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QuickStir sugar & creamer spoons: eliminating plastic in to-go beverage environments

Molded spoons made of sugar and creamer that dissolve in beverages, eliminating use of stir-sticks, sugar and half-and-half packets.

Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
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Imagine your daily coffee routine. 

You stand in line at your local coffee shop, (with or without a reusable mug). But today, like most days, you want to add cream or sugar to your beverage. Removing the lid, you reach for a sugar packet, and a small creamer. You pour them in, but the coffee is almost overflowing. The coffee is too hot to mix with your finger or to slosh around without getting it on your new blazer, so you grab for a small stir-stick.

Ugh, these cafes still use the plastic ones. Still, you stir your mug three or four times, and deposit the sugar packet, creamer container, and plastic stir-stick into the nearest receptacle, hoping one day that Starbucks puts in recycling options.

(Yeah, you know what we mean).

Now, multiply those three annoying little plastics you only use once, by all of the times you run out for a coffee. Thats a lot of plastic waste!

Plastic Waste & Morning Coffee(coffee waste - Photo from Costa Rica Guide)

Each year, Americans throw away 138 billion straws and stirrers after using them just once.  In order to vastly cut down on small plastics, this proposal eliminates up to 2-3 small non-recyclable plastics per coffee drinker in retail and to-go environments.

By making an edible replacement, which dissolves when stirred into liquid, the plastic stir-stick suddenly becomes obsolete, and the sugar and creamer packets become unnecessary.

By focusing on combining three individual items into an easy to use sugar-based stirring stick, this is an innovation that benefits BOTH retail and consumer:

  • Economical for retail environments that serve beverages, cutting down on separate sugar, creamer and stir-stick supply chains, as well as separate pricing.
  • Consumers now only have to grab one item instead of two to three when flavoring, stirring and sweetening beverages.
  • Less packaging to deal with, leading to shorter wait times at the sugar counter, and less packaging to throw away in the cafe trash can.
  • Doesn't directly compete with any coffee chain, meaning customers can remain loyal to their favorite brands (Starbucks, Tim Horton's, Dunkin' Donuts, as well as local coffee roasters).


WHY QuickStir DESIGN?

A poll of coffee drinkers found that simply pouring a sugar packet or half-and-half in a circular motion did not blend the additive correctly. Habit offset programs are also not easily adhered to, such as information to put cream and sugar in first before the coffee.

Coffee drinkers expressed desire for something spoon or stick-like to blend the mixtures more evenly, and still wanted autonomy over their own sweetener and creamer habits, due to difference in coffee taste and sweetness, even when ordering similar drinks, because of change in barista or ingredients.


EASE OF USE:

Pick up your QuickStir, put it in hot coffee like a spoon, and stir.

As the QuickStir is moved in a circular motion through the hot liquid, its designed to dissolve easily. QuickStir can also act as a spoon to stir in other additional products if need be (cinnamon, chocolate powder, flavorings, etc).



PARTNERSHIPS & PRODUCT LINE EXPANSION

The design of the QuickStir spoons gives opportunity for partnerships with larger companies looking to green their products and increase innovation. As such, partnerships (with the likes of such as Carnation, Starbucks, Domino Sugar, etc.) would increase values of both brands, and give sustainability and convenience-minded consumers help.

When looking at product line expansion, creamer companies could be targeted, using their dried creamer as a base to mix with sugar, as well as flavored creamer combinations such as Hazelnut, Vanilla, and Caramel.

TESTING & DEVELOPMENT

We took a look into the hard sugar industry, testing the dissolve rate of sugars such as the dipping stick in Fun-Dip, Peppermint Candy Canes, and Rock Candy. We also timed how fast sugar substitutes dissolve, and how many times you really need to stir in order to "combine" your sugar and/or creamer into your beverage.

Fun, right? We found that an average of 5-10 revolutions would be the minimum stir rate needed before the Sugar & Creamer spoons should start to dissolve, while still maintaining a rigidity to legitimize the spoon. (At maximum dissolve rate, 22-25 revolutions seemed “a bit long”).

Additionally, sweetness level was measured: Shinier, harder candies such as the peppermint sticks and rock candy formulae worked for ideal transfer of sugar into beverage, but the sticks stuck around longer than desired. While the Fun-Dip stick ("Lik-M-Aid", made by Willy Wonka's "Nestle" brand) was too ‘chalky’ and didn’t transfer enough sweetness to cup ratio.


More testing insights: 

  • Sugars that are glassier, such as candy-canes, have a longer dissolve time and were not considered ideal.

  • The addition of powdered creamer also changes the dissolve time of both styles of sugar stirrers, and would produce a spoon that is much quicker to mix into the beverage, thus should be pressed into a more dense spoon.

  • When tested, white sugar cubes were promising, while Sugar in the Raw sugar cubes dissolved too quickly, so the QuickStir will be pressed at a higher pressure, with large granules for optimal dissolve rates.


Moving forward, we’d like to focus on sugars that can be easily molded, with some porous texture, to accommodate lukewarm coffee and beverage temperatures. 


TEST TWO: ACTUAL LOW-FI PROTOTYPING: 

We made prototypes of the SugStir concept, and tested them in our coffee! They turned out great. The creamer? Not so much - but we're working on that! See video for dissolvability & usage. 

Low fidelity prototyping: Sugar recipe in reusable mold


Voila: usable sugar prototype.

User Responses: 
- A bit thicker than need be
- Would like to be longer and thinner
- Next round: Custom 3D printed mold with interlocking bits
- Need information at point of use for how much sugar is in each stick



SPECS AND DESIGN 

An ideal length of the SugStir and CreamStir is 3.25-4.5 inches, to accommodate full reach into each coffee cup.

Interlocking design prototypes create easy packing and shipping, for less breakage during distribution, and easy grip for consumers.


PROTOTYPE V.1:

In testing for the Refinement phase, we created a 3D spec of a mold - including the option for a coffee company to imprint their own logo into the stir-stick. We kept the mold similar to the physical prototype that we have created. By finding a way to easily imprint logos on the sticks, they become more valuable for partnerships. 



PACKAGING & DISTRIBUTION:

By packaging to ship the QuickStir in sleeves made of BPI certified compostable film, and 100% post-consumer and post industrial waste recyclable cardboard boxes, and taking into consideration interlocking Stir designs for maximum support and box-fit, the QuickStir can be transported hygienically, without threat of moisture. The package it is shipped in can be recycled on-site at retail locations, or transformed into dispenser if additional heavy-duty dispensers aren’t available. 

The heavy duty dispenser system, which is also made out of recyclable materials, acts much like a single-straw dispenser. Modeled after the Dixie 'Smartstock' silverware dispensers that many fast-food and cafeterias use, the dispensing method was innovated to create little to no end-user packaging that needs to be thrown away. 

Simply press the lever, and a QuickStir of your choice (Sugar, Sugar-Substitute or Powdered Creamer) can be removed and used.

Website

We created a promotional logo and materials over at: https://www.usefuldesignlab.com/quickstir

Where are you / your team located?

Seattle, WA

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Three items will be combined into one edible, dissolving stir-stick, thus eliminating waste from three sources: 1) The plastic stir-stick (a small, non-recyclable piece of single-use plastic, that is discarded immediately after use). 2) Sugar and sugar-substitute packets (that are usually thrown in the trash after pouring content into beverages). 3) Small plastic half-and-half containers, (which are rarely recycled, even if the foil/plastic coated pull tab are separated and discarded)

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Use Cases 1 and 3 - aiming to eliminate excess waste in to-go environments, and aiming to replace unnecessary items. QuickStirs target product delivery both in retail and in cafe contexts. This is especially easy to handle in takeaway and to-go food markets where the end consumer sweetens their own beverage: Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Costa, Tim Horton’s, Wawa, 7-11, and traditional cafeterias and coffee and beverage chains all apply.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Obviously the easiest would be to partner with a larger coffee chains to introduce the product to market. However, responsible marketing campaigns, social media advocacy, quirky videos highlighting product impact, brand ambassadors, taste-testing and small coffee partnerships and placing the product in food distribution environments (such as KeHE, ExpoEast, ExpoWest and grocery and product placement programs) are all in the business plan.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

It would create opportunity to accelerate the product development lifecycle, freeing funds to create and test sugar molds, focus on environmentally friendly supply chain development, 3D sugar printing, shelf-life tests and dissolve tests, while further refining business and marketing strategy. It would also create opportunity for high-level introductions to possible brand partnerships, increase visibility of design, and leverage opportunity to hire more team members to focus on retail placement.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

After working in the coffee industry for years, and traveling the world, Reinert was lamenting the fact that so many to-go options created waste, and thought "wouldn't it be cool if we had dissolvable spoons made out of the things we actually want to put in our beverages?" After finding the Circular Design Challenge and reading through all of the research, she realized that the perfect idea would be to test user assumptions and apply for the NPE Accelerator Program.

Tell us about your work experience

Reinert worked in Innovation at Coexist Coffee – in charge of building supply chains, product development, marketing campaigns and more. She also works with UNICEF and the UNDP in design & strategy.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

The QuickStir concept is proposed by a sole proprietor of a product design company with package and food science background. She is looking to expand.
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Attachments (4)

QuickStirPackagingDevelopment.pdf

How QuickStir's packaging is environmentally considered from start-to-finish: Only using recyclable or compostable elements, and providing heavy-duty end consumer systems -- that can be recycled once they're done being used!

QuickStirPlasticSystem.pdf

How the main QuickStir item enters (or, avoids completely) the plastics system

QuickStir_UserExperienceJourney.pdf

A user experience journey for a QuickStir consumer.

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