Theatre In A Can

Stuart Pritchard August 7, 2017




Product Manager at Ardagh Group, Adriana Escobar, explains how a collaboration with the company helped a UK start-up hit the market with force…

Around the globe, consumers are drinking increasingly complex and premium coffee beverages; and Minor Figures, a young UK-based start-up coffee company, is capitalising on the latest coffee trend by collaborating with Ardagh Group and creating an innovative new product with a cutting edge packaging solution: the Nitro Can.

The origins of coffee date back to the 16th Century. Today’s coffee markets around the globe, however, are prospering from new products and innovations, rather than tried and trusted traditions. One of the latest trends is cold brew coffee, which is “brewed” by steeping coarse coffee grounds in cold water for up to 24-hours; the coffee is then strained and served cold or iced. The result is a non-bitter, slightly sweet flavour that appeals to consumers who may have avoided coffee before due to its bitter taste. As such, cold brew coffee has quickly established itself in the US. Major coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee, as well as smaller coffee shops and brands, are now bringing the refreshing beverage to Europe.


Minor Figures founder Stuart Forsyth was working in the US when he first came across cold brew coffee, and soon developed a fondness

Upon opening, the widget, a special capsule fixed at the can’s bottom, releases nitrogen into the cold-brew black coffee

for the beverage. Together with Will Rixon and Jonathan Chiu, who both have a background in the industry, he established Minor Figures in 2014. Their mission: to introduce high-quality cold brew to supermarket shelves in the UK and mainland Europe.

“Since the very beginning, we’ve put our focus on bringing innovative, but also very high-quality products to the market,” Forsyth explains. One of the company’s trade secrets is the conservation process used, which allows retailers and consumers to store Minor Figures products outside the cold chain for up to 12-months.

In 2014, with its cold brew coffee, Minor Figures was way ahead of the competition. 2015 and 2016 saw the rise of nitro coffee, a specialty drink that is infused with nitrogen and served on tap. With a creamy texture and a head of foam resembling that of a freshly poured beer, it turns drinking coffee into a new experience – and one that was not only interesting for Minor Figures, but also for packaging specialist Ardagh Group. The company saw the surge of nitro coffee on tap in the US and started to think about ways of bringing this unique experience into consumers’ homes. Based on its experiences with free-floating widgets in beer cans, Ardagh was now looking for ways to transfer that technology to a slimmer can suited for premium coffee: the Nitro Can.


Meanwhile, Minor Figures had embarked on its own quest to find the right packaging for nitro coffee. “We did experiment with taps for a bit,” recalls Forsyth. “But what we really wanted to find was a packaging that would allow us to bring the experience into retail, thus

“The nitro coffee pours very smoothly. You can see the bubbles rise through the coffee while the foam builds up on top.”

making it available to a lot of people. We started testing cans as a packaging for our nitro coffee.” Ardagh Group’s cans proved to be the perfect match. Together, the two companies started working to develop the ideal can for Minor Figures’ cold brew.

Minor Figures and Ardagh Group officially launched their innovative new product at the London Coffee Festival in mid-April 2017 – the world’s first shelf-stable canned nitro coffee. The widget inside the can is fixed to the bottom, ensuring a consistent flow of nitrogen upon opening.

“The canned nitro coffee offers customers a bit of theatre,” says Forsyth. “The way it froths into the glass is visually appealing, and the foamy head resembles that of a Guinness. The nitrogen that is released from the widget also enhances the flavour of the coffee by giving it a silky and creamy mouthfeel.” And, of course, cans are infinitely recyclable – a key priority for Minor Figures, which also uses organic ingredients for its beverages.


Harris + Hoole was the first coffee shop chain to introduce the new nitro coffee in its stores: “Serving nitro coffee on tap wasn’t an option for us operationally. That’s why we were keen to try out canned nitro coffee with consistently high quality,” recalls Josh Brown, Head of Commercial Development at Harris + Hoole. Since the introduction of the nitro coffee in 37 stores in early April, the product has been well-received. With innovations like nitro cold brew coffee, Minor Figures is now focusing on expansion and establishing itself as a market lead; and Ardagh Group’s nitro can has helped the company take a crucial step toward reaching that goal.