TORONTO - A Canadian company is launching what it claims to be the world's first recyclable capsules for coffee and tea, targeting consumers who love the convenience of their single-serve java boost but hate how the plastic pods end up in the trash.
Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee says the EcoCup is available with various loose-leaf teas, including the Higgins & Burke brand, while pods containing coffee will be out in early 2015. Both will be for use in Keurig brewing machines.
Co-CEO Paul Higgins says Mother Parkers has been developing the idea for the recyclable pods since 2006, as it recognized the growing concern over the environmental impact of the single-serve coffee habit.
"The premise we started out on was that we had to have a fabulous tasting product — that's the key to any business success," said Higgins Wednesday, following the products' unveiling at a trade show in Chicago.
"Our second point was around the environment. The product itself leaves a big trail of waste and we knew that was going to be a hot consumer item."
Higgins said as the popularity of the K-cups grew, so did the guilt.
"Consumers using it are feeling a great deal of remorse when they use it, but our lazy gene takes over and we just do it," he said.
The Mississauga, Ont.-based company, which has 700 employees, says the EcoCups are made with clear polystyrene, as opposed to the hard plastic usually used to manufacturer the popular pods from Keurig Inc. After brewing a beverage, the user can detach the filter from the pod, discard the tea leaves or coffee grounds in a compost, and throw the pod into the blue bin.
Recycling facilities differ by municipality, but Mother Parkers estimates the capsules can be broken down in about 75 per cent of Ontario cities. It does not have national estimates.
Bill VandenBygaart, vice-president of business development, says ideally, the company wants to have a "zero-waste" product on the market in the next two years.
"This is the type of game-changing innovation that results from open competition and consumers are the ones who benefit," he said in a statement.
Manufacturing the recyclable capsules, which are made in Mississauga, is more costly but the price difference would be "minimal" for the consumer, added VandenBygaart.
Mother Parkers' EcoCups for tea will be available in Canada and the U.S. through Amazon later this week, and will be rolled out at major retailers and grocery stores this summer.
Canadians love a good cup of coffee, and single-use brewing machines have become commonplace in homes over the past few years. The availability and variety of the single-use brews has intensified since 2012, after patents held by Keurig Inc., which is owned by Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee, expired in 2012, allowing competitors to market and manufacture pods with their own private-labels.
Mother Parkers estimates there are 20 million Keurig brewers in North American residences, with 10 billion capsules expected to be used in 2014.
"It's just so damn easy to make a cup," said Higgins. "In under a minute, you can have a cup in your hand and have it ready to drink. If you have other coffee or tea preparation, you are talking about 3 to 10 minutes. As simple as it sounds... that it's not a big deal from one minute to 5 minutes, those four minutes are like gold (to the consumer)."
A 2012 study by NPD Group found that although auto-drop machines were still the most dominate coffeemakers for the morning in-home brew, single-serve machines were the most popular in the afternoons, evenings and later at night. More than a quarter of Canadian coffee drinkers (27 per cent) said they sip coffee at home more than they did a year earlier.
In the U.S., the New York Times reported that sales of single-serve coffee machines, including brands like Keurig, Tassimo and Nespresso, grew at a compound annual rate of 34 per cent from 2008 to 2013. Sales of coffee pods increased by a compound rate of 79 per cent over the same time period, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Similar statistics for Canada were not immediately available.
Meanwhile, Keurig Canada says addressing the "environmental impact" of their machines is also a "critical priority" for the company.
"Innovation is at the heart of everything we do. We are dedicated to innovation around our brewing platforms — from new brands and product lines to more sustainable solutions," said Valerie Ladouceur, a spokeswoman for the company in an email.
In 2012, the company launched the Vue brewing system in the U.S. in 2012, which uses capsules that can be recycled in 60 per cent of communities. It says it expects to bring fully-recyclable coffee or tea pods on the market by 2020.
Over the years, manufacturers have attempted to address the environmental impacts associated with single-use brewing machines, including offering reusable and refillable filters as an alternative to traditional plastic capsules.
Last July, a Richmond, B.C-based Canterbury Coffee introduced a 90 per cent compostable and biodegradable coffee pod. The company says the OneCoffee capsules use 40 per cent less plastic than traditional K-cups.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story: A previous version misspelled Nespresso