutions.

Images courtesy of Gento Coffee Roasters

Learn more about eco-friendly packaging for cold brew coffee concentrates. 

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