Small spheres of pressed roasted coffee surrounded by a plant-based protective layer: This is what the innovative, garden-compostable coffee capsule looks like, which the Edeka Group, as one of the leading food retailers in Germany, will have in its range from now on. As a biocompostable solution, the “coffee with coating” follows the right paradigm and offers an answer to the disposal and recycling problem of conventional coffee capsules. But even if the narrative and visuals are right – questions remain.
Coffee capsules have been a triumphant success over the past two decades. This success has been accompanied from the outset by criticism from an environmental perspective. The capsules made of aluminum, plastic or composite materials are considered problematic in terms of disposal and recycling.
Since April 2023, the Edeka Group, one of the leading food retailers in Germany, has been offering an innovative solution called CoffeeB. The product was developed by Delica, a subsidiary of the Swiss retailer Migros, and had already attracted attention with innovations on the coffee market in 2022.
Coffee balls with coating
The innovative coffee capsules consist of roasted coffee pressed into small balls surrounded by a patented protective coating made entirely from bio-based, renewable raw materials based on algae. The “coating” has the task of protecting the coffee from flavor loss and keeping it stable during the brewing process.
According to CoffeeB, the capsules should decompose much faster and more extensively after use than other biocompostable capsules due to the thin layer of alginate. The company refers to garden compostability, which means that the capsules will decompose in the compost even under the local climatic conditions without the addition of energy or other means.
The competition never sleeps
Edeka is not the only company seeking alternatives to the controversial conventional coffee capsules.
- For example, the Kaufland supermarket chain, which belongs to the Schwarz Group (Lidl), offers Fairtrade- and FSC-certified coffee capsules under its own K-Bio brand, which are made entirely of vegetable oil and cellulose and are suitable for Nespresso brand coffee machines. This means that only bio-based, renewable raw materials are used in this packaging as well. According to Kaufland, these capsules can also be disposed of in domestic compost.
- Nestle also already offers a fiber-based and biocompostable solution. The paper capsules are currently being tested in France and Switzerland after a three-year development period and are compatible with conventional Nespresso machines.
Teething troubles and unanswered questions
There’s no question about it: Migro’s innovative solution is visually very attractive and it follows the right narrative. After all, biocompostability is a winning argument in view of the problems associated with disposing of and recycling conventional coffee capsules.
But all that glitters is not (yet) gold.
- Consumers complain about a high failure rate of the machines designed specifically for the coffee balls. This can have fatal consequences, especially during the first, critical meters of market establishment.
- The system competes with a variety of other coffee capsule machines on the market. Delica’s CoffeeB capsules are not compatible with established systems and require a new hardware purchase.
- The question arises as to where the clear advantage of the new solution is over other garden-compostable solutions. Here, Edeka and Migros could make more reference to the possibly given sustainability advantages of its raw material (algae instead of wood/paper or vegetable oil at the competition). Or an obviously better compostability could be shown in the gardens of the consumers.
In principle, Migros and Edeka are presenting a promising approach to solving the capsule problem with CoffeeB. For success, however, Delica must learn from the initial weaknesses and make a clear leap in quality with the next hardware version.