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The cannabis industry has experienced rapid growth over the past few years with the legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis use in numerous countries and states in the US. As the industry expands, the need for effective packaging and proper labeling has become increasingly important to ensure consumer safety, brand recognition, and compliance with regulations. Let’s explore the significance of packaging and labeling in the cannabis industry and discuss the key considerations for businesses operating in this space.
One of the primary reasons for emphasizing the importance of packaging and labeling in the cannabis industry is to ensure consumer safety. Most states require allergen and ingredient information that protects consumers and the company from liabilities, much the same as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires this for wholesale food manufacturing (1). Proper packaging helps protect the product from contamination, damage, and degradation, while accurate labeling provides essential information to the consumer about the product's contents, potency, and usage instructions.
Tamper-Evident and Child-Resistant Packaging
Tamper-evident packaging is essential for consumer confidence and safety. This type of packaging includes features that make it apparent if the product has been tampered with or opened prior to purchase. Tamper-evident packaging can help protect consumers from potential harm caused by contaminated or altered products. This requirement also exists in many wholesales food manufacturing as well and is not specific to the industry.
Child-resistant packaging is crucial in the cannabis industry to prevent accidental ingestion by children. This type of packaging is designed to be difficult for children to open, reducing the risk of accidental exposure to cannabis products. It is also important to use opaque or discreet packaging to avoid attracting the attention of children. There are different regulations regarding this in each state, so pay attention to the specific requirements when it comes to protecting children from THC cannabis products.
Brand Recognition and Product Differentiation
In a competitive market, effective packaging and labeling can play a significant role in helping cannabis businesses establish brand recognition and differentiate their products from competitors. With the increasing variety of cannabis products available—including flower, edibles, concentrates, and topicals—it is crucial for businesses to create packaging that is visually appealing, conveys their brand identity, and highlights the unique selling points of their products. The design and material selection for packaging should reflect the brand's values and appeal to the target audience. The use of high-quality materials and finishes can also create a sense of luxury and premium quality, which may appeal to certain customer segments.
Packaging and labeling present significant opportunities for cannabis businesses to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. Creative and eye-catching designs can help attract consumers and build brand recognition. However, it's important to strike a balance between appealing aesthetics and clear, informative labels. Companies should carefully consider their target audience when designing packaging and labels. For example, medical cannabis products should convey a sense of professionalism and trustworthiness, while recreational products can adopt a more playful and engaging approach. Regardless of the target market, consistency in branding across different product lines is crucial for building a cohesive brand identity.
As the cannabis industry grows, so does its environmental impact. Many cannabis companies are opting for eco-friendly and sustainable packaging materials, such as recyclable or biodegradable materials, to align with environmentally conscious consumers. Sustainable packaging solutions can help mitigate this impact and appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. Additionally, minimizing packaging waste by using efficient designs and reducing unnecessary packaging materials can contribute to a greener industry.
Innovative Packaging Solutions
Innovative packaging solutions can help businesses differentiate their products and create a memorable unboxing experience for consumers. Examples of innovative packaging in the cannabis industry include discreet, pocket-sized tins for edibles, pre-roll tubes with built-in humidity control, and customizable concentrate containers with removable compartments and dabbers attached.
Compliance with Regulations
I know that this seems obvious, but sometimes you just have to do things to stay compliant. Proper packaging and labeling are essential for complying with the various laws and regulations that govern the cannabis industry. These regulations often vary by jurisdiction and can include specific requirements for child-resistant packaging, tamper-evident features, and warning labels. Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in significant fines, product recalls, or even the suspension of a business's license to operate. Not to mention the liability that comes with improper labeling if, for example, a consumer ingests something that wasn’t labeled (such as an allergen) or takes more THC than expected due to improper labeling, or if a child is hospitalized from ingesting cannabis.
Cannabis labeling requirements typically include specific information that must be displayed on the product label, such as the product's name, net weight, cannabinoid content, and batch number. Additionally, labels often need to include warning statements, such as "Keep out of reach of children" or "For use by adults 21 years and older." It is essential for cannabis businesses to stay informed about the labeling requirements in their jurisdiction and ensure their labels are up to date and compliant. Conducting regular label compliance reviews are essential to make sure your labels are up to date with current regulations, and it can save you money to have a review before sending anything off to the printers.
Almost all jurisdictions require cannabis products to display a universal symbol, which is a recognizable icon that indicates the presence of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. The universal symbol helps consumers quickly identify cannabis products and promotes safe consumption practices. Even ASTM International’s D37 global cannabis standards committee has developed a universal symbol that has been adopted by two states at this time (2). Having something easily recognizable on the label to let consumers know that they are intoxicating is important when thinking about your labeling.
Packaging and labeling can also serve as an educational tool for consumers. As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, many consumers are new to the various types of products and their uses. Providing clear, concise information on packaging and labels can help consumers make informed decisions about their purchases. Many first-time consumers may struggle to understand exactly what each product is and how it is used. Education is a great way to make new customers feel comfortable with your product and help budtenders in dispensaries be able to easily explain your product to customers when they come in.
Including detailed product descriptions and usage instructions on packaging can help consumers understand the purpose and proper use of a cannabis product. For example, labels on cannabis-infused edibles should clearly indicate the recommended serving size and provide guidance on consumption, such as waiting a certain amount of time before consuming more to avoid overconsumption.
Cannabinoid and Terpene Profiles
Not every state requires the same thing when it comes to disclosing cannabinoid and terpene profiles, so this is definitely a company preference. Labels that include information about a product's cannabinoid and terpene profiles can help consumers make informed decisions about the cannabis products they purchase. Cannabis is much like wine in the sense that everyone’s palate and preference is different. The more information you have about this on the label, the better a customer can discern which one of your products they will enjoy the most. This information can be particularly important for medical cannabis patients who may be seeking specific cannabinoid ratios or terpene profiles to address their health needs.
Challenges in Cannabis Packaging and Labeling
Despite its importance, achieving optimal packaging and labeling in the cannabis industry can be challenging. Regulations and requirements often differ between jurisdictions, making it difficult for manufacturers to create packaging that satisfies all relevant laws. Moreover, the rapidly evolving nature of the industry means that businesses must stay up to date. This can be a taxing endeavor especially in states that are constantly changing their regulations or to multi-state operators (MSOs) having to keep up with changes in multiple states. Many companies are turning to consulting firms that conduct label reviews to double check their compliance when entering a new state or when regulations are updated. I recommend being on your state regulatory office mailing list to get email updates regularly regarding packaging, and having a good relationship with your regulators so you can reach out and ask questions regarding labeling when they arise.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, the importance of packaging and proper labeling cannot be overstated. Prioritizing consumer safety, brand recognition, regulatory compliance, and consumer education will help businesses succeed in this competitive market. By investing in high-quality, innovative packaging and ensuring labels provide accurate, up-to-date information, cannabis businesses can build trust with their customers and promote responsible consumption practices.
Kim Stuck is the CEO and founder of Allay Consulting. Direct correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org.