By Dan Bolton
Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee recognized the importance of getting their Higgins & Burke brand of specialty teas into capsules early in the game, but not so early that the company surrendered its lucrative private-label opportunities to Keurig Green Mountain (KGM).
In 2010, while leading brands like Lipton, Tetley’s, and Twinings were signing up with Vermont-based KGM, Mother Parkers, one of the top five tea blenders in North America, began investing in a compatible capsule system.
Four years later the Recyclable RealCup capsule, with its clear lid allowing customers to see the tea, opened the door to blenders seeking an alternative to the non-recyclable K-Cups.
Unlike the No. 7 plastic used by Keurig, the Recyclable RealCup capsules are made of clear No. 6 polystyrene, which can be recycled in 60% of US municipalities and many curbside programs. The number is higher in Canada where in some provinces 75% of cities can recycle the plastic. Polystyrene is used to make plastic utensils, toys, Styrofoam cups, and restaurant clamshells. Once brewed, consumers simply snap the lid then use the tab to pull off the top and recycle the cup. The tea and filter within the capsule are removed and the tea can be composted.
“If it helps reduce landfill and improve the planet for future generations, then this is an innovation worth sharing,” said Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee co-c.e.o. Paul Higgins on introducing the packaging innovation last April.
“The easy answer to whether we would share these cups with competitors is ‘no,’ but the right answer is ‘yes,’” said Bill VandenBygaart, v.p. for development at Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee. “The right thing to do is make the technology available to the industry,” he told the New York Times.
Higgins & Burke is part of the tea division of Mother Parkers, the fourth largest coffee roaster in North America. The Recyclable RealCup capsule followed the 2012 introduction of the RealCup format, a non-licensed Keurig-compatible No. 7 capsule popular with Tim Horton’s and mid-tier brands like Martinson, Brown Gold and some specialty coffee roasters including Marley Coffee and Wolfgang Puck. The original RealCup capsules are not compostable.
Higgins & Burke has a full range of single-serve tea, pricing their 24-ct packs competitively around 55- to 60-cents per cup and saturating sales channels from Amazon and Staples to grocers, gourmet shops, coffee shops, restaurants, office coffee, capsule superstores like ESC Coffee and convenience outlets.
The capsule’s non-woven filters are designed to enhance steeping of blends like sencha with lemongrass and lemon balm herb and verbena that sell for $12.95 to $14.95 online.
Unlike Lipton, Tetley, and Twinings, which are all packed in Keurig licensed capsules, Higgins & Burke opted for a design that appealed to specialty blenders who could charge a little more for their capsules, in part because they were not paying Keurig’s 6.8 cent per cup royalty. Numi Tea, an Oakland, Calif., blender was the first to sign on. Yogi Tea, with annual sales of $40 million in grocery and department stores, offers four of its teas in recyclable RealCup capsules. Traditional Medicinals is also offers some of its herbals in the recyclable format.
This spring Marley Coffee c.e.o. Brent Toevs announced their coffee would be packed in the Recyclable RealCup format and available later this year. Marley Coffee was founded in 2007 by Bob Marley’s son Rohan and is one of several coffee brands that market their offerings as sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Estimates put global production of plastic at 300 million tons, consuming about 3% of the petroleum refined annually. Capsules, despite their large numbers, represent a small sliver of that total but the 100 billion manufactured since their introduction has caught the attention of consumers who object to waste but insist on convenience.