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Modern Process Equipment

Single Serve Market on the Surge
By Serena Norr

Single serve coffee pods for tea and coffee have been around since the 1950s
but hasn’t quite reached a mass appeal until recently.

Currently the notion of single serve or pods is contributing to the evolution of how we drink coffee and tea. Now, the quality of coffee and tea is coupled with innovative machines and a unique convenience factor that cannot be paralled.

According to Rychiger, manufacturer of filling and sealing machines based in Switzerland, “Over the last few years, single serve portions for coffee and tea has become increasingly popular among consumers. The speed and ease of use, choice in variety and consistency of the beverage quality have been the main driving factors behind this development. Portion pads were the first to take a major share in the marketplace and have reached new consumers through their convenience and potential consistency in quality.”

Single Serve Evolution
The composition of single serve cups contains coffee grinds or ground tea leaves that are fully encapsulated in a filter. The single serve method allows consumers to save errors in scooping or spillage. This method also allows consistency from cup-to-cup, which allows consumers to consume the same cup of coffee every time while assuring a much needed convenience to today’s busy lifestyle.

Today, single serve cups are used from anywhere in the “home, office, coffee service, hotel in-room, and foodservice establishments such as restaurants, cafe's, catering services, etc,” according to Tom Martin, vice president and COO of Pod Pack International, manufacturer of espresso coffee pods, 1-cup pods and filter packs in North America.

Single serve cups have changed significantly since they were first introduced, both in quality and efficiency. In the beginning there was hesitation and criticism found by consumers for their taste, price, practicality and general understanding of single serve cups and pod position in the industry. According to Martin, “After the consumer understands the pod concept and its benefits, they are receptive and loyal to the program. The benefits include convenience, variety and simple cleanup because there are no loose grounds. Pods deliver a consistent, fresh cup of coffee or espresso shot every time. Pods also provide the consumer with choices of coffee or tea from a variety of blends one cup at a time without brewing a full pot or having to throw away excess.  Continuous education is a must if we are to get greater participation in the use of pods.”

“Pod Pack continually researches better ways for making pods so they deliver optimum flavor in the brewed cup. The keys for the optimum pod are the perfect combination of the pod's physical size (diameter & thickness), the weight inside the pod, the grind of the coffee inside the pod, the  tamp pressure, and other machine settings.   Pods for pump brewers are designed differently than for gravity brewers. From the packaging design perspective, Pod Pack encourages customized packaging by printing the customer's logo and/or product image on standard film to minimize their initial investment.  Later as volume grows, our customers usually invest in higher quality graphics for their packaging,” he added.

Additionally, the recent increase in sales negates anything that can be said about the future of single serve cups. In fact, single serve portions are evolving into efficient products that are utilized everywhere from the office to your daily cup at home.

According to an NPD Group study, single serve coffee machines now make up 4.3% of the drip coffeemaker category. Currently, 25% of coffee drinkers stated that they would likely be purchasing a single serve machine in the future. It now seems that manufacturers and retailers have a great opportunity to improve their position in the marketplace by integrating the consumer demand for a reliable single serve machine that has easy to find refills and a variety of coffee flavors.

Single Serve Convenience
Consumers also now have more options with single serve coffee machines. They now offer a cleaner more efficient and convenient way to brew a cup of coffee. You simply place a coffee pod in a small chamber, and hot water is forced through it directly into the cup, which supplies as an efficient way to brew one cup of coffee. According to Martin, “We are unique in the sense that Pod Pack is a Private Label Manufacturer of espresso pods and 1-cup pods.  Our customer focus is mainly on coffee roasters who don't have the ability to convert their roasted beans into pods. By providing our services, those coffee roasters don't need to invest in expensive pod making equipment.”

According to Rychiger, “During the last three years, many new products have been introduced using a new packaging format, the hard pod (capsule) made from barrier materials. The brand owner has a protected and proprietary closed system, preventing other manufacturers from producing similar capsules, which could also work with the extraction machine. Quality, food safety and pricing are more controllable and colourfully decorated capsules, which allows for brand distinction and brand positioning up to the very moment of use by the consumer.”

Single Serve Technology
The advent of recent single serve technology has increased the shelf life, which brings optimum flavor and quality to consumers. According to Martin, “The flavor is maintained, in terms of shelf life since we nitrogen flush each pouch before sealing them which reduces oxygen levels below 1%.  Oxygen stales coffee quickly. By using pouches with a layer of foil, oxygen cannot get back in.”  

Companies are also utilizing capsule technology, which is known to guarantee freshness. According to Lavaza, “The traditional roasted and packed coffee purchased in retail shops will remain fresh in a sealed package for up to a year, but once opened will go stale in less than a week. Each Lavazza capsule is individually sealed and will remain fresh until you’re ready to use it. Each capsule is manufactured in a $40 million dollar state-of-the-art factory in Turin, Italy assuring utmost quality.”

“Each cup of coffee originates from an individual sealed cartridge and is pre-measured with the perfect grind & amount of coffee to match a specific & preferred taste profile for one cup.

The selection of different blends assures the perfect taste for the most demanding coffee enthusiasts with a consistent rich and lasting crema. Choose among the best 100% Arabica coffees from Brazil and Central America with the best varieties of Indonesian Robusta.” Such advantages allow for a self-protected cartridge, optimum extraction quantity (from 30 cc. to 120 cc.) and the choice of three different taste profiles.

“When compared to other single serving formats, the capsule technology leads to advantages in many aspects for the consumer. For example, the principle capsule design allows high extraction pressures and can therefore deliver a true espresso as well as an American coffee or another drink in excellent quality whilst maintaining total simplicity in use. The systems allow a wider variety of products to be offered, as the beverages are extracted directly into the cup and there is no direct contact between product and machine. This way, the consumer can enjoy the full taste of coffee, tea, chocolate or other drinks, without any cross contamination of flavours. To make this possible, a large part of the beverage extraction technology has been integrated into the capsules. Devices inserted and/or multiple seals control the liquid flow or create foam,” stated Rychiger.

Packaging materials and filling processes play an important role in ensuring consistent drink quality and consumer satisfaction throughout the entire product shelf life. For the most part, Rychiger machines use barrier materials such as aluminium or multilayer plastics with a barrier layer. The barrier materials are used for both the container (capsule) as well as for the sealing materials and not simply for the secondary packaging. This guarantees freshness and full flavor to the last cup; especially important when different product sorts or varieties of espresso/coffee are consumed within one household, and the speed of sort consumption is thereby reduced.

“Special knowledge is required to ensure that the seals remain absolutely tight over a long period of time and also to allow them to withstand pressure differences when the capsules are sealed on the filling machine. Due to a desired partial degassing of coffee, some capsules can reach high internal overpressures without losing seal integrity. Special heat sealing or ultrasonic technologies are used to create the seals. It is also important that the sealing area remains free from product, as, over time, this could create a leaking space. To preserve the contents, the entire filling and sealing operation on Rychiger machines, from the grinder to the final lid sealing, takes place under a modified atmosphere. This allows minimum residual oxygen levels inside the capsules to be achieved. A correct weight and thus a consistent extraction time and beverage quality is ensured by weighing each, individual, capsule inline on the filling machine, and the data obtained is used to adjust the filling heads automatically or to reject over/under fills,” stated Rychiger.

Single Serve Advantages
According to Probat, manufacturer of coffee roasters and grinders as well as plant components in Germany, “The advantages of pods are obvious: While the focus of “private coffee drinkers” is based on quick preparation and consistent quality of taste, cost aspects play an overriding role in restaurants. Low demands on service personnel and short preparation times reduce service costs, which allows personnel not to be trained as grinding degree and taste can be consistently reproduced and remain largely uninfluenced by service personnel in terms of aroma, taste and crema.” Adding, “the pod system makes high demands on producers in achieving optical and sensory coffee quality criteria.” “The key lies in an optimized process chain with the elements roasting, grinding and packaging where Arabica or Arabica-Robusta blends are used for pod coffee manufacturing. Using shorter times to intermediate roasting times, higher extraction rates are achieved influencing sensory properties toward higher acidity and body.

Hard pods are usually used for making espresso. They have a diameter of 45 to 55 mm and have a charging capacity of 7g/cup or 14g for two cups A brewing pressure of between 9 and 19 is required. In contrast, soft pods, which are mostly sued for filter coffee, are either coated with filter paper or shrink wrapped in thermoplastic foil whereby they are perforated during preparation. They have a slight diameter of between 50 and 61 mm and are subjected to a lower brewing pressure of about one to three bar. Soft pods are distinguished between flat top pods (with a defined topside for machine processing) and symmetrical pods. Capsules can be used for preparing a very wide spectrum of coffee variations. Ground coffee is packed in tightly sealed capsules and is extracted using coffee-making systems, which have an integrated pump.”

Purchasing Power
With the new proliferation of machines on the market it is sometimes difficult for the consumer to discern which single serve coffee/tea maker to purchase. Will they be drinking one-cup at home or on the road? Some one-cup coffee makers do not allow for the taller travel mugs. Are they concerned with how the coffee maker will fit in with the décor of their kitchen? There are a number of different designs to fit any style they may have. But as any caffeine-addicted connoisseur will tell you, flavor is the number-one priority when deciding which machine to buy.

Nespresso, a global pioneer in the coffee market is renowned for their stylish machines. According to their website, “In 1970, Nestlé created the Nespresso system, a technically advanced espresso machine using pre-measured ground coffee capsules that protect more than 900 coffee aromas.” The machines are formatted to their unique coffee capsules that provide exquisite quality, with the exact dosage of perfectly ground coffee to precisely fit the blend of the coffee variety used.

Senseo, manufacturer of coffee pod machines produces a Single-Serve Coffee Machine that allows consumers to savor a single serving of fresh gourmet coffee at the touch of a button. The machine is uniquely designed with the similarities of an espresso machine, utilizing pre-measured coffee pods with blends such as Brazil Blend, Colombia Blend, Kenya Blend, and Sumatra Blend coffees.

The Black and Decker Brew 'n Go coffee maker is a great option for commuters, office professionals, and one-coffee-drinker households; this personal coffeemaker brews 15 ounces of coffee directly into a stainless-steel travel mug. The mug has a rubber handle for a safe grip and a lid to keep coffee hot. It's tapered to a 2-1/2-inch-diameter bottom, so it fits most vehicle cup holders. The coffeemaker itself is designed for an on-the-go coffee drinker. It has a permanent filter — no messy disposable paper filters required--and shuts off automatically after brewing. The mug, filter, filter basket, and mug lid are dishwasher-safe, and the coffeemaker can also be used to heat water for tea, hot chocolate, and instant foods like oatmeal and soup. Made of shiny black plastic, it measures 9-3/4 inches high, 7 inches wide, and 6 inches deep, and carries a one-year warranty against defects.

The Melitta MES1R, is a unique pod filter system is designed to deliver coffee-bar quality coffee right at home without the measuring, mess and waste...in less than 60 seconds. There are six Melitta gourmet roast Java-Pods to choose from. Each pod is individually foil-wrapped and nitrogen-flushed to ensure freshness. The one: one has a 28-oz. metered tank for up to five consecutive servings without refilling. Affordable. Each cup costs a fraction of what you'd expect to pay at a premium coffee bar. Plus, no more wasted leftovers.

Keurig B50, The word “Keurig” is derived from the Dutch word for excellence and Keurig epitomizes the appreciation for excellent coffee that's simple to make. Keurig was founded by coffee lovers who believed that coffee should always be served fresh, whether at home or at the office, just as in a gourmet coffee house. They noticed that people were constantly leaving the office in search of a fresh cup of coffee and asked themselves: “Why do we brew coffee a pot at a time when we drink it a cup at a time?” From this question, the revolutionary concept of Keurig K-Cup portion pack brewing was born. Introduced in 1998, Keurig's innovative single-cup brewing system lets coffee lovers brew perfect coffee, one cup at a time, in less than a minute.

Affectionately called the K-Cup system, the Keurig B50 Gourmet Single Cup Coffee Brewer is designed for simple, easy use at home. This patented single-cup brewing system lets you brew a perfect cup of gourmet coffee in less than a minute without the hassle of grinding beans, measuring coffee, handling filters or cleaning up. Keurig takes away all the guesswork from brewing a consistently great cup of coffee and, as a lover of great coffee, you deserve it.

Mr. Coffee SSP10 coffeemaker serves each cup individually so consumers can enjoy a fresh-brewed cup of coffee in about a minute. There is no measurement required. The product also comes with an eight-pod starter kit that is available in a variety of blends and flavors.

But really it all comes down to what one wants whether the product is programmable or allocate for tall travel coffee mugs or small for single cup consumption at home. Some also have an automatic shut off, for the forgetful types, and some do not. And some allow the caffeine junkie to set the strength level of each cup of coffee. It just depends on what features consumes want.

Despite all the implications in understanding single serve portions or pods it is certain that the market is expanding and will expand how we all look at coffee products in this ever-changing industry.

Tea & Coffee - December, 2007

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