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HomeNewsKDP Launches New Compostable, Plant-Based Single-Serve Coffee Pods

KDP Launches New Compostable, Plant-Based Single-Serve Coffee Pods


This week, Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) unveiled its innovative K-Rounds, a new type of single-serve coffee pod that is entirely free of plastic. These pods are filled with finely ground, freshly roasted coffee, sealed within a unique, protective coating made from plant-based materials. This innovative design not only preserves the coffee's rich flavors and aromas but also eliminates the need for traditional plastic or aluminum packaging. However, to use these eco-friendly pods, consumers will need the specially designed Keurig Alta brewer.


The plant-based coating used in K-Rounds is particularly noteworthy because it remains intact throughout the brewing process, meaning it does not dissolve into the coffee. After brewing, the consumer is left with the pod's outer shell, which KDP plans to certify as backyard compostable, although this certification is still pending.


Recognizing coffee's revered status among consumers, KDP has taken great care to ensure that their new packaging adequately preserves the coffee’s beloved aroma and flavor. This is critical as coffee often requires robust packaging to maintain its quality over time. Questions remain about how effective this new plant-based material will be as a barrier and how long it will preserve the coffee's freshness on the shelf. There are also considerations about whether additional packaging layers will be necessary to support the compostable nature of the primary packaging.


In an interview with Packaging World, Phil Drapeau, Senior Vice President of Future Coffee Systems at KDP, mentioned that while the project is promising, it is still developing. More information is expected as they proceed into the beta testing phase.


Exploring Packaging Barriers for K-Rounds


Keurig Dr Pepper is in the process of fine-tuning the packaging for its new K-Rounds, the plastic-free coffee pods. Phil Drapeau, SVP of Future Coffee Systems at KDP, shared that while the primary plant-based coating of the pods does provide some protection for the coffee's flavor and aroma, it may not be sufficient to extend the product's shelf life to meet consumer expectations. This means that the role of secondary packaging becomes more crucial, as it needs to compensate for any shortcomings of the primary packaging in preserving freshness.


Drapeau explains that the company is still determining the specifics of the secondary packaging, such as its barrier properties and how many pods each package will contain. These details are vital to ensure the pods maintain their quality from production to consumption. The design and material choices for the secondary packaging are being carefully considered to balance effective barrier protection with KDP’s sustainability goals, including recyclability.


The launch of K-Rounds has been announced ahead of finalizing these details to open a dialogue with retailers, consumers, and other stakeholders. This early announcement is part of a strategy to gather feedback that will guide the final product specifications. Drapeau emphasizes that this collaborative approach will help refine the balance between packaging performance and environmental impact. More details on the K-Rounds' packaging will be revealed as the product progresses through its beta testing phase, where adjustments can be made based on real-world feedback.


Recyclability and Barrier Functions in Secondary Packaging for K-Rounds


Phil Drapeau from Keurig Dr Pepper emphasized the importance of the secondary packaging for the new K-Rounds coffee pods being both recyclable and accepted by recycling programs. The design criteria extend beyond simple recyclability; the packaging must also support the product through manufacturing, shipping, and overall supply chain challenges. 


In contrast to traditional coffee pods, where the primary packaging typically handles all barrier responsibilities, the K-Rounds approach distributes these duties across both primary and secondary layers. The secondary packaging is crucial not only for its environmental attributes but also for its enhanced barrier properties to ensure product integrity.


Drapeau highlighted that a comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is planned to evaluate the full environmental impact of the K-Rounds system, from the coffee's initial processing to its end of life. This assessment aims to confirm whether the K-Rounds offer a more sustainable alternative compared to traditional plastic pods. Currently, the focus is on designing the packaging with an emphasis on recyclability and effective end-of-life management, progressing backward through the production and life cycle stages to optimize sustainability.


Innovative Sealant Technology in K-Rounds Packaging


Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) has integrated cutting-edge sealant technology into its K-Rounds coffee pods, enhancing their intellectual property portfolio through a strategic partnership with Delica Switzerland. This collaboration has granted KDP exclusive rights to use and further develop Delica's proprietary plant-based coating and application processes for the markets in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.


Phil Drapeau, a key figure in the project, highlighted that the sealant layer used in the primary packaging of K-Rounds comprises four main components, all of which adhere to FDA standards for food safety. The primary ingredient of this innovative sealant is alginate, a natural substance usually derived from seaweed, known for its safety and efficacy in food applications. This partnership and the technologies it brings have significantly accelerated the development of the K-Rounds project, pointing towards a sustainable future in coffee pod technology.


Pursuing Backyard Compostability Certification for K-Rounds


Keurig Dr Pepper is on track to achieve backyard compostability certification for its innovative K-Rounds coffee pods, with testing currently underway. Phil Drapeau expressed confidence in obtaining this certification, specifically through TUV—an organization known for its rigorous environmental standards. Drapeau praised TUV's thorough approach, anticipating that the final K-Rounds pods will meet their criteria based on promising preliminary results.


Drapeau emphasized that not only is the plant-based sealant expected to be fully compostable, but in cases where composting is not an option, it can also be disposed of in regular trash. There, it will naturally decompose, aligning with the company’s commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly products.


Developing Brew-Style Coding for K-Rounds


Each K-Round pod features a distinct gold-colored "brew-style code," which helps consumers easily differentiate between coffee varieties such as espresso (single or double) and varying roast levels. Keurig Dr Pepper is still finalizing how these codes are applied to the pods, exploring several technological options.


Phil Drapeau discussed the ongoing efforts to perfect this aspect of the K-Rounds design. The company is considering technologies that range from etching to using food-safe inks for printing directly on the pods. The chosen method must ensure compatibility with the Keurig Alta brewer, which reads these codes to prepare the specific brew style selected by the user. This compatibility is crucial for the functionality of the brewing system, hence the experimentation with different coding techniques during the product's development phase.


K-Rounds Enter Beta Testing Phase


Keurig Dr Pepper is gearing up for the beta testing phase of its K-Rounds coffee pods, leveraging its extensive presence in 45 million homes across the U.S. and Canada. This stage is crucial as it will address the diverse consumer preferences and logistical challenges across various retail environments, including both physical stores and online platforms.


Phil Drupeau expressed enthusiasm about moving into this phase, which will explore various aspects such as packaging sizes and pack counts. The testing will also extend to different coffee options, ranging from standard drip coffee to specialty beverages like single and double-shot espressos, and even cold coffee varieties. This phase aims to gather comprehensive data on consumer behavior and preferences over extended periods, including 30, 60, and 90 days. Insights gained from beta testing will be instrumental in refining product offerings, packaging solutions, and the overall consumer experience, ensuring that final product decisions, including those regarding barrier protections and ink technologies, are well-informed and effective.

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