When you’re in the corporate world long enough, you’ll no doubt see the overused buzzword “innovation” get applied to areas of business that aren’t really innovative, but are instead simply incremental improvements on existing technologies or practices. However, true innovation in the marketplace does exist, and typically occurs due to pressure from industry demands. And contrary to what many people think, product innovation is not relegated to only the tech and science sectors, or huge companies like Apple and Tesla; it occurs across all categories. Today we’ll look at recent innovations in a niche area of a rapidly growing industry: legal cannabis packaging.
Everyone knows that before cannabis was legalized, it was often carried and transported (illegally) in plastic baggies, or other containers that were airtight, easy to conceal, and able to hide the aroma (as much as possible). But after the product was no longer contraband, legal sellers began to look for packaging that was designed for legitimate retail sales. Naturally, they turned to the pharmaceutical and food industries, which have packaging designed to meet many of the same needs as cannabis, such as security, utility, and convenience.
For example, pharmaceutical packaging needs to be easy to transport and carry, tamper-evident, barrier-protected, resealable, and if possible, airtight. Most importantly, though, it has to be both child-resistant and easy enough to open for seniors. This is no easy feat. In addition, there needs to be enough space for copious legal and regulatory copy, such as warnings, compliance information, and more. Similarly, cannabis companies also need to inform their consumers about the specific features of each product, such as THC content, blend, potency, and more.
The food industry, too, is a natural source for cannabis packaging because both categories of products are consumables; therefore, attention to freshness, flavor retention, and durability is paramount. Additionally, food packaging manufacturers can provide retail-ready packaging, which is crucial for cannabis to be sold in stores. For example, this means designing packaging to be modular, stackable, or nest-able (meaning that the trays could nest within each other), and anything else that makes the product better for sitting on shelves or displayed in cases.
Once the primary requirements have been met — that is, how to bring the product into stores and into people’s homes — retailers begin addressing secondary concerns involving inventory management systems and production speed. Supply chain considerations are also taken seriously in food and pharma packaging, particularly optimizing the packaging design for shipping to minimize cost and ensure safety and durability. All the while, the industry continues to ask for better and more enhanced packaging: more security, maximum shelf life, advanced barrier protection, lower moisture vapor, more UV resistance.
But it doesn’t stop there. In fact, the cannabis industry has gotten exponentially more complicated as retailers seek out packaging for the vast array of products that have become available. Any visit to a dispensary will reveal that legal cannabis is being sold and consumed in a huge variety of ways—not just as loose flower. Therefore, cannabis packaging manufacturers need to innovate solutions that will fit new and different types of products, from preroll joints to vape pens to tinctures. In addition, edibles, as a subset, offer myriad ways of consuming cannabis, from gummies to chocolate bars to coffee. And each type of product requires different packaging. Thus, in a short time, the cannabis industry has gained at its disposal countless options for packaging the product, from different kinds of pouches (flat, side gusset, tubing, rollstock, or stand-up), to jars (spice jars, sauce jars), tins, thin tubes, cartons, boxes, blister packs, preforms of any size and shape, and so on.
Keep in mind, too, that each new product and package development requires adapting child-resistant mechanisms to fit it. Traditionally, a bottle with a twist-and-push cap (or similar variations) was more than enough for any product, but now there is demand for mechanisms that will accommodate packaging of all the other shapes, as well.
In addition, these mechanisms need to be designed in such a way that they do not negatively impact aesthetics. This is because the cannabis consumer, and the industry as a whole, continue to become more sophisticated. Thus, packaging needs to better showcase the product inside, better maintain product freshness and aroma, and continue to allow greater customization. In other words, a huge push in the industry has been improving the marketing aspect of packaging design.
All of this takes some really clever engineering, but companies all over the world are finding solutions. For example, as the need for slick, professional packaging arose in the cannabis industry, Vertex Packaging, a leading supplier out of China that has roots in both pharmaceutical and food packaging, found an eager market among cannabis producers.
“We will soon be launching a new premium packaging product for pre-rolls that incorporates a child-resistant mechanism in a novel way that maintains the packaging’s sleek and seamless appearance,” Vertex Packaging’s Michelle Ye explains. Demonstrating exactly how much creativity must go into each design she adds, “Our new products will be air-tight, highly ‘pocketable,’ recyclable, upcyclable, refillable, and customizable. We will also launch versions of this packaging for vape cartridges and edibles.”
For many consumers, cannabis is a lifestyle and luxury purchase, and they want their packages to reflect this. Cannabis is in many states no longer an illicit substance that must be ported around quickly and furtively; rather, it is a complex and multi-faceted product that requires the same upgrades in design and engineering that the pharmaceutical and food industries have. Companies who treat these marketplace needs with imagination, urgency, and diligence, such as Vertex Packaging, and others, are at the forefront of packaging innovation and are providing the safe, yet attractive, products both retailers and consumers want. So at your next visit to a dispensary, don’t forget to notice, and marvel, at how far cannabis packaging has evolved (from the humble plastic baggie).
Disclaimer: This article is intended for information and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to reflect the specific views of the publication.