Nespresso launches the race for compostable pods

Launched in 1986, Nespresso capsules revolutionized coffee consumption. Now the company offers a compostable version of its famous pods ( Roy Rochlin / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP )

Nespresso, the subsidiary of the Swiss giant Nestlé in coffee, is in turn launching the race for compostable pods in response to its competitors who are trying to gain share of this juicy market by betting on the zero waste card.

The brand represented by American actor George Clooney will launch paper-based pods that can be composted at home, “first in France and Switzerland in 2023”, then in other markets in 2024, revealed its director general, Guillaume Le Cunff, to AFP.

Like the capsules announced ten days ago by Nescafé Dolce Gusto – another Nestlé brand – they are provided with a thin film of biopolymer, also compostable, in order to preserve the freshness of the coffee.

At the controls of Nespresso since 2020, Mr. Le Cunff specifies that these new capsules, which can be used on current machines, will not replace aluminum pods but will give “an alternative” to coffee lovers who prefer to compost their pods rather than bring them back. at the recycling point or in shops.

“It’s a complement. The objective is to give the choice” he explains, while specifying that this new capsule required three years of research.

“We had to create coffees that work with this packaging. While the engineers were working on the packaging, our coffee experts were developing new coffees, working on the roasting and grinding,” he recalls, pointing out that he has took 28 prototypes before finding the solution.

Ambitious competitors

Other brands have already embarked on composting, like the American Keurig, which has developed a polypropylene capsule, a plastic that can be recycled in certain waste treatment points, which is easy to open for the empty and compost the coffee.

The Swiss supermarket chain Migros for its part unveiled in September pods without any packaging, in the shape of a ball, covered with a thin film made from algae. Compostable in the garden, however, they require a new machine.

Migros has very strong ambitions for these compostable pods, launched in Switzerland but also in France, one of the largest Nespresso markets, before attacking the German market next year.

To seduce consumers, Migros puts forward environmental arguments, claiming that traditional pods generate around 100,000 tonnes of waste annually, many of which end up in the trash without being recycled.

“Nespresso remains the leader in the portioned coffee segment. However, there is more competition,” Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox told AFP.

Caution from environmental NGOs

With sales of 6.4 billion Swiss francs (an equivalent amount in euros) in 2021, Nespresso is the second largest coffee brand in the world behind Nescafé, and the first in Western Europe, according to the Euromonitor International firm.

Launched in 1986, Nespresso pods revolutionized coffee consumption in Europe by making it possible to prepare an espresso at home. Its success had quickly aroused covetousness and given rise to fierce battles in the courts to try to prevent the arrival of capsules compatible with its machines.

If the competition had then been made on price, environmental organizations are watching this new battle over compostable products with caution.

In September, Switzerland's largest retailer Migros unveiled 100% compostable compressed coffee balls covered in a thin film made from algae.
In September, Switzerland’s largest retailer Migros unveiled 100% compostable compressed coffee balls covered in a thin film made from seaweed (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP/Archives)

For Florian Kasser, consumer and circular economy expert at Greenpeace Switzerland, compostable alternatives are “a small step forward”. But “the problem with these innovations is that they give the impression that we can consume coffee without any environmental problem,” he argued in an interview with AFP.

According to him, they are going “in the wrong direction” because like meat or dairy products, coffee is one of the foodstuffs that have “a very bad ecological footprint” which should rather be sought “to reduce consumption”.

Larissa Copello, in charge of consumption at the NGO Zero Waste (Zero waste), also fears that “consumers wrongly deduce that if +it composts in my garden, it may also degrade in nature+” , with the risk of wild litter, she warns.

With the launch of these new capsules, Nespresso will create an interest group called Union des acteurs du Compostable, bringing together public bodies, companies, NGOs and waste collection operators to raise consumer awareness about composting, explained its director. general.

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