Smile Beverage Werks brings sustainable single serve to the US with Ima Coffee

Smile Beverage Werks in the United States has brought its sustainable single serve solutions to the market, with assistance from Ima Coffee.

Sustainability is becoming less of an option and more of a requirement of businesses in the coffee industry. This is especially true in the single serve market, where the plastic waste and environmental footprint is most visible to the end consumer.

Ima Coffee, consisting of Ima Coffee Packaging and roasting arm Ima Coffee Petroncini, is committed to playing its part in helping coffee businesses improve the sustainability of their single serve products. Ima has created this Coffee Hub to leverage its expertise at every step of coffee processing and packaging and serve the coffee industry from A to Z as a one-stop answer to large and small coffee producers worldwide.

Alessandro Nobili, Project & Product Management Manager of Ima Coffee, says this approach ensures market-leading competencies, industry experience, and application-specific know-how encompassing all stages of coffee handling, processing and packaging.

“Ima’s objective is to collaborate with companies and multinationals that want to handle different types of products with less impact on the environment,” Nobili says.

“As an automatic machine manufacturer, what we do to contribute towards sustainability is reduce the impact our equipment has on the environment, and help customers develop new sustainable products.”

Nobili says recent developments in the materials used to produce compostable coffee capsules have made them a more practical option for many businesses, who in the past were deterred by their short shelf life.

“The material used for compostable capsules has improved in the last year in response to increasing demand for more sustainability. This has made it a little easier for us than in the past to handle these materials,” he says.

A recent project of Ima Coffee Packaging was providing a filling and sealing machine for compostable coffee capsules to American start-up Smile Beverage Werks.

“We were very excited to work with a start-up company that was really valuing and championing sustainability,” Nobili says.
Smile Beverage Werks is a Benefit “B” Corporation aiming to make single serve coffee more sustainable.

“[Our] mission is to make responsibly sourced, exceptional coffees in the most environmentally friendly coffee capsules for our own brand, Smile Coffee Werks, and for private label customers,” says Michael Sands, CO-founder and CEO of Smile Beverage Werks.

However, compostable coffee capsules have traditionally experienced issues preserving the freshness of coffee or maintaining their structural integrity. Refusing to compromise on quality, Smile Beverage Werks sought out material and equipment suppliers that could bring its vision to life.

Sands says what they were looking for in a partner included pragmatic research and development (R&D) proof of concepts, the ability to adapt quickly and recommend and implement changes, and fast commercialisation. The equipment itself required an output of at least 400 capsules per minute.

“[Our goal was] to get to market quickly on a commercial scale with a new environmentally friendly capsule technology,” Sands says.

“We chose Ima [Coffee Packaging as our equipment partner,] based on their industry reputation for quality, their R&D capabilities, and their insights to support the emerging sustainability market.”

Ima was able to succeed the requirements of Smile Beverage Werks, with its Smile Coffee Werks brand reaching the market in September 2020. It added Keurig compatible products to its line-up later that year. Sands says these are the ‘first-of-their-kind’ compostable coffee capsules made from renewable raw materials with a 12-months-plus shelf life.

“Ima quickly figured out changes to the machinery needed in order to make the technology work,” Sands says.

“They worked closely with us to find all technical solutions so that we can run on a well-known and regarded industry machine at output levels that support industry standards and economics.”

To achieve this, Ima Coffee needs to make sure its equipment can process the material the capsules are made of, which requires cooperation with the capsule and material suppliers.

Nobili says Ima Coffee has purposefully built strong relationships with material and capsule suppliers around the world for this exact reason. In fact, he says there were several material suppliers involved in this project that recommended Ima Coffee Packaging to Smile Beverage Werks.

“Ima Coffee’s R&D lab was able to help Smile Beverage Werks find the right setup, make small changes to the product with the capsule and material suppliers, and adjust or modify our machines in order to be adapted or arranged for this type of product,” Nobili says.

“Our machines are designed to handle all types of products, not just plastic and aluminium. They are already capable of filling and sealing most capsules, but we can work upstream with the capsule and material suppliers to modify the material or machinery as needed. It’s really a loop that we try to close by working with these suppliers.”

For Smile Beverage Werks, Ima Coffee Packaging applied an ultrasonic sealing process that’s more flexible than thermal heating for this type of compostable product it wanted to produce.”

For Smile Beverage Werks’ facility, Ima supplied its high-speed 595 capsule filling and sealing machine. Capable of filling and sealing 450 capsules per minute, Nobili says the 595 could theoretically process 120 to 130 million capsules per year.

The machine’s modular design allows for a variety of sealing systems for different capsule types, materials, and dosed products.

The machine also handles inner components to be placed and sealed inside the capsule before dosing, such as plastic filters, paper filters, and bottom lids.

“We provided our best solution in terms of technology to Smile Beverage Werks, the ‘top gun’ as we like to say,” Nobili says.

“Feedback from Smile Beverage Werks on the 595 was very positive along the development process. The factory acceptance test we performed on Bologna, Italy, achieved very good results in terms of efficiency and capsule quality.”

Despite its European origins, Ima has built a strong presence in North America, with customers across the United States as well as Canada. Nobili says this is an important market for the coffee industry, where Ima Coffee stands out for offering a turnkey solution, from green bean intake through to cartoning.

“When we meet with a customer, we start with a lot of discussion to understand their needs. Then, we’re alongside them through the project development. Luckily for us, we have a laboratory in our headquarters where we can test different materials and products they might be considering,” Nobili says.

“In some cases, this is their first coffee project and they are new to the market, so we offer them help with our decades of expertise and experience.”

Ima will continue working with Smile Beverage Werks as the start-up grows and expands. Sands believes demand for sustainable single serve products will only increase and Smile Beverage Werks is ready to meet that demand.

“We expect this category to grow fast with additional capacity to be added and new packaging options to help disrupt and grow the 15 billion annual North American coffee capsule market,” Sands says.

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