Instant Coffee

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 14 instant coffee brands.

We also look at Fairtrade and Bird Friendly Coffee, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Clipper and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying coffee:

  • Is it Fairtrade? Coffee is the second most traded commodity produced by developing countries. Sadly, those growing coffee for large brands are often overworked and underpaid. Buy Fairtrade coffee to ensure that the growers are receiving a fare wage.

  • Is it organic? Made from petroleum, chemical pesticides threaten bee populations, contaminate water sources, and cause large-scale destruction of habitats. Look for organic to avoid coffee grown with these chemicals.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys are organic and Fairtrade coffees from:

All Clipper’s instant coffees are Fairtrade and organic.

Find out more about our Best Buy Label here.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying instant coffee:

  • Is it grown using pesticides? For agricultural workers and local people, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, not to mention the environmental issues. Opt for organic coffee.

  • Is it in plastic pods? Coffee pods produce unnecessary waste and add to the vast amounts of plastic damaging ecosystems around the world.The plastic in our oceans could already circle the planet 400 times, so avoid adding to it by staying well away from plastic coffee pods.

Companies to avoid

Not only does Nestlé score poorly in our table, it has an ongoing boycott callagainst it for the aggressive marketing for baby milk formula in developing countries. We would recommend avoiding brands owned by Nestlé:

  • Nestcafé

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Cafedirect organic coffee [F,O,]

Company Profile: Cafédirect
16

Percol instant coffee [F,O]

Company Profile: Food Brands Group UK
14.5

Percol instant coffee [F]

Company Profile: Food Brands Group UK
13.5

Percol instant coffee

Company Profile: Food Brands Group UK
12.5

Clipper Fairtrade Organic coffee [F,O]

Company Profile: Kallo Foods Limited
11.5

Red Mountain instant coffee

Company Profile: Typhoo Tea Ltd
11

Kenco 100% range [S]

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
5

Douwe Egberts instant coffee

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

Kenco instant coffee

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

L'Or instant coffee

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

Maxwell House instant coffee

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

Nescafe instant coffee

Company Profile: Nestlé SA
2

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Fairer Trade

Many coffee companies are now talking about fairer trade, though much remains to be done 

  • Many of the 25 million smallholders who grow 80% of the world’s coffee fail to make a reliable living from it, say the Fairtrade Foundation.
  • In 15 of the last 25 years, the global price of arabica coffee has often fallen well below that guaranteed by the Fairtrade Minimum Price.

In our Coffee Shops report, we compared different certification standards and touched on problems around low wages on smaller Fairtrade farms. Direct trade and value-added models can only be judged on a case-by-case basis, but we have given Solino and Traidcraft a positive sustainability mark for their practice of locating higher value stages of processing in countries in the Global South, in a sector in which the usual practice is to export raw materials to rich countries for processing. Union Hand Roasted explained that while they roast to order in London, they have sponsored members of producer co-operatives in Rwanda and Colombia to roast and pack coffee for domestic consumption.

Coffee for the Forests

‘Bird Friendly coffee’ is another development. Certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in the US, the label guarantees that the coffee is organic and shade-grown, providing a refuge for birds and other wildlife. According to Cafeology, most coffee available in the UK today is sun-grown and may have a range of chemical inputs applied. They say 2.5 million acres of forest has been cleared in Central America alone in the last 20 years to grow coffee.

Image: Bird-Friendly coffee certification

Cafeology has one Bird Friendly coffee, available from many garden centres, which carries both the Fairtrade and RSPB logo (which has its own brand of Bird Friendly coffee too).

Also new on the scene is Source Climate Change Coffee, which describes itself as a ‘conservation-led coffee company which is founded to protect the world’s forests’. Founder Cristina Talens was inspired to start the company while she was working conducting social audits of suppliers and growers in the Amazon rainforest. Now the company is raising awareness on social media about the COP21 climate change talks in Paris in December 2015.

Company behind the brand

Clipper was established in 1984 by a couple in Dorset who became involved in the early stages of development of the Fairtrade Foundation. In 2012 Clipper was bought by Dutch company Wessanen which also owns well-known health food brands Kallo and Whole Earth.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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