Guilt free caf feine

A failed attempt to invent a biodegrade­able coffee pod saw a pair of young Kiwi entreprene­urs resort to importing an environmen­tallyfrien­dly pod. And the ensuing business has seen them take home top honours at recent Pitch Circus.


IF THERE WASN’T already enough guilt surroundin­g drinking coffee, here’s another coffee-related problem. The pods traditiona­lly used in those handy coffee machines are an environmen­tal hazard, taking hundreds of years to decompose.

Enter university mates Josh Cole, 23, and Jayden Klinac, 24, with a solution. The pair are founders of The Honest Coffee Company, the only New Zealand distributo­r of biodegrade­able coffee pods made by a Swiss firm, the Ethical Coffee Company (ECC).

ECC pods are made of plant fibre and starch and decompose within six months, which is apparently quicker than an orange peel.

The Honest Coffee Company was the winning idea at the second Idealog Live/Pitch Circus event.

Coffee pods are a small product generating big business – and a lot of waste – internatio­nally. Basically a pod is a small, prepackage­d unit of ground coffee, which is loaded into a pod coffee machine and (like a tea bag) produces a single cup of coffee.

Unlike a tea bag, they are mostly made of plastic or aluminium, and don’t decompose. And the numbers are big. In 2012 alone, a single player, Nespresso, sold more than 27 billion pods worldwide. Meanwhile, coffee- drinking connoisseu­rs over in Europe spent $10 million in 2013 on coffee pod machines, surpassing drip coffee machine sales for the first time.

In New Zealand, sales of Nespresso coffee machines – the leading brand here – rose 87% in the year to February 2014.

However, consumers caught up in the convenienc­e of the coffee pod revolution may not realise – or are wilfully ignoring – the environmen­tal repercussi­ons, Klinac says.

Just 5% of plastic coffee capsules made by North American market leader Keurig are recyclable, says non-profit news organisati­on Mother Jones. And if you put all the 8.3 billion Keurig pods discarded in 2013 in a line, they would stretch around the earth more than 10 times.

Nespresso offers a recycling option for its aluminium pods, but customers have to collect them up and deliver them to one of two Nespresso stores in Auckland and Wellington. If not, the pods can take up to 500 years to break down in landfill, according to recycling statistics.

Klinac says he first became interested in the coffee pod industry as a student at Otago University, when he saw his flatmate’s Nespresso machine.

“I did some research and learnt how bad pods were for the environmen­t and how people wanted convenienc­e and forgot about everything else.”

After months spent trying – and failing – to invent a biodegrada­ble pod, Klinac heard about the Ethical Coffee Company, which is run by Nespresso’s former chief executive Jean-Paul Gaillard.

The company makes an eco-friendly, Nespresso machine- compatible alternativ­e to the current aluminium capsules on the market.

The Honest Coffee Company managed to secure exclusive rights to the pods, despite Klinac and Cole having virtually no business experience.

Honest Coffee Company eco-pods are now stocked in various Harvey Norman, New World and Huckleberr­y Farm stores across New Zealand, and can also be bought through the company’s website.

Klinac says the quality of the coffee, not the biodegrada­bility, was the primary focus.

“With our capsules, coffee quality is just as high [as other coffee pods] but you can put them in your general waste. The biodegrada­bility is allowing consumers to have the convenienc­e without changing their habits,” he says.

Their journey hasn’t been without its challenges, however. A cunning move by Nespresso (a subsidiary of Swiss-based food giant Nestlé), to change the design of its machines so ECC pods didn’t work, resulted in court battles between ECC and Nespresso.

In 2014, ECC won a lawsuit against Nespresso for “unfair competitio­n” and Nespresso was ordered to pay more than 500,000 euros to ECC as well as agree to give four months warning to competitor­s before changing their machines.

Meanwhile, a 15 million euro patent infringeme­nt lawsuit is ongoing.

Klinac says the next step for the Honest Coffee Company is getting the eco-pods into more New Zealand stores.

Meanwhile, the Ethical Coffee Company is developing a new coffee capsule you can chuck directly onto the garden, thereby releasing nutrients directly into the soil. The next Idealog Live-Pitch Circus event will be held in Wellington on April 1. The guest speaker will be Lewis Road Creamery co-founder Peter Cullinane, of chocolate milk fame. See for more details. If you want the chance for your company to be a part of Pitch Circus, get in touch at You will need to give a 3.33-minute presentati­on about your innovative business idea, and the winner gets profiled in magazine, as well as receiving other sweet prizes.

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