The global market for coffee capsules is worth billions of dollars, and South African supermarkets now devote multiple shelves to these convenient caffeine microdoses. This convenience comes with a hefty price tag, often costing five times as much as identical bags of coffee.
A Swiss engineer began experimenting with coffee pods in the 1970s. Thanks to Nestlé and their Nespresso machine, their single-serve espresso empire has exploded on a global scale. Currently, dozens of capsule coffee makers and over 400 pod varieties vie for market share.
Single-serve coffee pod machines are second only to traditional drip coffee pots in the United States. And in South Africa, a startup company is packaging premium coffee in compostable pods – at a premium – in an effort to reduce the millions of capsules that end up in landfills each year.
The expansion of this coffee industry has attracted both supporters and detractors. A renowned British barista has compared the trend to a coffee microwave meal. And even K-Cup inventor John Sylvan, who created the most popular single-serve machine in the United States, regrets it for environmental reasons.
Although opponents’ voices are frequently the loudest, defenders continue to speak with their credit cards. And coffee companies continue to produce millions of pods annually, which they sell at higher per-gram prices than their more conventional coffee.
Even supermarket private labels and franchise coffee shops have joined Nespresso, Starbucks, Jacobs, Importers, and Illy in the competition in South Africa.
Each offers the same product: capsules made of disposable plastic and aluminum containing between five and six grams of ground coffee. These are available in a variety of flavors and roasts, typically in packs of 10 or 12.
It is not news that coffee capsules and pods pose a significant environmental problem. And connoisseurs will likely concur that the final product tastes terrible. Pods are not the most cost-effective way to consume coffee, however, if cost is a factor in how you get your morning fix.
Business Insider South Africa calculated the cost per pod and 100 grams of ground coffee for several leading brands to determine the cost of coffee in pods.