Dunkin' Donuts is testing a new polypropylene coffee cup that the company believes could help boost recycling.
And the new cup, manufactured by Berry Plastics Group Inc., has the backing of the fast-food company's top leadership.
“I love this cup. It feels a bit like our iconic foam cup, but this is sustainability at its best,” said Nigel Travis, CEO of parent company Dunkin' Brands Group Inc., during an investors' presentation Sept. 17.
The impact of any move away from the company's current expanded polystyrene foam cup could be huge as the company is America's largest retailer of coffee by the cup.
“We are committed to roll out an alternative cup in the next 2-3 years,” said Christine Riley Miller, senior director of corporate social responsibility for Dunkin' Brands, in an email interview.
“The test of the No. 5 polypropylene cup is part of our ongoing effort to examine and test different materials with our guests and our franchisees,” she said.
Dunkin' Donuts also is testing a double-walled paper cup in several locations, and Riley Miller cautioned that there are no current plans to introduce the PP cup nationwide as the company needs to see testing results.
The PP cup being tested at several locations in Massachusetts, Vermont and California, and is made by Berry Plastics under the Versalite brand name.
Berry Plastics sees great potential in the Versalite cup as CEO Jon Rich previously called its launch “an extremely important day” in the company history.
“For the past several years, we have been working hard to find a cup that we can use in place of our foam cup. We want our new cup to be better for our guests, our franchisees and the planet,” Dunkin's Riley Miller said.
She indicated that the PP cup is recyclable in most municipal recycling programs.
“For that reason, the majority of our guests can recycle this cup in their home, office or other recycling receptacle as long as No. 5 plastic is accepted. As a result, these cups can be diverted from the waste stream if disposed of properly,” Riley Miller said.
While Riley Miller spoke about the need for more testing of the PP cup, the CEO seemed to speak more definitively about its future use.
Sustainability, Travis said during his presentation, “is an area that's important to today's consumers. ... This is a completely recyclable cup. We're excited about this. We think when we roll this out, as we will across the country, we will be the true leaders when it comes to cup technology.”
Any change Dunkin' Donuts makes would have a huge impact as the company serves about 1 billion cups of hot coffee each year in the United States.
“We like the recyclability of the polypropylene cup that we are testing in areas of Massachusetts, Vermont and California,” Riley Miller said. “We are conducting the test with our guests to get their feedback on performance.”
The company, she said, has been on what is now a years-long journey regarding its cups.
“Over the past five years, Dunkin' Brands has examined every commercially available cup and material, but have not yet found a viable solution with the necessary manufacturing capabilities, availability of raw materials, the ability to meet food safety requirements, thermal qualities, and environmental attributes such as recyclability or biodegradability. We will continue to explore additional materials as they become available over the next 12-18 months,” Riley Miller said.
Cost, of course, is always a factor when considering potential packaging changes such as this.
“The polypropylene cup is more expensive than foam. Our franchisees make their own business decisions with regard to pricing.
“Ultimately that decision will be made by individual franchisees who determine the price of coffee sold in their restaurants, but right now there are no plans to raise prices. This is a test and we will continue to evaluate all aspects [including costs] as we go through the test,” she said.