I love packaging. I love shipping. I love boxes. One of my favorite classes in college (and there were few that I enjoyed), was Supply Chain Management. It was absolutely fascinating to me to see all the inner working of how things are actually made and delivered to the end user. Where do the source materials come from? In the coffee industry, they call it ‘origin.’ All beans originate from farms within the coffee bean belt of the world- the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
The beans are picked, then picked through, processed, dried, milled, bagged, exported, shipped, imported, roasted, tasted, and packaged for sale, resale, or usage. Whew, that’s a lot. And there’s a lot more that could be said about each of those steps, but I want to talk about what happens after that’s all done. You’ve got a roasted bean and it’s bagged or tinned or wrapped or whatever. How do you get it to your raving fans? In this post, I’ll write about the functional part of shipping roasted coffee and in part two I’ll write about the formative part.
I’m assuming you are not a huge coffee distributor, loading boxes of coffee into cases and stacking them in varying designs on pallets and shrink-wrapping them. I’m also assuming you’re grateful for every ounce you sell, and want to build a long-lasting brand that gives people an exceptional coffee experience. Because let’s face it, if you’re shipping hundreds of pounds of roasted coffee a day all over the world, you’re not reading this blog. But if you’re just getting into roasting, or you’ve been roasting a little while and don’t know exactly where to start with your packaging, you’ve come to the right place.
Functional. Protection during transit is the very foundation of packaging, however large or small the item or items you’re shipping. The things that help protect your package are choosing the right box size, the right box thickness, the right rigidity, and determining whether any filler needs to go in the box to fill any voids. If you use a box that’s too big for your package, it will bounce around inside the box. If you use a box that’s too small, it may burst before arrival. If you choose to use an envelope other plastic mailer, will it protect the items inside and give you the cost saving benefit you’re looking for?
If you go to ULine’s website, you’ll find a specialist, of sorts, in packaging just about everything. It can be a bit overwhelming to sort through all the different types of boxes you can find. I’ve used them more than once when moving houses, but that’s a different story. They have a helpful guide that explains the difference between 200 lbs test boxes and 32 ECT boxes. (One is a bursting test and the other is an Edge Crush Test). According to ULine’s guide, you should use 32 ECT for lightweight shipping. I agree. For most of us, our roasted coffee falls into this lightweight category. There are also single and double wall boxes. When shipping coffee, a single wall 1/16th inch thickness (or 1 mil) should suffice to send your coffee wherever you need to.
The drawbacks of using a carton that is too thin is that your coffee bag may become damaged or just beat to hell and not look very appealing when it shows up. This is what has happened to all the coffee I’ve received in cardboard or plastic mailing envelopes. The bags get beat up pretty good inside the envelopes. This also happens when the box you use is too big and you don’t fill in the void with any filler, like styrofoam packing peanuts or preferably recyclable air pouches. This has also happened to coffee I’ve received- the bag bounced all around the box and got beat up pretty good on its way to me.
Some roasters put their bags inset looking display cartons to sell in the cafe. When they go to mail them, they put them in a thicker cardboard box for protection, and send them off. While they look good on the shelf, it’s overkill to double up the boxes. The display box by itself isn’t thick enough, and using an extra mailing box is too thick. The drawbacks of using a carton that is too thick is that you’re paying for protection you don’t need. The boxes are more expensive to buy than thinner boxes, and are also more expensive to ship. So if your box walls are too thick or you’ve doubled up on boxes and cartons, you’re going to quickly increase the cost of shipping. Will you pass that on to your consumer, or eat the cost yourself? Either way, the cost is needless.
This is particularly so when most specialty coffee packages are sold in 12 ounce bags. If you add a snug-fitting 1/16th inch walled 32 ECT box to the deal, you’ll be under the 1 pound weight for the USPS, even if you throw a product card and a sticker in there with it. This keeps your shipping as affordable as possible, while protecting your coffee and keeping the whole thing looking nice and professional. The key is to get a box that fits your package snugly, is thick enough to protect it, and matches your brand identity. That’s what I’ll write about in part 2.