In an increasingly crowded market, packaging is one of the few remaining ways for cannabis businesses to stay competitive.
Marijuana companies looking to appeal to consumers through packaging are looking for materials that are:
- Designed to showcase the product inside.
- Following current design trends.
- Made with environmentally friendly materials.
“It’s the only way to separate yourself,” said Ben Pechetti, co-founder of Sticker Farmer, a Redwood City, California-based printing company that makes cannabis packaging.
As one of the only forms of advertising available to marijuana brands, packaging might help sell products that could otherwise go unnoticed on marijuana store shelves.
“A lot of times what attracts somebody to a product for the first time is the packaging, whether it’s the jar or the label or the box,” said Elizabeth Corbett, vice president of sales at AE Global, a Miami packaging solutions company.
Corbett has been in packaging for more than 20 years. She’s worked with major companies such as Starbucks and Estee Lauder before becoming involved with cannabis packaging.
“How your products look on shelves really does make a difference,” Corbett said.
In states where products are kept behind closed doors until sale, packaging can become a moot point.
But, according to Corbett, as marijuana markets evolve, the importance of packaging becomes paramount.
“It’s more important in states like California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Michigan – places where the dispensary layout really does guide the eye of the consumer,” Corbett said.
“If you have a great package, it can also help the consumer find your product in another dispensary.”
Packaging trends come and go in a matter of weeks, like the brief phase California went through of putting eighths of flower into sealed metal “tuna” cans.
According to Pechetti, he has taken notice of big shifts in the cannabis industry regarding what type of packaging appears to be selling better than others.
“The biggest trend right now is the die-cut bags,” he said.
“It went from jars to the mylar, to the sticker bags, then the directly printed bags, and now the die-cut mylar bags are very popular.
“The type of packaging becomes very trendy.”
Pechetti attributed Sticker Farmer’s ability to keep track of packaging trends to staying in touch with as many industry professionals as possible.
“The events were where it was at for a few years, and then COVID came and the events kind of died down,” Pechetti said.
“We’re very active on social media. We generate quite a bit of leads through that.”
According to Corbett, packaging that allows customers to inspect the flower is performing better at the moment than comparable alternatives.
“I do have a really big trend of people wanting to see the product,” Corbett said.
“Almost every pouch that I am working on in California right now and Michigan, they want some sort of window so that people can see the product.”
Packaging design is an ever-evolving space, and many companies are working to create their own proprietary packaging.
Twin Falls, Idaho-based N2 Packaging Systems has created a nitrogen-sealed can, which the company says preserves marijuana better than traditional cans.
“The enemies of product freshness of any kind, frankly, are light and oxygen,” said Thom Brodeur, CEO of N2, claiming that the company’s cans help cannabis flower keep its smell and taste better for longer.
N2’s cans end up costing about 15%-25% more than traditional packaging methods, according to Brodeur.
A survey from Chicago-based cannabis insight platform Brightfield Group found that 67% of consumers would pay $1-$3 more for marijuana packaged in N2’s nitrogen-sealed cans.
That said, the same survey found that price remains the overwhelming factor in a majority of consumer’s decision to buy a cannabis product.
Meanwhile, the artwork and layout of marijuana packaging can attract or repel a consumer.
According to Pechetti, cannabis companies have followed correlated trends with the design as much as the packaging type.
“There was one point when everyone just wanted cannabis to look all natural and all medical. We changed that with campaigns like Runtz,” Pechetti said, referring to a strain whose popularity soared throughout the California market.
“They wanted more colors; they wanted more gradients and rainbows in their marketing. So, I think when it comes to trying to attract customers, it’s just like when you’re shopping in the grocery store, often the fancier packaging wins.”
Environmental groups and consumers alike have long criticized the cannabis industry for using too many disposable plastics in comparison to other sectors.
Brightfield Group found that 21% of cannabis users “often buy eco-friendly products.”
“I can’t think of a single industry that isn’t addressing sustainability in their packaging right now,” Corbett said.
There have been attempts to create recycling programs for marijuana packaging, but with stringent regulations that vary from one state to another, cannabis companies have found it challenging to be sustainable.
Both Brodeur and Corbett attested that sustainability is a driving factor in their packaging design.
N2 Packaging is made entirely from recycled or recyclable materials.
In addition to using recycled materials, Brodeur and Corbett both opted to source their materials and labor domestically rather than overseas.
Shipping from overseas would increase their carbon footprint dramatically, not to mention incur extra costs from worldwide supply-chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“From a sustainability perspective, I’m not dealing with shipping, which is still the largest polluter in the world,” Corbett said.
“Then, I’m not dealing with my product being somewhere out on the ocean for three months and not knowing where it is.
“It’s not a patriotism thing. It’s literally being stuck with not getting your product in time.”