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Breakthrough in Recyclable Coffee Packaging

Having successfully commercialized compostable single-serve coffee packaging, Club Coffee continues its sustainability journey with AromaPakĀ® paper-based canisters featuring BoardioĀ® technology for whole bean and ground coffee.

Shown here are three sizes of the innovative canister filled by Club Coffee under the President’s Choice brand.
Shown here are three sizes of the innovative canister filled by Club Coffee under the Presidentā€™s Choice brand.

Club Coffee is one of Canadaā€™s largest coffee roasters and packaging solutions providers to the ā€˜At Homeā€™ segment, serving private label customers and retail brands from its facilities in Toronto, Canada. The firm was purchased in July of 2022 by ofi (olam food ingredients), a leading provider of naturally good food and beverage ingredientsā€”and has burnished its sustainability offerings through its AromaPakĀ® family of sustainable and innovative packaging solutions for whole bean and ground coffee.

The new packaging builds on Club Coffeeā€™s success with the certified commercially compostable Purpod100Ā® single-serve coffee pod. But while compostability makes sense for single-serve pods, research showed paper-based packaging to be the most consumer-acceptable solution for whole bean and ground coffee packaging.

A key step emerged when Club Coffeeā€™s development team took part in a 2019 trade show. When they saw AR Packaging Groupā€™s booth, they appreciated the potential of paper-based canisters formed from flat paperboard. AR Packaging, which had filed multiple patents for its Boardio technology,  was purchased by Graphic Packaging International in 2022.

ā€œOur initial focus at Graphic Packaging was primarily on the European market, but Club Coffeeā€™s interest supported us to adopt a global approach,ā€ says Johan Werme, head of sales at Graphic Packaging. ā€œWith a new machinery platform in place and increased market interest in sustainable, paperboard packaging, the joint project with Club Coffee was a great opportunity. But it also came with some challenges. Ultimately, the expertise and commitment from the project teams at both Club Coffee and Graphic Packaging were instrumental in the successful launch of this new packaging format, for coffee.ā€

Innovating during a pandemic

That process became more challenging when COVID hit. Despite the inability to collaborate fully in person, Club Coffee bought and installed the equipment, commercialized the AromaPakĀ® featuring BoardioĀ® technology, and launched major brands in the new packaging in 500 days. Mark Navin, vice president sales at key equipment supplier Spee-Dee Packaging Machinery was amazed that ā€œplanning, design, engineering, project management, and even the Factory Acceptance Test were done virtually.ā€ That speed to market enabled Canadian retailer Loblaw Companies Ltd. to announce the new format in April 2022, saying it was ā€œoverhauling the coffee aisle by replacing unrecyclable packaging with a first-of-its-kind-in-Canada paper-based solution.ā€

Delivering sustainability

Ensuring recyclability and sustainability impacts were key elements in the overall innovation strategy. With diverse standards in the North American marketplace, the Club Coffee team worked with How2Recycle to earn AromaPakā„¢ a ā€œwidely recyclableā€ designation. This means the packaging material is acceptable in a minimum of 60% of curbside recycling programs in Canadian and American communities. That result speaks to the packagingā€™s use of high-quality tree fiber sourced from sustainably managed forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Club Coffee reports that use of this new format results in the release of 91% less carbon into the atmosphere per year compared to steel cans. It also reduces the use of plastic by 50% compared to bags and by 43% compared to injection-molded plastic cans. And because the canisters are shipped flat and erected on site, their use results in 90% fewer transport emissions than traditional metal or plastic cans.

One of the steps in making the container is a perforation process for ease of opening in the consumerā€™s hands.One of the steps in making the container is a perforation process for ease of opening in the consumerā€™s hands.

The packaging story

While the precise material specifications of the packaging can vary significantly based on the needs of the product inside it, rolls of a paper/foil laminate are die cut into the four flat blanks that the finished package comprises: body, lid, easy-peel membrane, and base. The membrane is paperboard and foil like the other components, but it also has a special one-way degassing valve. The bodies are printed offset and are partly perforated near the top during the process. The perforation enables consumers to open the finished canister with a small strip of unperforated material that serves as a patented built-in hinged reclose feature that preserves freshness at least as well as steel cans with plastic snap-on lids.

Graphic Packaging sends the material to Club Coffeeā€™s Toronto facility. One Club Coffee production line processes smaller canisters that replace traditional composite/metal/plastic packaging to hold as little as 270 g (9.5 oz) or as much as 450 g (15.9 oz). Another line produces larger canisters. Both lines include a Spee-Dee auger filler and were designed with a small footprint that could still provide high-speed case and tray packaging at 125 canisters/min.

Regardless of size, the forming and filling operation is essentially the same. A body blank is picked by vacuum cups from a magazine and indexed into a station where itā€™s wrapped around a mandrel and then turned into a cylinder through application of a strip of roll-fed foil with sealant on it. That cylinder then passes through a forming box that transforms it into the more rectangular shape of the finished package. Canisters are then transferred from a horizontal to a vertical orientation and placed on a tool from which they are pushed into indexing devices, enabling the membrane to be picked by vacuum cups from a magazine feed and placed inside the body for induction sealing in place. They advance to the next station where a similar pick-and-place method inserts and induction-seals the lid of the canister, which is then curled. For a look at how sophisticated this all is, be sure to see video at pwgo.to/8289.

Delivered to Club Coffee as flat blanks like the ones shown here, the canister components are pulled from magazine feeds and formed into a finished container.Delivered to Club Coffee as flat blanks like the ones shown here, the canister components are pulled from magazine feeds and formed into a finished container.

This sets the stage for each canister to be auger-filled through the bottom. An important challenge in designing this stage of the operation was that the paperboard canister is somewhere between existing rigid and flexible containers. This required close work with Morrison Container Handling on feed screws and other container handling parts to ensure gentle handling of this canister as it goes through a filler that is designed to enable packaging of both ground and whole bean coffee. Upon entering the filler, the canisters are flushed with nitrogen, filled, and then vibrated to ensure adequate head space before induction sealing of the bases, followed by curling that base rim.

A twist upender from AFA Systems reorients canisters from lid down to lid up before they enter a CP-WCP Wraparound case and AFA tray packer. After the canisters pass through a Mettler-Toledo X-ray metal detector, a servo-driven starwheel turner ensures controlled turns of each canister. When enough canisters are in place, a side-shift mechanism with gantry robot pushes them onto a partially erected case or tray. Another gantry robot picks up corrugated blanks and can use its vacuum cups to fold the top flap of the case or tray 90 degrees. The gantry robot then carries the corrugated blank a short distance and places it in a loading station where mechanical lugs fold two minor flaps, followed by Servo-driven rotary kickers closing the remaining flaps. After adhesive is applied by a Nordson ProBlue Flex unit, compression cylinders from Festo seal the wraparound case or corrugated tray. The process can include adding corrugated dividers by the AFA machine to help ensure that larger primary packs donā€™t get crushed, while a Domino print-and-apply labeler puts lot and date code information on each case.

A significant challenge in designing the case/tray packer was having the flexibility to run both wraparound cases and corrugated trays. The only change part on the system was changing the end effector on the gantry robot case former/tray erector. The closing cylinders were designed so that they can compress either the corrugated trays or the wraparound cases with no change parts and single-point adjustments. Palletizing of cases and trays is currently done manually, but an automated palletizer is on track for installation.

No discussion of new packaging formats is complete without comparing the costs of new versus the old. Club Coffee says the paper-based canister competes nicely with both extrusion blown plastic and steel cans. That helps to explain both consumer acceptance and the many awards earned by Club Coffeeā€™s AromaPakĀ® with BoardioĀ® technology, including as winner in the Product Innovation Category in the 2023 Reuters Responsible Business Awards.  PW

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