Mrs Green talks to Kenco about their packaging

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on November 26, 2009 13 Comments
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Toby Smart from Kenco answers my questions about packaging

Toby Smart from Kenco answers our questions about packaging

This week’s guest post is from Toby Smart from the Kenco marketing team. I asked him some questions about their packaging after reading about their “Eco refill” packs (ad below).

Kenco’s Eco Refill packs are for you to pour straight into your Kenco jar which reduces packaging weight by 97%.

Toby’s favourite coffee is White Americano!

1-You’ve recently created a ‘waste less’ campaign – what are the aims of your campaign and who is the campaign aimed at?

The ‘Kenco Eco Refill Waste Less Challenge’ is a nationwide initiative led by Amanda Holden and eco-expert Oliver Heath to encourage Brits to re-think their rubbish and reduce the amount of waste they throw away. Reusing and refilling old coffee jars alone could reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill by as much as 26,000 tonnes per year – we estimate this to be comparable to 5,400 bin lorries off the road**.

Amanda and Oliver launched the campaign recently from a selection of streets called ‘Waste Lane’ in different parts of the UK. The campaign involves a series of films and masterclasses from Amanda and Oliver, available to everyone at Kenco and on You Tube, which demonstrate some fun and creative tips on how to turn waste into useful household objects.

**Based on average size of a refused truck as 16 cubic metres, according to Dennis Eagle trucks – one of the biggest refuse truck suppliers in the UK

2- We support unpackaged goods, here at My Zero Waste; buying items from bulk containers in our own reusable containers. Your recent campaign indicates that people who buy unpackaged goods have to carry things in their hands, fill up their children’s buggies and make the child walk or try and use their credit cards with their teeth while they struggle with their unpackaged products i.e. you indicate that buying unpackaged is an inconvenient and ‘silly’ way to buy things.
Do you think this is a fair representation of the reality of buying unpackaged products?

It is very encouraging to see people on websites such as yours trying to do their bit towards reducing packaging waste. The Kenco Eco Refill advertising campaign aims to communicate the idea that we are striving to use less packaging. By encouraging people to reduce and reuse, we want to contribute to a reduction in the amount of waste packaging being thrown away and sent to landfill.

At the moment, most people in the UK are used to buying coffee in glass jars. The Eco Refill campaign encourages consumers to think differently about how they buy their coffee in a fun way – whilst we do not think that buying unpackaged is a ‘silly’ way to buy things, it is not practical for certain products, like instant coffee, that are very sensitive to moisture and oxygen damage.

In addition, whilst we encourage less, unnecessary packaging we do not necessarily think packaging is always a bad thing! For Kenco, we want to make sure that our coffee gets to you in the best possible condition – therefore when considering packaging options we need to consider issues such as food safety, quality and how it is stored so to avoid unnecessary food wastage.

3- Many consumers would say that glass jars are better than your new packaging because they can be recycled more easily. Using your new packaging is essentially a non-recyclable product. Would you say your new packaging is really a step forward in helping consumers reduce waste?

Yes, we think that the Eco Refill is the best pack type that Kenco consumers can currently buy to help reduce waste. Compared to the standard glass jar, an Eco Refill contains 97% less packaging weight per gram of coffee. It reduces the overall mass of waste being sent to landfill compared to jars: this is because while the glass jar is recyclable, the jar lid is difficult to recycle (it is made of polypropolene which is not widely recycled in the UK) and so in most cases will be thrown away. The Eco Refill pack weighs less than the jar lid alone, so consumers who purchase the refills ultimately send less waste to landfill than those those who recycle the glass jar but have to throw away the plastic lid of the glass jar.

Finally, the Eco Refill encourages people to reuse their old jar packaging rather than throwing it away. In this way, the Eco Refill tackles the first two principles of the three Rs, “reduce” and “reuse” Kenco is also working with with TerraCycle towards closing the loop with the refill packs, by giving consumers the opportunity to return their empty refill packs to TerraCycle for these to be turned into something new, like a bag, umbrella or pencil case!

We believe that getting people to switch from buying new jars each time to using refills will have a positive effect in encouraging more sustainable behaviour.

4- From a zero waste point of view, using non composite materials which can easily be recycled might be a better option than your new packaging. What is it about coffee that leads to such complex packaging?

Instant coffee is ‘hygroscopic’ which means that it is very susceptible to moisture damage. At Kenco, maintaining the quality of our coffee is crucial. Packaging that doesn’t adequately protect the coffee could mean that people will end up throwing away (and wasting) spoilt coffee. A combination of the materials used for the Eco Refill pack (including plastic and aluminium) is necessary to protect the coffee from oxygen and moisture. Technology does not yet allow us to use recycled material for the refill packs or to make these recyclable without compromising on the quality of our coffee.

That said, the Eco Refill is not the end of Kenco’s sustainability journey: Technology in this space moves forward extremely quickly and our R&D teams are constantly working to improve our packaging .

5- What sort of percentage of customers do you think will actually send these eco refill packs to Terracycle compared to the number who would recycle their glass jars?

It is difficult to predict the precise percentage, but we will certainly be working hard to encourage as many people as possible to return their empty refill packs! It is recognised that 40% of consumer glass is not recycled (DEFRA, April 2009) – Kenco Eco Refill gives all consumers, whether they recycle their glass jars or not, the option to send their empty refill packs to TerraCycle to be turned into new products. We hope as many people as possible return their empty packs – upcycling is a great way help the environment and for every pack we get back we’ll donate 2p to a charity of your choice, so it’s also a great way to help a good cause.

6- Some consumers are suggesting your advertising is misleading. For example, in Sainsbury’s this week I noticed glass jars of Kenco coffee on sale for £4.89. The eco refill cost £3.58. On closer inspection I realised the glass jar contained 200 grams of coffee for £4.89 working out at £2.44 per 100g whereas the Eco Refill bag contained 150 grams for £3.58 which worked out at £2.39 per 100g.
This might indicate you are suggesting there is a significant cost saving to be made by buying the Eco Refill, whereas the consumer actually only saves 5p! Would it be fairer to pass on a larger proportion of the cost of reduced packaging weight and transportation to the consumer to increase incentive?

It’s important to remember that, under UK law, it is supermarkets that control prices rather than manufacturers and that packaging only makes up a small part of the total cost of the product. Working out the pence per gram of coffee for Eco Refills versus glass jars based on our Recommended Retail Prices (RRPs) should mean a saving for the consumers of between 15 and 30p when buying the Eco Refill pack.

7- I was talking to my eight year old daughter about this and she’s come up with the following suggestion: You sell the coffee in paper bags (which can be recycled, composted or reused and keeps the coffee in a dark place) and the paper bag gets put inside a polythene bag to exclude air and stop water getting in. The thing she suggests is not BONDING the materials together, so they can both be reused or recycled at the end of their useful life. I think that’s a pretty innovative suggestion from a young child; how would that work as a practical solution to packaging coffee?

We receive lots of ideas from consumers every year for product, packaging and advertising developments. We’re always working in these areas ourselves so your daughter’s idea may well be something we have already considered. Our ultimate goal is to make our packaging either totally re-usable or recyclable (or both). In order to do this, we will need to use new materials or new ways of packing just like your suggestion of separated layers. Using new materials or new packing processes often incurs extra cost, something that we’ve worked hard to avoid for our current Refill pack (which has a lower price per gram of coffee (RRP) than Kenco jars.

For now, the current format of Eco Refill is the only solution we have found to deliver both better value and environmental advantages so there is a clear incentive for everyone to switch. Our research teams will be continuously working though to improve our packaging even further as part of our sustainability drive.



About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (13)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    You made some excellent points on the new packaging system which is certainly not much cheaper for consumers at the check-out. The positive is the upcycling of the used packs to new products though the percentage processed may not be high, due to the postage effort required.

    Comparison with plastic caps is old news since these are now widely recycled, even if their end use is questionable. Recycling practice is evolving making some ideas in businesses, out of date.

  2. Excellent Interview Mrs Green and thanks to Toby Smart for providing a comprehensive set of answers. Although the packaging is not an ideal zero waste alternative, at least it’s a move forward in the right direction and from a weight and resources perspective it is much better than glass being dumped into landfill. Regarding the upcycling, Terracycle has is busy rolling its Brigade system, which encourages schools and community groups to collect, so removes the burden from individuals regarding posting. I wish supermarkets would sort out the pricing though to reflect the change in packaging. Even better, if they could roll out collection systems too.

    I have to say I rather liked the video and took no offence whatsoever watching the actors juggle and aside from the coffee, I bet it has inspired a percentage of the audience to look at other unpackaged alternatives.

  3. Sharon says:

    That was really interesting, thanks!

  4. Sooz says:

    I’ve been having a wonder about those eco refills – so I’m glad you featured them. You’d think (well I’d think anyway) the sensible thing would be to create a new lid that was made of a more easily recylcable material and raising awareness about the fact that the jar (and lid?) is recyclable would be a more sensible approach than making a new weird composite pouch thing that can only be reused if it’s sent away, or your girls idea (you’re obviously raising some sort of eco genius!). Thanks for tackling this – I think I might write them a letter!

  5. LJayne says:

    We don’t drink enough coffee but it is a similar argument to radox and their handwash. They do bottles in plastic “5” which can’t be recycled in the UK at the mo – despite being similar in look and feel to plastic “2”. And they’ve just come up with a plastic refill sachet – fills 2 bottles – which they say is less landfill waste than 2 unrecyclable bottles and their pumps.

    I can think of lots of uses for coffee jars around the house. I didn’t realise you could recycle the lids though. That’s always been a biggie for me. Tall jars of N***** coffee (pah, spit on them, my parents drink it 😉 ) my dad reuses for his picked shallots.

  6. Ben says:

    Considering these products are designed to be sold through supermarkets, which are still set up to use disposable single use packaging exclusively, it’s positive improvement.

    However, I’d really like to see a jar desposit and reuse on coffee jars, either refill people’s own jars in store, or send them back to refill. 100% waste free instant coffee is very possible by either method, although refill in store seems best. The packaging used to send it to the store could be reusable.

  7. Rachel says:

    Thanks for an interesting post – I’ve seen and wodered about the new ‘better’ packaging but will probably stick with jars as I use them for storage afterwards and I have yet to see decaf coffee in the new packaging.

  8. Stewart Ayers says:

    Thanks for this post very interesting. Although Kenco’s efforts are admirable, I agree with Sooz – surely a new lid on the glass jar would be better.
    Also the consumer’s process should be Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – I.E. Use less & Waste less, Reuse things rather than throwing them away, and Recycling, well submitting it for grinding it up…

    Most of the Eco packs I have seen are made from Plastic, most of which I believe come from Oil. If one factors in the extraction & refining processes, surely reusing a glass jar & lid would be better.

    How about being able to take the glass jar to the supermarket, for it to be refilled from a bulk/wholesale container/hopper system? It’d certainly make grocery shopping more interesting…

    Keep up the good work!

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Stewart Ayers: hello Stewart, welcome to the site and thanks for leaving your comment. I too favour refills from bulk bins. Have you heard of Be Unpackaged in London where you can do exactly that?

  10. Stewart Ayers says:

    @Mrs Green: Thanks 🙂 Be Unpackaged sounds great, sadly I live in Cornwall, so a 600 mile round trip would swallow the energy savings whole! Could start a similar thing here though…

  11. Scott says:

    As soon as I saw Kencos new ad campaign it really annoyed me. To base an eco saving upon weight is massivly misleading, surely environmental impact per unit would be better, using factors from the energy use to manufacture through to the post life impact.

    Coming up with another unimagnative ploy combined with a minor celebrity to increase sales is another shining example of how little effort all large multinational companys actually place on the green credentials of their products. Just from the people above there have been some vastly improved suggestions, Kenco your paying the wrong people. I have a Kenco jar at home, why do I need to start collecting them, (please forgive me for this example) you dont go buy a whole new tank of fuel when filling up a car, just the fuel itself…

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Scott: Hello Scott, thanks for taking time to comment. Unfortunately a lot of packaging ‘savings’ are based on weight because areas are charge by the tonne to landfill – like the thinner glass bottles for wine that some companies are using. We need more shops where you can buy products loose I think and more items available in fully recyclable or compostable packaging..

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