Posted: 17/07/2019

The coffee cup debate – how far should you go?

Takeaway coffee can be a very lucrative source of income for deli-cafés but, with the sustainability of cups under scrutiny, how should retailers tackle the problem?

The takeaway coffee cup has been at the centre of the war on plastic waste and, although Starbucks and Costa have taken the lion’s share of flak, even indies need to up their game on sustainability.

But it can be difficult to know how far you should go to tackle the problems posed by single-use cups.

Nowadays, there are a number of companies offering compostable alternatives [see box]. Ed Bevin, owner of the The Fleetville Larder in St Albans, buys compostable cups from Vegware. 

“Compostable cups are fairly easy to source now,” he says. “They may be a slightly more expensive purchase but it’s better than single-use plastic.”

It wasn’t a major adjustment because the shop has been using these cups since it opened two-and-a-half years ago. 

Bevin sells reusable coffee cups and encourages the sale of those by offering a free coffee to customers who purchase one. He also offers a 20p discount on coffee to customers who bring in a reusable cup. 

But Parker & Vine in nearby Harpenden has recently gone one step further and last month stopped selling single-use coffee cups altogether.

The deli has followed the lead of the coffee chain Boston Tea Party which stopped issuing single-use cups last year – taking a well-publicised £250k sales hit in the process.

Now when a customer wants to buy a hot drink from Parker & Vine they must either bring their own reusable cup, buy a reusable cup in store for its £5 cost price, or borrow one on a loan scheme where they can return a £5 cup for a full refund.

Co-owner Jane Parker, who runs the shop with business partner Sue Vine, said they adopted this scheme because recyclable coffee cups were not a good enough solution – they can only be processed at a commercial plant rather than a green kerbside recycling bin. 

While many environmentally-conscious consumers have accepted the deli’s new scheme, there are still some that are not on board with it. 

“We’ve had customers who say ‘no thanks’ and walk out without buying a coffee when we explain what we’re doing,” says Parker. 

This has had a knock-on effect on sales, with the business down 50% on its takings three weeks after implementing the scheme.

But Parker hopes this will improve in the long term as more customers get used to the move and she has ensured staff are well-briefed so they can justify the decision.

For now, they are happy to play the long game.

Suppliers of:

Compostable cups

Biopack offers commercially compostable cups made from sustainably sourced paper and lined with plant-based bioplastic at £68.47 per case of 1,000.

Decent Packaging produces clear single wall compostable cups and lids made from plant-based PLA, costing £45.90 upwards per 1,000 depending on size.

Reusable cups

KeepCups are one of the biggest names of reusable coffee cup suppliers using glass, cork, silicone and bamboo to create the durable reusable vessel.

Ecoffee Cup uses natural fibre, corn starch and resin in its reusable range which come in a variety of contemporary patterns and colours.

This story appeared in the July issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

Read more of the latest news from Fine Food Digest here

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