The single serve coffee market has seen tremendous growth in just a few short years, and is currently one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Just last year consumers spent a record $3.1 billion in single serve coffee pods, which is up from just $132 million in 2008. That’s over 23 times as much in just 5 years. In addition to this, estimates show that this volume will rise to over $5 billion by 2016, which would almost certainly make it the fastest growing market in the United States, and most likely the world.
With the evolution of technology, came the ability to package and preserve single cups of coffee. These “pods” as they are called can be inserted into a specially designed machine where water is heated almost to a boil, and then holes are punctured into the pod and your hot coffee is ready in 1-2 minutes. The benefits of something like this are very obvious. What these coffee pods offer is:
1) Convenience: They are very easy to use and have virtually no clean up. You simply pop the capsule out and throw it away.
2) Speed: At this point, any machine out there can brew a cup of coffee in under 2 minutes and some of them can even do it in under a minute. For someone who is on the run in the morning this is the ideal solution.
3) Portion Size: You don’t have to make a full pot of coffee. So many people will wake up, brew a pot of coffee, drink a cup or two, and throw the rest away. This gives you exactly 1 cup every time.
With all of these benefits, you might be starting to think “why would anyone NOT want to use these single serve capsules?” Well there is one very simple answer: Waste.
While a majority of the capsules sold today are not reusable or recyclable, it leads to a huge amount of waste.
With over 9 billion cups being brewed last year, you can imagine that the waste from just last year alone could fill an entire land fill. To be exact, in 2013 Green Mountain (owner of Keurig) alone products over 8.3 billion pods, which if stacked together is enough to wrap around the equator more than 10 times. Now lets remember that this is a market that is expected to double in size by 2016, and we have a very scary waste situation on our hands.
The waste is so extensive that even John Sylvan, the creator of the single serve pod, has publicly stated that had he known what he knows now, he would never have created the product in the first place.
“I was watching a podcast of the interview when he (Sylvan) first expressed those feelings” said Gene Kakaulin of HiLine Coffee Company, a major pod producer. “They are very powerful words from a very powerful person in our industry. It shows you exactly the type of negative effects this waste could have if we don’t make changes immediately.”
Overall, there are huge benefits to these single serving pods, and some pretty huge downsides. But just as everything in the world we live in, evolution and development is about maximizing those benefits while managing and removing those downsides. Already companies are exploring (and even selling) reusable pods, or creating programs to recollect and recycle the pods for future use. While the industry is growing rapidly, every company finds it imperative that solutions are created now, rather than later so this great product can continue to have positive influences on our daily life.