Coffee pod sales will soon surpass regular and instant coffee

Data shows that, despite the environmental implications and high cost of single-use coffee pods, people continue to buy them more than ever before.

They’re calling it “the Clooney effect.” Single-use coffee pods are flying off supermarket shelves at a faster rate than ever before, possibly aided by actor George Clooney’s persuasive good looks in European Nespresso advertisements since 2006 and, more recently, in the United States.

Kantar Worldpanel recently announced that coffee pod sales of brands such as Nespresso, Tassimo, and Dolce Gusto (owned by Nescafé) will “soon overtake standard roast and ground coffee after an increase of 29.5 per cent over the last 12 months, bringing sales to £137.5 million. During the same period, sales of roast and ground varieties rose by only 2.5 per cent to £167 million.” (The Telegraph) In its report, based on data from 986 million households across 35 countries, Kantar goes on to explain that the global market has expanded 16 percent in the past year, with particularly strong growth in France and Spain.

George Clooney Nespresso adDaniel Lobo/CC BY 2.0

This is sad news for those of us who wish that more sustainable consumer practices would infiltrate the mainstream. There is nothing green about coffee pods, no matter what the manufacturers tell you. The recycling claims are mostly bogus, as the used pods are a mix of plastic, aluminum foil, and coffee grounds that must be separated by hand in order for recycling to occur. It remains, as Lloyd wrote earlier, “design for unsustainability,” regardless of how manufacturers want to spin it.

“Shipping pods across the country to make the world's most expensive compost out of the coffee and lawn chairs out of the plastic doesn't make a lot of sense. As for the people who try to separate the components themselves, there are not that many of them; if they are willing to do that, they probably have the time and energy to make a real pot of coffee.”

Change did seem imminent. Earlier this year the city of Hamburg, Germany, banned the purchase of all coffee pods using council money in an attempt to reduce waste. A YouTube video called “Kill the K-Cup” got many others thinking about where their used pods end up long after the cup of coffee has been finished. Even the Keurig cup inventor has expressed regret at unleashing such an environmental nightmare into the world. And yet, Kantar reveals that sales continue to climb, likely due to the sheer convenience of having to do nothing but press a button.

“Coffee capsules have helped create the holy grail of marketing: a new category – combining the indulgence of café culture with the convenience and speed of the capsules.”

Nespresso ad in Turin, Italy© Lloyd Alter - Nespresso advertises on a historic building in Turin, Italy.

This, despite the fact that pods are ridiculously expensive compared to high quality beans. Pods can work out to cost between 30 and 50 dollars per pound, which is a vast difference from the $16 I shell out every couple weeks for a pound of fairtrade, shade-grown beans. The Telegraph cites Kantar analyst Ed John: “An average cup of regular instant coffee costs only 2 pence (3 U.S. cents). A café-style instant is 17p (¢23) while the fastest growing sector - pods - cost an average of 31p (¢41) per cup.”

Pods makes no sense for any reason other than convenience, and even that could be argued: it’s not that difficult to boil water and push down a French press. But, like so many other environmentally destructive practices, people need to be willing to put in a tiny bit more effort in order to lessen their footprint significantly – and yet, Kantar’s findings show that people really don’t seem to care. How sad.

Tags: Coffee | Plastics | Waste

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