The smell of roasted coffee wafted through the front door of Baton Rouge-based Pod Pack International, a compostable coffee pod manufacturer, which has produced 1 billion single-use pods since it was founded about two decades ago. 

Each coffee pod contains about 10 grams, so 1 billion pods equals more than 22 million pounds of coffee used in production by the business.

Pod Pack International was founded in New Orleans in 1996 when coffee filter executive Bill Powell teamed up with former Community Coffee executive Tom Martin to bet big on single-use coffee pods. It was only a few years after the original Keurig single coffee cup maker hit the market and business was slow at first. 

"It took a while for it to take off," said Martin, CEO of Pod Pack International. "It was like a 15-year startup company before we started establishing a good strong foundation and making some money finally."

The company sells white-labeled coffee pods to Folgers, Maxwell House, Community Coffee and PJ's Coffee, among others. Its pods often end up in hotel rooms or corporate offices. In recent years, it has expanded to also selling tea and cold brew coffee. About 42% of U.S. households own a single-cup coffee brewing system, up from only 7% in 2011, according to responses from a National Coffee Association survey this year.

The one-billionth coffee pod is dedicated to longtime employee Kyle Gatzke, who worked for the company for 14 years and died in a motorcycle accident in February. Gatzke was 33 years old. 

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Pod Pack International relocated to Baton Rouge in 2000. About five years ago, the company only had 19 employees but was looking to expand.

"We had the vision but we weren't quite ready to go after it with the capital, and with the state incentives it gave us the confidence that they would support us," Martin said. 

In 2014, the company was awarded an incentive package offered by the state's economic development department, which includes a $760,000 performance-based award from the Economic Development Loan Program. It also used the state’s Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption programs.

In exchange for those incentives, the company ramped up production after a $10 million expansion. 

"This company didn't just do the bare minimum of what we asked, they expanded so much that they ended up hiring five times as many people," said East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. 

Pod Pack's CEO is also a mentor for eBay’s Retail Revival, a free program that will train local small businesses how to better sell products online, and helped bring the program to the city. Ebay may the key to a new coffee pod line the company is experimenting with that could be sold in grocery stores. 

Pod Pack relocated from a building on Industriplex Boulevard to its 74,000-square-foot headquarters and factory along Airline Highway on Manchac Park Lane in south Baton Rouge last year. That same year, New Orleans-based private equity firm LongueVue Capital invested an undisclosed amount of growth capital in the company. 

The business has grown to 100 employees and generates more than $20 million in annual revenue. It has produced 500 million coffee pods in the past three years compared to 500 million coffee pods in the first 20 years.

"We're looking to expand to some other products but our primary focus is the single serve," Martin said. "We still expect this business to grow at a double-digit rate."

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