Starbucks sold $180 million in instant coffee last year—and it was in 5th place. Instant coffee, for as tongue-insultingly sickening it is in the face of real coffee (which can be made pretty darn easily and quickly!), has proven to be a tremendous, globally swaying product for decades.
But how do you innovate in such a field? Starbucks broke in with their Via line through brute force of brand. In an area dominated by giants, where every product is going to be inherently lousy, how can your smaller, inherently lousy product be designed to stand out?
A company named MonoSol believes that they have the answer for instant coffee and a lot of other products. They produce "MonoDose" water-soluble packaging—the same sort of idea we’ve seen in popular dishwasher tablets—that can make instant coffee as simple to brew as dropping a packet into a mug of water. (And no, it doesn’t thicken the solution.)
"The uses in some ways are only constrained by our imagination," Media Manager Matt Scearce writes Co.Design. "Examples include oatmeal, cereals, instant teas/coffees, sweeteners, soups, drink sticks, gravy and sauces, hot chocolate, back of the kitchen applications, pre-portioned spice packs, pre-portioned dry ingredients, workout proteins and supplements (that are currently scooped out from huge bulk containers), etc." Any edible product that you could possibly want to mix with liquid is officially on the table for a potential redesign.
When I asked about the formula behind MonoSol’s edible packaging, they wouldn’t share information beyond that it was "patent pending." From what I can tell, most of MonoSol’s existing products appear to be water-soluble synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), and it fits every advertised capability of MonoDose (including, most importantly, ingestion). In 1999, a USDA study declared PVOH an excellent candidate for coating a variety of fruits, and noted that it added an "attractive appearance to chocolates."
As of right now, MonoSol is looking for partners to take the food packaging industry by storm. With a product that’s both more convenient to use and visibly greener than plastic, it’s not hard to imagine MonoSol having some serious success in the field. That is, assuming we don’t question feeding our bodies in the same manner we feed our dishwashers.
[Hat tip: Designtaxi]