Ima Coffee Hub embraces sustainability from A to Z

Of the many recent developments in coffee, none have permeated the industry quite as deeply as sustainability.

Coffee processing and packaging solutions provider Ima Coffee Hub has seen this firsthand. While the hub was only launched in 2019, its five specialist brands boast a wealth of experience in the coffee industry.

“Sustainability is becoming important overall in the world and most business segments. In coffee, it is very much in the heart of things. It started in a different part of the industry to where we operate, the ethical sourcing of coffee and long-term sustainability of coffee production,” says Nicola Panzani, Sales Director of Ima Coffee.

“From there, we became aware of problems with pollution and plastic waste in the environment and ocean. Coffee has taken a lead among different industries to improve on this topic.”

Ima Coffee Gima, Ima’s first coffee-specific brand, is a forebearer in the coffee capsule market, providing machines for cartoning and high-speed packaging of single-serve capsules for more than a decade, and of paper pods for 20 years.

The Coffee Hub’s green handling, processing, roasting, and grinding specialist, Ima Coffee Petroncini, celebrated 100 years in operation in 2019.

Ima Coffee Spreafico brings expertise in medium-to-high-speed packaging machines for coffee capsules and soluble products. Ima Coffee Mapster caters to customers with lower volume requirements and with Ima Coffee Tecmar, produces machines for dosed filling of ground or whole bean coffee bags.

The coffee knowledge of these five brands provides the Ima Coffee Hub with the ability to identify trends in the coffee industry and address them across the production line. In the past year, Panzani says the Ima Coffee Hub has seen a surge in demand for more sustainable alternatives, particularly in packaging.

“The industry is very much moving and changing. It started in capsule packaging, where most of the demand we received for machines and upgrades was related to newer systems that could accommodate environmentally friendly capsules,” Panzani says.

“More than 70 per cent of requests were related to these types of systems. This is not just in the capsule market. It’s not as pronounced, but there is a growing demand for sustainable packaging in soft bags for ground and wholebean coffee.”

The Ima Coffee Hub has taken several steps to accommodate this increased demand for sustainable alternatives. First and foremost, it has focused on supplying machines that can run environmentally friendly materials, such as aluminium or compostable capsules.

“Our goal is to provide machines to our customers that create products with a lower environmental impact. This is our target and commitment, and we believe it is something that resonates with our customers,” Panzani says.

“There is a need for new types of packaging which have a reduced environmental impact. This is coming from pressure from the market – consumer demand – and the industry is very much focused on satisfying this demand.”

To further its own commitment, Ima has begun collaborating with the companies that supply the environmentally conscious materials that will run through its machines.

“We are in touch with material suppliers to understand their new developments and to ensure our customers will have machines able to run these materials when they are ready for the market. As a company, we are very focused on this aspect,” Panzani says.

“The suppliers have the competence to develop new materials, but then we need to make sure these materials can work on our machines. We need to work together to make sure the industry can take advantage of new developments.”

When it comes to sustainable packaging, Panzani says a balance must be achieved between its performance and end-of-life options.

“Recyclability and composability are musts for the future, but it’s not always easy to combine these traits with packaging performance,” he says.

“New packaging was created for a reason, to reduce waste by keeping coffee fresh for the longest time possible. This need of packaging still exists and we need to combine these two aspects. It’s not impossible, but it requires work. Talking with material suppliers provides us the opportunity to improve the sustainability of the materials that run through our machines.”

While Panzani says the packaging stage has led demand for sustainable options, the rest of the production line is catching up.

“There’s constant upgrades on the processing and roasting side. This is the part of the plant with the highest energy usage and biggest carbon footprint. So there, our main focus is to reduce energy consumption, especially of gas,” he says.

“We offer high-efficiency roasters that operate with only one burner to reduce energy consumption.”

Panzani says the industry is also shifting toward higher optimisation, control of profiles, and roasting of single origins and specialty coffee.

“The processing side of the industry is more traditional than packaging. However, there are still trends towards new ideas like efficiency, automation, and complete control,” he says.

“Industry 4.0 is another wider focus of Ima, and we are applying artificial intelligence to our roasters to improve the capability of the machines to control themselves without the need of human intervention. There is a strong demand for this from our larger customers, but we see it growing with medium-sized business and expect it to apply to even smaller roasters in the near future.”

As a full-service provider, from green bean handling to end of line, Panzani says the Ima Coffee Hub is in a unique position to cater to the evolving demands of the industry.

“We believe very much in our approach that we have established as a strategic goal. Being a supplier from the A to Z of coffee production, we gain a 360-degree view of the market and are able to see the entire process. We know that in some cases, changes in one part of the process might affect stages later on or vice versa,” he says.

“With this wide view, we can work as a consultant for our customers, not just as a machinery supplier but a provider of knowledge, so they can decide what’s best for them to satisfy demand and reduce their environmental impact.

“Sustainability is not just a trend, it’s a reality. It will continue and increase in the future. I don’t see any chance of going back to non-sustainable packaging. The industry will have a complete shift to environmentally friendly types of packaging.”

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