Breaking open Muffin Break’s sustainable values

Muffin Break

Muffin Break has been quietly building a sustainable legacy for the past 32 years. The family owned and operated business shares its sustainable ethos and how it intends to normalise sustainable practices in the communities it serves.

Since 1989, Muffin Break has been serving Australians with wholesome muffin recipes and quality coffee, but it’s also had a sustainable backbone that continues to drive the business and its franchise partners to do more for the environment.

“We’ve had a sustainable focus from day one, with us being the first to have crockery in food courts in shopping centres,” says Natalie Brennan, General Manager of Muffin Break, part of the Foodco Group. “We are clear on who we are and why we’re here, but what we never wanted to be was harmful to the communities we’re in.”

Muffin Break has made its success by positioning stores in shopping centres and areas of high foot traffic with traditional dine-in facilities. But when other quick service restaurant competitors started serving takeaway only, Muffin Break kept its crockery as a point of difference. It ensured all takeaway bags and boxes were made from 100 per cent recycled material.

Five to six years ago, Natalie watched Muffin Break’s takeaway cup orders increase significantly. Questioning how to meet such demand in the most sustainable way, her team was tasked with finding a solution.

“At the time, we found that there were no large recycling companies investing in the correct recycling of single-use coffee cups because of the difficulty of removing the plastic film inside. We reviewed many variations. The issue was always that we had to take a collection of cups to a specific facility in specific areas to be treated correctly, and that was only if the shopping centres partnered with us,” Natalie says.

The solution came when Muffin Break was introduced to a recycling program called Simply Cups, which was making its way into Australia with the technology to recycle single-use coffee cups. Impressed by its closed loop solution, Muffin Break partnered with Simply Cups, in which funds were allocated for every takeaway cup bought to help develop the solution to upcycle the cups.

Muffin Break has partnered with Simply Cups to assist in taking single use coffee cups out of landfill.

Before long, Erina Fair Shopping Centre in New South Wales became one of the first to install Simply Cups’ collection bins throughout the centre, including at the Muffin Break store.

“One of the biggest problems customers have when trying to dispose of their coffee cup correctly is deciding which bin it goes in – recycling or waste? With Simply Cups, they collect the specially designed tubes and bins themselves to ensure the cups are recycled effectively away from other waste streams,” Natalie says. “The cups are upcycled into new products like drink trays, garden beds and roadside kerbing. In future, the hope is that the recycled cups will be upcycled into building materials we use in store.”

To date, Muffin Break has assisted Simply Cups in entering 35 shopping centres across Australia. Its single-use cups can also be disposed of at 7-Eleven stores, also a Simply Cups supporter.

As a result, Muffin Break has helped divert more than 17.5 million cups from landfill. The Australian Financial Review even named Muffin Break as one of the Top 10 Most Sustainable Companies in 2019. In time, Natalie hopes Muffin Break can partner with more shopping centre outlets to work towards clean waste streams.

“All you need is one passionate advocate to get the system rolling,” Natalie says. “There is a bit of education and commitment involved, but if people know this solution is available and possible, then they’ll do better in their recycling habits and help resolve this landfill issue too.”

Muffin Break’s efforts don’t stop there. When it discovered its black takeaway lids were not visibly recognised by laser sorters at recycling centres, it didn’t hesitate in changing its lids to white ones so it could be recycled properly.

“Then we thought, ‘do we even need a lid?’ We had our franchise partners ask their customers if they really needed one. Just by asking, we’ve significantly cut our lid consumption,” Natalie says.

Going one step further, prior to 2020, Muffin Break got rid of all its single-use plastic, including cutlery, stirrers, takeaway bags, and straws. Now it only uses bamboo cutlery and paper straws. Post-COVID-19, cutlery and serving trays are only provided if asked for, helping to reduce unnecessary packaging even further.

Muffin Break has also been a reusable cup advocate since 2012, incentivising customers with a discount on their coffee order if they used a KeepCup. For those who still use takeaway cups, Muffin Break recently made a design change which will save another 35 tonnes of paper.

In taking a top-end approach to sustainability, Muffin Break encourages the consumption of plant-based milks. In 2012, Muffin Break introduced no charge for soy milk and that policy has continued through the introduction of all the other plant-based or alternative milks.

“By using more plant-based milks we’re also reducing carbon emissions. Currently, 17 per cent of our coffee served are with non-dairy milks. For those that enjoy plant-based milks, we don’t want those customers to be disadvantaged by a price difference,” Natalie says.

“Our sustainable ethos is definitely a point of difference. No longer is having good coffee enough, conscious customers are looking for more. We think having a brand that’s committed to making sure your cups are disposed of properly is a pretty good incentive.”

To help educate the next generation of sustainable consumers, Muffin Break hosts a children’s sustainability workshop called Little Growers. Kids are taught the value of sustainability and are invited to grow a plant in a takeaway coffee cup, filled with spent coffee grounds and potting mix. Hundreds of workshops have been run over the past two years.

Muffin Break is looking forward to new technology that will help recycle coffee grounds on a mass scale.

“We’re always looking at what’s next,” Natalie says. “What can we do differently to improve the communities we work in and the earth we walk on?”

On the retail side of the business, Jeremy Regan, Head of Coffee at Foodco Group, says Muffin Break has recently updated its capsule filling plant to accept aluminium capsules in place of plastic coffee capsules. This change will encourage customers to recycle their capsules in partnership with recycling company TerraCycle.

“We don’t want to be collectors, we want to be recyclers, so we’re excited for this new launch. It does cost us more to produce, but we know it’s the right thing to do,” Jeremy says.

After 32 years of industry commitment, Muffin Break has its eyes on a sustainable future thanks to the 22 million customers it serves each year. With sheer people power and continual education, Natalie hopes Muffin Break can normalise sustainable practices and conversations with its customers.

“We’re really proud of our story and the communities we’ve helped so far, but there’s more to be done,” Natalie says. “We can all contribute to a bigger collective change.”

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This article appears in the June 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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