By Praveen Varshney, an EO Vancouver member and Principal of Varshney Capital Corp.
Many people wake up 15 minutes earlier every morning to make the perfect cup of espresso. When you add up those 15 minutes every day – almost two hours a week – it’s a sizable investment of time making coffee! This created an opportunity for quick serve coffee machines such as Keurig’s. Now anyone could buy the same roasts of coffee from their favourite cafes and enjoy that great cup of coffee in less than 30 seconds at home. The revolution of bringing the café into your own home with single serve coffee at the press of a button was born!
The birth of an industry
Single serve K-Cups grew from less than 2% of coffee sold in 2007 to over a third of retail packaged coffee in 2013. In fact, single serve is fastest growing category in coffee with a CAGR of 79% 2007-2012. The success of single serve spawned the Starbucks Verismo, Bosch Tassimo, Nestle Nespresso, and Mars Flavia but the Keurig remains as the most ubiquitous system. In 2012, Keurig’s patent on its K-Cup expired and the floodgates opened to companies such as TreeHouse Foods, Rogers Family Co. and Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee to enter the single serve coffee packaging space and make their own coffee pods. Roasters, who may or may not have physical cafes, could now put their beans in coffee pods without having to go through Keurig. This led to a proliferation of single serve brands and coffee pod makers.
Mountains of waste
At home and work, garbage bins are filling up with these small plastic containers. The problem is that around the world, all these plastic K-Cups are being buried in landfills. In 2014 alone, almost a billion pounds of K-Cups ended up in landfills, enough little plastic pods to circle the world 10.5 times. I began to realize this is an environmental disaster that’s only going to keep growing. K-Cups are an amazing convenience but they’re also notoriously difficult to recycle – to do so would involve peeling off a tinfoil lid to throw into the recycling, ripping out the filter and coffee to put in the garbage or compost, and then throwing the plastic shell (a #7 composite plastic that few jurisdictions recycle) into the garbage. This is a practice few of whom purchasing K-Cups for the convenience would bother with. Also forget about partially biodegradable K-Cups. Virtually no composters will take anything less than a 100% compostable product into their organics waste stream and risk contamination. So those 97% biodegradable cups 100% end up in landfills.
A 100% compostable solution – the G-KUP is born!
Because of this environmental disaster, Vancouver entrepreneur Darren Footz saw the opportunity for a better solution and invented and patented a 100% fully compostable replacement for the K-Cup: the G-KUP. We’ve partnered up so I’ve become a Co-Founder and are having a lot of fun doing something amazing for the planet and our kids’ futures while building an exciting new packaging company. The G-KUP can be thrown into a green bin organics recycling program or backyard compost pile after use and turns into soil in less than 90 days. The desire and need for a more eco-friendly alternative to the K-Cup utilizing new technologies such as 3D printing and innovative materials, created an entirely new way of making single serve coffee pods with 100% compostable materials.
Now with the help of the Composites Research Network at The University of BC in Vancouver, Canada, G-KUP is commercializing its product and is poised to disrupt the massive single serve coffee industry. G-KUP has already set its sights beyond single serve to applying its technology to developing more eco-friendly packaging for other convenience products such as ketchup, peanut butter, jam and margarine.
In the near future, I hope to be able to enjoy favourite roast of coffee in 30 seconds knowing that after my use, my G-KUP will turn back into the soil from which it came.