Cannabis Supplememt

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PRESENTS

Packaging for the

CANNABIS MARKET

FEBRUARY 2021 FEATURING:

Sleeve Fits Fine for 2 Shrink Cannabis Seltzer & Soda Line Cannabis Operation Ascends 6 Steep Packaging Learning Curve Redesign Takes Page 14 Cannabis from Big Confectionery and E-Comm: Cannabis 18 Retail Considerations in Uncertain Times

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Packaging for the

CANNABIS

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FEBRUARY 2021

Shrink Sleeve Fits Fine for Cannabis Seltzer & Soda Line With lots of varied SKUs for CM/CP business, plus a quickly growing in-house brand of its own, this cannabis-infused beverage producer found that shrink sleeve labeling is the right solution for just about any and all form factor, whether glass, PET, or can. WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

Labeling for short runs

Cannabis regulation management

By Matt Reynolds, Editor As many national beer and spirits brands are pivoting to hard seltzer, soda, and lemonade, premium cannabis-infused beverage co-packer and contract manufacturer Spacestation, Woodland, Calif., is staking its own claim to the space with its in-house Flybeverages brand. But instead of alcohol, Flybeverages’ drink varieties—including Nectr seltzers, Matt’s High Sodas, and Uncle Arnie’s Iced Tea Lemonade—contain between 10 and 100 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in each 11-oz “stubby” or 8-oz Boston round glass bottle. Flybeverages’ seltzers and sodas aren’t the only focus for Spacestation, of course. Other THC-infused beverage formats commonly produced at the facility include traditional carbonated drinks, teas, and juices. Meanwhile, newer on-trend product lines include an 11-oz kombucha drink, a non-carbonated shot product in a 2- oz. container (think 5-hour ENERGY, but with THC), and even a line of frozen popsicles called Ding-a-Lings. Spacestation has set itself up to be a one-stop shop for emerging brands to get their THC beverages to market. “We have a legal-cannabis license in California, and we are under full compliance,” says Matt McGinn, Co-Founder of Spacestation. “We can do anything with THC or CBD as long as

Like almost all of Spacestation’s beverage output as a copacker, the company’s own Flybeverage brands— Nectr and Uncle Arnie’s—use a shrink sleeve labeling system that is flexible enough for a variety of different combinations of bottle dimensions/heights, substrates, container transparency levels, and closure styles. it has gone through the legal supply chain, and it ends up in the legal supply chain. We’re a lot more than just a co-packer in the usual sense because traditional beverage co-packers just pack the liquid. We handle all the elements of compliance for the product, the packaging, and the hurdles in getting your cannabis-infused drink to market. Regulations are really complicated in the THC cannabis space. We walk emerging brands through the whole path and get them from start to finish.” More recently, the company received its type 11 Distribution license for distribution of THC-infused products, which allows them to provide COA testing, quarantining, and finished product warehousing. Spacestation is also primed to facilitate it’s brand’s and client’s final mile distribution. Spacestation Distribution is also located in Woodland, Calif. and occupies 13,000 sq ft.

Automating THC sodas and seltzers A shrink sleeve label is applied to the amber “stubby” bottle used by Flybeverage’s Nectr THC-infused seltzers.

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As a contract packaging/contract manufacturing (CP/CM) beverage operation that’s also juggling its own in-house brands, Spacestation has to balance between flexibility and volume. That’s where packaging automation comes in. Beyond stubbies and Boston rounds, the company’s filling lines handle glass or PET bottles from 30 to 236 mL, glass or PET

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Free Download: Emerging Cannabis Industry Outlook Global Cannabis Market Prediction* $32 bn by 2024; 28% CAGR Bottles with applied shrink sleeves enter a steam tunnel to shrink labels around the bottles. Depending on the application, opaque labels can extend over the neck to the metal crown closure, or a shorter label can be used that leaves more of the amber glass neck exposed. wine bottles up to 750 mL, and 7.5- to 12-oz sleek cans. The first fixture on the packaging line is a Can-I-Bus depalletizer by Ska Fabricating, a packaging line equipment manufacturer out of Durango, Colo. The company’s signature Can-I-Bus depalletizer moves empty cans from pallets, rinses away impurities with customized twist rinse cages, and carries cleaned cans and bottles via custom conveyance throughout the filling, sleeving, date coding, labeling, and cartoning processes on a line that Ska Fab designed specifically for Spacestation’s quality control levels. Ethan Deffenbaugh of Ska assisted McGinn with the conveyance system as well as the depalletizers. For filling, Spacestation employs a 55-can/min six-head can filler from Wild Goose, plus a separate line equipped for the 2-oz shots. But for Spacestation Kombucha, Matt’s High Soda, and Nectr Seltzer, McGinn uses a counter pressure filler and capper from Meheen. Nectr seltzers in the 11-oz stubby glass bottle use a metal crown, child resistant closure, required for cannabis compliance. Uncle Arnie’s Iced Tea Lemonade, under the Matt’s High Soda brand, is filled in an 8-oz Boston round, with a compliant, child resistant, resealable medicine cap.

Visit pwgo.to/5609 to see Spacestation’s packaging line, including shrink sleeve applicator, in action. After filling, plus some conveyance and drying via air knives, it’s time for decoration. The company is equipped for traditional application of glue-applied or pressure-sensitive labels to glass bottles. But for in-house brands, as well many private-label and CP/CM projects, Spacestation and Flybeverages eschewed p-s labels in favor of a full shrink-sleeve label system that McGinn says can easily swap from SKU to SKU. Plus, the shrink film can overlay the closure at the top of each bottle, adding further tamper evidence for compliance. McGinn selected the LX 100 shrink-sleeve label and TE band applicator from American Film and Machinery (AFM), part of the Engage Technologies Corp. group of packaging machinery builders. McGinn says this rollstock-fed machine, designed for middle, full-body, and fullbody and cap application via mandrel-formed sleeves, is the heart of the packaging line. Though by big-brand standards the system is an economy-level shrink applicator, the servo-driven, PLC-controlled LX 100 shines in efficiency, compactness, and washdown capability. Like many CP/CM facilities, Spacestation requires shorter, slower runs due to SKU variability. While the LX 100 is named for its throughput of 100 sleeves/min,

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11% $3.6 bn 19% $5.9 bn

70% $22.2 bn

n U.S. n Canada n ROW *Multiple sources for size of market

The Market Conditions: • Recreational growth will rapidly outpace medical. • Flower will continue to lose share as a product format. • Packaging has become a major concern now for producers, primarily sustainability, regulations, and branding. • The regulatory landscapes for both CBD and THC are expected to continue to become more relaxed, especially restrictions on retail CBD. • Public support for the cannabis industry, particularly CBD use, continues to increase.

As Matt McGinn, COO, Spacestation observes in this article, legal cannabis is booming in markets that allow it. And since the onset of COVID-19, sales have significantly increased. Find out about the evolving landscape of this emerging market, what to expect in terms of decriminalization and legalization, and how packaging plays a key roll in the industry’s success. Download the free 20-page PDF, Cannabis Market Update: Unique Packaging Challenges for THC and CBD Products, from PMMI’s Business Intelligence. Visit pwgo.to/5600 to access the report for free. PW

remember upstream fillers max out at about 50 bottles/min, so there’s room to grow into the system. Flexibility was another key selling point. “When we ordered the machine, we made sure that the range of mandrels, when modified or changed over, could cover our entire range of container form factors,” McGinn says. “We’ll get a new mandrel for every new format, and the LX 100 is a great machine for easy change-

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Finished nectar bottles, this version using the full shrink sleeve to cover the glass neck, leave the steam tunnel and head toward a 24-bottle format case packaging operation.

FEBRUARY 2021

Ink-jet coding is done in yellow ink on amber bottles and with black ink on clear flint bottles. Carefully regulated cannabis products like the ones Spacestation produces require a best-by date, the manufacturing date, a batch-specific unique identifier number, and potency by metric of milligrams THC and milligrams CBD per bottle. “Even if the drink has no CBD, we need to mark it as zero milligrams CBD,” McGinn says. After coding and marking, glass bottles go into a four-lane carton erector and cartoner, the Brewsky 100, from Design Machine & Manufacture. Each carton contains a dozen stubbies or Boston rounds, and two 12-pack cartons are hand-packed two to a tray for 24-unit trays. Palletization is done by hand.

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over, [it takes] less than 30 minutes for a new mandrel and a new roll. Unlike the Flybeverages’ glass bottle output, nearly 90% of SpacestaWe will probably buy a second LX 100 in 2020 to keep up with demand, tion’s CP/CM work goes into cans these days. That wasn’t always the case. as we have doubled our facility’s size and created two additional proThe company faced early challenges with the polymer liners within aluduction lines.” minum cans and noticed a leeching effect that drew the cannabinoids Immediately downstream of the LX 100 is a WSN-100 series steam (THC, CBD, active ingredients of cannabis) out of the liquid solution. heat tunnel, also from AFM. “Since we encountered those problems early on in 2019, we have “That system is definitely one of the key mainstays of our facility,” since solved them.” McGinn says. “We know how much of the cannabiMcGinn says, “Through those two pieces, we can shrink wrap any unit noids are lost from the cans, we know which can liners work the best that we offer. And I’ve built all my lines to be connected so they all go for preventing cannabinoid loss, we know which kind of liquid interthrough the same shrink-label applicator and steam-tunnel system.” acts with each can liner, and even today, with supply chain disruptions McGinn initially selected this steam-tunnel model because it’s one around COVID-19, we are able to maintain our supply of the right kinds that is capable of generating its own steam from a single water source— of cans for this application.” he didn’t have to buy an accompanying boiler. Virtually all the cans used for its CP/CM busi“When we launched Spacestation, we were ness are brightstock that run through the AFM on a tight budget, so we bought equipment that LX 100 for shrink sleeve application. The comworked within that budget, and we wanted to pany has less frequently used semi-automatic avoid buying a boiler. We saved tens of thouequipment for p-s labels, but the shrink-sleeve sands [of dollars] by using the WSN instead of applicator and heat tunnel are always running, having to buy a boiler. McGinn says. Then-fledgling Spacestation was tight in terms of space, and the prospect of having to retrofit gas lines to accommodate a boiler was Spacestation ramped up its CP/CM business another nightmare on a limited budget. That and is creating increased, additional capacity for made the boiler-free shrink-tunnel option a perits Flybeverages brands. That’s why the shrinkfect choice for the initial go-to-market product sleeve, steam-tunnel, and case-packing equiplines. Spacestation has since brought in a boiler ment is all built to accommodate up to 100 units/ for generating 200°F water temps for equipment min, despite the 55-unit/min filling and capping cleaning, but the steam tunnel operates from a Finished Nectr THC-infused seltzers as lines. At present, the Spacestation CP/CM busistandard water connection. ness is at capacity—it’s not taking on any new clithey’d appear in a display cooler. Each shrink-wrapped stubby or Boston round ents—and the Flybeverages business is growing. bottle is marked on a five-line date coder from Squid Ink, another EnAs mentioned, a second AFM LX 100 shrink sleeve system is in the works gage Technologies company. at the moment, but that’s just for California production (product cannot “I used AFM at my previous company, which is a co-packing comcurrently cross state lines). The company has designs elsewhere, as well. pany in the coffee industry. When I moved out here to California to start “We’re looking for investors,” McGinn says. “We’re growing rapidly Spacestation, I had experience with these vendors and got connected and need a cash injection to keep up with our sales velocity. It’s crazy to their sister companies and so forth so I knew I could trust them.,” to see the demand for legal cannabis beverages, and COVID-19 has only McGinn says. “This helped to expedite the process, reducing our time to increased our demand. Flybeverage is an emerging brand with proven market. I just asked for their recommendations and got referrals, and I products, so we’re raising money and looking for investments for our was impressed. The Squid ink printer is versatile and allows us to date brands. Our demand is up more than four times what it was pre-COcode with five lines. We can fit all of our compliance coding on the botVID-19, so it’s time to scale.” Flybeverage is aiming to raise $5 million tom of the eight- and 11-ounce bottles.” dollars in investment over the summer of 2020. PW

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Packaging for the

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FEBRUARY 2021

Cannabis Operation Ascends Steep Packaging Learning Curve As it fills a market gap to produce a refined product for discriminating tastes, particularly amid a competitive set that tends toward speed to market, 1620 Labs leans on packaging to differentiate itself. WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

Seed-to-sale track & trace

Regulatory considerations

By Matt Reynolds, Editor

1620 Labs’ child-resistant pack configurations, both containing 0.5-g pre-rolls, include a push-pack carton of five (above) and a J-tube pack of two (inset upper right).

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In 2016, when recreational marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts, the idea behind 1620 Labs was hatched. As is often the case when a new market opens up, a vacuum is created that sucks folks in from other markets. In this instance, four local career changers shared a vision of leveraging their combined expertise—namely in horticulture, landscape architecture, real estate, and investing—and applying them to a fledgling industry. In particular, they saw a gap in the market for the highest end, premium cannabis flower for use in pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes (pre-rolls). In a business environment where large companies were flooding this fresh new market with whatever they could grow as soon as they could grow it, 1620 Labs positions itself as a carefully produced craft cannabis cultivator. “Even though we’re employing advanced technology [horticulturally speaking], we’re doing things old school,” says Mike Lance, COO, 1620 Labs. “Ours is very much a hands-on approach, with a lot of love and a fierce dedication to the ancient art of thoughtful cultivation. We’re growing plants in small batches using real soil. Instead of using harmful chemicals, we are using all-natural compost tea for fertilizer and have also adopted a natural pest control methodology using primarily beneficial insects, including ladybugs. Our staff is at the facility around the clock taking care of the plants, constantly monitoring the pH balance of the soil, and checking humidity levels in the grow rooms. We harvest by hand, as well as hand trim each flower to produce the highest quality products.” But, especially with cannabis, starting a business from scratch isn’t just a matter of having a dream and hanging out a shingle. In fact, get-

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The Sluice Box filling system simultaneously fills 406 pre-roll cone wrapping papers.

ting the business up and running was a four-year process, and a very specific order of operations needed to be followed. This included site selection (Athol, Mass.) first, then a lengthy process of town and state approvals for a cultivation license, and only after receiving a provisional license was the company able to concentrate on retrofitting the building to meet the needs of the new business. In March 2020, 1620 Labs received the go-ahead to start growing, and on October 26, 2020, it received authorization from the state to commence operations as an adult-use cultivator. Lance sees his company’s slow but certain path to production as a transformation story, one that isn’t over yet. “Our commitment to transform Athol and the lives of its citizens will continue to grow with each new harvest,” Lance says. “Likewise, the transformation of our little company will continue with Phase Two as we look to expand our footprint on the property. We own a mill building next to our current facility, with plans to knock it down and build another state-of-the-art grow facility in its place. This new building will be three times the size of our current building—a vital part of our transformation goals to bring more jobs to the area and build on the promise of a better tomorrow.”

Packaging a key component As 1620 Labs began the process of investigating packaging solutions for its product, an industry notion Lance frequently encountered was that packaging was an afterthought; common knowledge held that the product would sell itself. And there was some truth to that—there was a certain period where the cultivators struggled to keep up with new, pent up demand. But Lance looked at it differently. “More generally, we knew wanted something that was different than what was out there. A lot of retailers, when I started meeting them, emphasized that the packaging wasn’t necessarily that important yet. It wasn’t what was drawing people to the flowers. A lot of the market

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is driven by just numbers right now and meeting demand,” Lance says. “But as we went in, we knew that we wanted the full presentation—to have that high testing flower, as well as really nice-looking packaging.” This is a good place to note that the primary packaging on a pre-roll isn’t discarded, it’s actually consumed (smoked) by the consumer. The packaging in that case—what would have traditionally been called the rolling paper—had to be something that would produce a favorably slow burn compared to other pre-roll paper on the market. “We aren’t putting trim [also called shake, trim is loose cannabis leaf no longer adhering to the more favorable bud or flower] into our pre-rolls, we’re putting flower in so it’s a really high-quality product going in, and we wanted that to be represented throughout the brand.” But as career changers coming from landscape architecture, marketing, and finance, the packaging supply chain was a steep learning curve. Director of Marketing Liz Carroll put out a call for samples from suppliers, and there was a wave of possibilities and considerations, but the solution arrived upon was a slam dunk, according to both Carroll and Lance. The package system was an 85-mm, 0.5-g pre-roll system, packed either five to a child-resistant paperboard push-pack carton, or two to a child resistant J-tube. Among competitors sampled, “it wasn’t really close, this one was an easy choice,” Lance says.

Soup-to-nuts packaging solution The company selected Custom Cones USA, a builder of pre-roll machinery and supplier of pre-roll packaging, like cartons and coneshaped rolling papers. The advantage Custom Cones presented 1620 Labs was the simplicity of a complete, turnkey solution for the emerging pre-roll brand. The supplier was able to provide everything 1620 Labs needed to get that super-premium flower—expensive material that had already consumed so much science, space, light, water, and

Video: Cannabis Packaging Watch a deep-dive discussion with cannabis brand owner GTI, held during PACK EXPO Connects, covering cannabis logistics, regulations, packaging equipment acquisition, pack design, and a lot more. Visit pwgoto/5984 to watch. PW

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The filling system consists of two cartridges that sit atop a vibratory table that gently vibrates ground flower from the upper cartridge into the cone wrapping papers in the lower cartridge.

FEBRUARY 2021

general TLC—into a pre-roll cone, then into a child-resistant push-pack carton or J-tube, and finally into a corrugated shipper or bin. The most basic unit in the packaging operation is the cone itself— this is a cone-shaped, pre-rolled rolling paper awaiting filling with cannabis flower. Aligning with 1620 Labs’ desire for as natural an operation product as possible, the cones are 100% organic hemp rolling paper. They include an integral folded hemp paper filter structure, best described as a spiral of heavily folded paper that adds stability at the base of the pre-roll where consumers hold it in their fingers or lips when consuming. These cones arrive at the 1620 Labs facility as nested 10-packs. Ready for filling, the cones are hand loaded, open or female side up, into a semi-automatic vibratory filling station called a Sluice Box, sold by Custom Cones. The three-layer filling system consists of vibratory base, a lower receiving cartridge holding the cones, and an upper cartridge from which cannabis flower is dispensed. Watch a brief video on how the Sluice Box works at pwgo.to/5858. The base of the Sluice Box is a vibratory mechanism designed to gently vibrate the cannabis flower from the upper cartridge into the cones in the lower cartridge. The lower cartridge consists of slots designed to hold the cones. The company uses a Sluice Box with a 406-slot cartridge for 85-mm cones, but for larger 98-mm and 109-mm cone sizes, a cartridge containing 325 slots is available. Once the cones are loaded (which takes about 15 minutes), the upper cartridge with a corresponding slot pattern is placed on top, and the hand trimmed cannabis flower is placed loosely into it. Turning on the system, vibrations shake the flower into the cones lined up beneath the upper cartridge slots. The whole three-layer set-up sits on a rubberized mat to help absorb vibration and catch loose product. A final step is a tamping tool with male pin pattern to match the female slot pattern on the lower cartridge. This allows mass tamping of cannabis flower into the cones.

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Filled pre-rolls are removed from the lower cartridge for weighing, folding closed, and manual packing.

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Following filling, each cone is weighed to ensure it’s precisely 0.5 g per cone. Then, these are hand-packed into either the five-pack pushpack carton (2.5 g total) or the two-pack J-tube (1.0 g total). The push-pack carton is custom made for 1620 Labs by Custom Cones. It consists of a heavy-duty paperboard inner tray (at 2 mm thickness as taken with a caliper), complete with lighter paperboard insert to cradle each of the five pre-rolls and prevent movement within the tray. The inner tray slides into a thinner paperboard outer sleeve, and “clicks” into place. Tested and certified to be tamper proof and child resistant, custom push packs provide all related regulatory compliance for 1620 Labs. The back of the pack features a discrete, rubberized (silicon) push-button tab that the consumer pushes down to unlock and then slides under the outer paperboard jacket to slide the tray from its jacket. The silicon feature adds tactile assurance for the thumb. Watch a brief video on how the mechanism works at pwgo.to/5859. “You just depress it slightly and you slide it with your thumb in one motion,” says Lance. “It’s a really nice design.” The entire pack is made of sturdy, recyclable paperboard that the company says is a more sustainable packaging option than its first-generation plastic cartons. Important for start-ups in cannabis packaging, Custom Cones offers a MOQ as low as 500 to 1000, depending on the level of customization.

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CANNABIS PRODUCTS PACKAGING & INSPECTION SOLUTIONS • • • • • •

Conveying and product handling Filling and multihead weighing Metal detection and x-ray Checkweighing Support structures and platforms Controls and information systems

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Manual filling of J-tubes prior to shrink wrapping, labeling, and batching in bins for transport.

The J-tubes are packed with the same product, just two instead of five. They fit together into the tube as inverse but corresponding shapes, one filter-side down, the other filter-side up, and the certified child-resistant tube closure clicks close. Both the cartons and the J-tubes are then shrink-wrap sealed, both for freshness and to fully enclose packs. The push-pack cartons use a transparent film to let the design show through, while the J-tubes use a printed film containing branding, logos, and more information about the product. Both package varieties are hand packed into corrugated, marked with information generated from metrc software for seed-to-sale data (more on that a little later), and manually taped closed with anti-tampering tape. Logistics and delivery to retailers occurs thereafter.

Packaging design collaboration Not yet mentioned, but absolutely key in both staying in compliance with the law and communicating accurate information to the retailer and end consumer, labeling is a crucial step in 1620 Labs’ packaging process. The precise placement of the artwork that goes on the cartons, and considerations regarding placement of legally required label identifiers, plus regulations indicating what needs to be visible and where, are considerations capable of vexing the most experienced CPGs. But like many start-up cannabis producers, 1620 Labs didn’t have a team of package designers awash with pack design best practices available to it. Custom Cones was able to offer experience in that manner. “The entire cannabinol profile [THC/CBD content, and varietal of indica, sativa, or hybrid] of flower is on each label, plus the batch number, the packing date, expiration date, and so on,” Lance says. “Part of what Custom Cones helped us with was the sizing. We knew we needed a certain label with a certain font that we have to print out every time we grow it, and it has to fit on the pack somewhere. And there’s a lot of information on the pack and on the tube. Plus we needed to include our branding and our color scheme, and we had all that stuff figured out, but they helped us manipulate where it would fit and what size, shapes.” The plain white pressure sensitive labels are currently printed on a simple office inkjet printer and manually applied. In a first go-around with this packaging system, how the labels fit on the packs, and what they potentially obscured on the secondary packaging underneath, was an issue. Finding the right real estate without covering up logos or other important information was a problem. A more recent iteration of packaging accounts for this and standardizes label size and location on both the push-packs and J-tubes.

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MARKET

CANNABIS

Packaging for the

FEBRUARY 2021

Label specifics “A lot of what’s on the label is lab-determined,� Lance says. What he means is that some label information, THC content, for instance, is dependent on lab measurements that reflect natural fluctuations from marijuana plant to marijuana plant, and harvest to harvest. Also, the company uses a software system, called metrc, that is designed to monitor a safe and legal seed-to-sale supply chain. This non-consumer-fac21-496_Cannabis 1-2 island print ad FNL.pdf 1 1/13/21 10:38 AM

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ing track and trace meta-information allows complete visibility of every pre-roll, all the way back to the plant that grew the flower. “The cultivators basically track weight, but the dispensaries like to have us adapt that weight into units, into actual round numbers of products instead of weights,� Lance says. For instance, in the case of 1620 Labs’ J-tubes, operators pack the tubes by the hundred, 113 per shipper to be precise. That’s because 113 J-tube packs is the individual package equivalent to the weight that 1620 Labs tracks on the cultivator side. But all of this information, and the conversions from weights of flower to numbers of individual packs or SKUs, is constantly tracked in the metrc system. And all of that is printed onto a label on the shipping case, so the retailers also have the numbers they’re used to dealing with. Backward conversions to weights are readily available, and batch and lot numbers follow each pack through the entire chain.

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Manual label application is completed for a batch of pre-rolls bound for J-tube two-packs. The J-tubes are shrink-wrapped with printed film prior to labeling.

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The result was a design collaboration between graphic designers at 1620 Labs—the company already had an established logo and brand cues when it first sought packaging—and the knowledgeable team at Custom Cones, who with an eye for regulations and how they affect pack design, had ushered more than one cannabis brand across the start-up finish line. “We have someone on staff who was responsible for a really elegant design and branding creation, and we wanted to be sure that shone through,� Carroll says. “But her design was sent to Custom Cones and they turned it into the packaging that we needed. To have a company that helped us out with all that packaging design work, created the proofs and worked with us on all the necessary labeling, was super helpful and a huge reason why we chose Custom Cones.� PW

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FEBRUARY 2021

Cannabis Redesign Takes Page from Big Confectionery As attitudes toward cannabis push toward mainstream, brands like Green Thumb’s incredibles are beginning to apply more traditional, mainstream CPG packaging and branding techniques. WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

Mainstreaming cannabis

Package redesign

Brand identity

By Matt Reynolds, Editor Years ago, fledgling cannabis brands could be forgiven any slow progress in brand evolution, conservative takes at branding via packaging, and lack of a consistent, universal message. After all, consider the sheer number of hoops that package designers needed to jump through (and still do), and the disparate nature of those legal hoops from state to state. Also, it wasn’t so long ago that there were comparatively few pack formats that could do all the required heavy lifting of child resistance (CR), explicit THC and CBD content designations, ergonomics for older or disabled users, and track and trace coding to fit disparate, fragmented markets. And that’s not to mention the more typical foodgrade barrier layer and puncture resistance functional needs that any type of gummy or chocolate bar packaging might require. Along with more universal SKUs, each state in Green Thumb’s market gets its own hyperBut the industry continues to mature as local chocolate bar variety. packaging suppliers become more diverse and sophisticated, and new states decriminalize or legalize to open up and safety of edible cannabis products contained in the pack. previously untapped markets. As a result, an arms race is breaking out But this justifiable, even smart brand positioning created a glut of over pieces of a growing pie, and brand evolution is accelerating at a similarly branded edible gummies and chocolates that now meet conbreakneck pace. This makes cannabis, particularly as it applies to food sumers at dispensaries. And it’s hard to differentiate between beige and and beverage, a fun market to watch. taupe. As a case in contrast, take a glance at the grocery store candy bar selection while waiting for a checkout register. There, you’ll find the confectionery category isn’t so buttoned up. Successful brands use colors that pop, make fun of themselves, and love their logos and mascots. Given the explicitly outlaw character of pre-legalization or preEssentially, most big brands making traditional candy bars and gumdecriminalization cannabis products—the often-cited image is that mies can be said to be ‘loud’ brands, and that extends to packaging. of the Graffix brand of smoking pipes, with menacing skull in court One premium cannabis brand owner is taking a cue from its nonjester hat—it’s no wonder that the early legal, edible cannabis brands cannabis counterparts and differentiating itself from its more seriouswanted to distance themselves from the outlaw motif. Many gravitated minded competitors on the shelf. In doing so, is driving further evoluto a much less stimulating visual appeal. Soft, natural tones and gentle, tion in a nascent but quickly maturing market. cursive fonts were meant to elicit calm and confidence in the legality

Early packages a reaction to uncertainty about product

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Taking a cue from ‘big confectionary’

looking to break through at shelf and connect with our target consumer,” Benchetrit says. “It all comes down to trust and we tell that story with Green Thumb Industries Inc. is a new breed of cannabis brand owndetails throughout the design. For example, we tied our tagline ‘the creder (read more about its Clio-Award winning Dogwalkers brand packagible edible’ to our word mark and highlighted the year that the brand was ing at pwgo.to/5783) that applies the big brand owner mentality to its established since very few in the space can say that they have been operastable of cannabis products. tional for more than a decade. The back of pack begins to tell the brand One of its brands, incredibles, which Green Thumb purchased from story and highlights our points of differentiation. But packaging is one Colorado’s Medically Correct (MC) brand in 2019, is undergoing a masof several communication mediums. Others include retail and point-ofsive rebranding to catch cannabis confectionary products up with major purchase, field activation, and in certain states, digital and out-of-home. store-brand counterparts. The two primary product ranges of gummies We know that, in isolation, packaging can only communicate so much and chocolate bars were first up, and all other incredibles product rangso and when we think about messaging, es are soon to follow suit. we are always thinking through the lens of Jessica Benchetrit, Brand Director inhow these mediums work together.” credibles, at Green Thumb Industries. worked closely with design and innovation consultancy IA Collaborative on the project, seeking to make a colorful visual splash There are a few carryovers from the among otherwise calm or unobtrusive pack previous pack design, but just as many designs on a shelf or in a display case. departures or upgrades. Color differentia“Color plays a critical role within the tion in the brand mark, i.e. incredibles, context of this redesign,” says Benchetrit. is a continuing design feature that helps “From a functional standpoint, our bold emphasize the word play captured in the color pallet allows us to differentiate ourname. But the redesign included an upselves on shelf, break through visual clutdate of the logo typeface to a style that ter, and importantly, communicate flavor. felt to the design team to be established Whether it’s the juicy red backdrop of our as a decade-old company in a young marStrawberry gummies, or the warm glow ket, yet modern and able to withstand the of the Summer Peach sunset, color has a test of time. powerful ability to drive appetite appeal The brand has always used the “e” with and we really lean into it, all while adhera bite mark in the logo, but Benchetrit ing to cannabis packaging regulations. In moved it so that it was on the first “e” in combination with the graphical elements the word “incredibles” instead of the secand on-pack messaging, color brings the ond. This plays off “edibles” as part of the brand’s persona to life, one that we modname. She and her team took the extra eled after the pioneering spirit of the care to tilt the “e” to reflect the relaxed, brand’s founders.” laid-back feeling she hopes is associated Why now for this kind of departure? Some states prohibit depictions of real food on with the product. Because the market is changing. Earlier cannabis packs. So for this gummy pouch, color and “We prioritized the brand within the use of subdued colors and messaging design have to communicate flavor. messaging hierarchy to help aid in brand often played a role in calming nerves of recall. We know that people are often exfolks who never had tried the product before. Instead of bright colors posed to our brand through friends and sharing occasions. When that that could convey anxiety or bold fonts meant to be declarative, reashappens, we want consumers to remember that they had an incredisuring pack designs established an in-control mood as starting point to bles product, not a watermelon gummy or any other generic edible,” consuming the product. Benchetrit says. “Also, the goal is to ensure that we remain top of mind But in the intervening years between the onset decriminalization when consumers are in the purchasing mindset so that they bypass and now, cannabis candies have become more mainstream. For incrediother menu options and (ideally) ask for us by name.” bles, that allowed designers to employ more mainstream CPG packaging For the chocolate bar products, the paperboard pack structure and design fundamentals, like strong wordmarks or the use of color to commaterial remain unchanged, only the aesthetic changed. The chocomunicate flavor. This realization opened up new blueprints for cannabis late sits in a PP tray, and the tray is then sealed with film for freshness. confectionary brands to follow, ones that largely focus on fun, laughter, The decision to use this sealing step related to maintaining the product and clever word play. As a decade-old cannabis company—a lifetime in integrity and freshness for an improved consumer experience. A childthis business—its sheer longevity wins sufficient trust points with most resistant (CR) mechanism is built into the tray that holds the chocolate consumers, freeing the brand to lighten up the mood elsewhere. inside the carton. The tray has two wings that must be squeezed while “For our incredibles redesign we use common frameworks and design the tray is simultaneously pulled out of the carton, requiring an adult’s language employed by any other consumer packaged goods company hand size and dexterity.

The new design

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Gummies, on the other hand, shifted to full color pouches, and moved away from the PP dram to improve branding and product portability. All gummies now use digitally printed high barrier metalized PET film pouches from converter and printer ePac, using HP Indigo 20000 digital presses. The zipper function at the top of the gummy bag is CR-certified and the top of the bags are heat sealed closed after filling to maintain freshness.

FEBRUARY 2021

Varying display possibilities By running with big confectionery’s playbook for package design, Green Thumb and Benchetrit are using traditional CPG packaging and branding practices that haven’t been used frequently for cannabis. And from a visual perspective, they’ve achieved just that. The chocolate bars’ cartons feature embossing and spot gloss UV on the packs to make them stand out among a variety of competitors on the shelf. But the reality is that at many dispensaries or cannabis retail shops, products aren’t displayed like they would be in a grocery store aisle. They are behind lock and key, or may not even be visible at all, depending on the shop owners’ whims, or more likely, local regulation.

Still, consumers still will have an experience and interaction with the packs one way or another, perhaps after the purchase has been made and the product is already in the home. So the incredibles’ redesign was performed as if the products would both be an on-shelf disruptor or at least create a memorable experience back at home, regardless of each disparate dispensary’s treatment. This dynamic brings up a larger point: In the absence of cohesive federal legislation on edible cannabis packaging, Green Thumb has to design its packaging for flexibility and for the future. “We are building our brands with the future in mind, and the for the experience we want our consumers to enjoy when they reach their homes with our products in hand,” Benchetrit says. “Our goal was to ensure that no matter where the packaging gets displayed, it gets noticed and the embossing and spot gloss elements are additional ways to achieve that. The cannabis industry, and the way consumers shop in general, is evolving rapidly, and we created a design that was flexible enough to win not only today but in the future.”

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Hyper-local packs for a national brand Several of incredibles chocolate bar SKUs use visual cues on the packs that are specific to each state, and often they use a clever “we’re in-on-the-joke”-motif designed to localize the otherwise national— well, as national as cannabis can be—brand. “Each state gets its own bar and these bars are not available anywhere outside of its intended market,” Benchetrit says. “The custom designs give a nod to the local nuances that resonate with people from those communities. We know that people outside of Chicago may not understand the dibs reference [after snow storms, people shovel their own street-parking spots, then claim the spot with a lawn chair], or the “Politics Not Included” language on the end of the box, and that’s okay. The state-specific designs and supporting creative should feel like an inside joke between the brand and those who live in those markets.” Beyond the play to local consumers, each state has its own unique regulations that need their own attention. For instance, in Colorado brands are allowed to show food on cannabis packages. However, most states in Green Thumb’s footprint prohibit showing food on-pack, which was certainly a design challenge. “But we really rose to the occasion and were able to communicate flavor with color and shape language to drive home appetite appeal,” Benchetrit adds. “By designing against the most stringent regulations, the brand is better positioned to enter new states quickly as we continue to expand distribution across the country.” Colorado patrons, where MC produces the incredibles brand, will continue to see the incumbent packaging for the time being. The older packaging includes images of food, which uniquely is allowed Colorado. MC will exhaust inventory of the incumbent packs to avoid/manage any write-offs before making the switch to the new, standard packaging.

Where efficiencies like economy of scale can be achieved, or clearer, better-defined names and identifiers can be used, the company is taking that step. If the U.S. ends up taking a more federal attitude toward cannabis, the infrastructure will be in place for a single brand identity in all markets. Even absent of that federal legislation, a singular brand identity has benefits in recognizability, storytelling, trust, and the real gold standard for any brand, loyalty. PW

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Aligning for the future Before the redesign, the chocolate bars already had catchy, memorable names, including the Monkey Bar, Strawberry Crunch, and Mile High Mint. But the gummies flavors were more straight forward, simply stating each variety as peach, watermelon, or green apple, etc. To extend the quippy nicknames across the brand, the redesign included adapting the gummy flavors to drive cohesion, brand personality, and appetite appeal across the portfolio. For example, what were once “watermelon” and “peach” are now “Watermelon Smash” and “Summer Peach.” Brand alignment down to the naming convention in what we already described as a fragmented market might seem unnecessary. But Green Thumb in general, and incredibles as a subset of it, have taken a serious, brand owner’s approach to a burgeoning market.

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FEBRUARY 2021

Retail and E-Comm: Cannabis Considerations in Uncertain Times

How are brands coping with changes in the market, distribution, and consumer behavior? It goes without saying that consumer behavior has changed in the wake of COVID-19. As Blake Patterson, MarketHub CEO, explained at the Hemp Industry Daily Conference, cannabis is no exception. Purchasing behavior, which typically takes years to change, changed in mere months after the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. “People want to get out of the store as fast as possible. The experience is not what it was before COVID-19,” Patterson said. He added that masks can create a bit of tunnel vision as well. Now, the consumer generally has a list and knows what they’re going for instead of wandering the aisles looking for what’s new. 1. Reaching customers. This sudden behavioral change also represents an opportunity for brand owners to talk with retailers and find different ways to engage. Franny Tacy is Chief Creative Officer and Farmer at Franny’s Farmacy and Franny’s Farm in North Carolina. She noted that curbside delivery, text campaigns, local ads, and more have become valuable resources. Customers are calling in to dispensaries and connecting with budtenders. Tacy said there are many more people with anxiety and stress due to COVID-19, all customers in need. “It extends beyond curbside delivery to using Facebook messenger, chatboxes… everything we’re doing now is designed to connect/engage with customers,” she said. And will these strategies remain even after COVID-19 for reaching customers? “Absolutely. We’re a national brand but still an owner-operated business. We’ve got a lot of different marketing and sales strategies,” she said. “There are definitely things we’re going to keep in the long-term.” Patterson agreed. The pandemic has caused businesses to set new best

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practices, with consumer behavior changes likely to hold for the foreseeable future or next five years. He said the onus is on the brand owner to implement these best practices—even if consumers go back to a browsing mentality— and provide value that the retailer just can’t on their own. 2. Packaging and traceability hurdles. Franny’s Farmacy is vertically integrated, so they take their plant all the way from grow through distribution. Even with this control over their supply chain, they experienced problems with packaging and had to make some modifications, “which people don’t understand means new labels, it’s an entire process that could cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, just because you run into one little packaging issue,” Tacy said. Distribution for some brands was also disrupted when many small retailers went out of business in 2020. Tacy noted that they set their own standards so that everything is very transparent, from the website to the branding to the Certificates of Analysis (COAs). “You can trace that product everywhere it goes,” she said. But not every brand is so conscious of traceability and quality, so another issue that’s surfaced is retailers are scrambling to find reliable brands because customers are aware and will ask for COAs, product origins, etc. 3. Scaling patiently. While the year was daunting for many small businesses, it’s also important to remember the flipside. When business is good, don’t scale too quickly. Patterson noted that while his company distributes products (but doesn’t manufacture them), “Our advice to our clients is to make sure that they don’t grow too fast.” He said what inevitably happens is a brand is so thrilled to get the

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Cannabis Packaging Regulatory Updates MORE Act: In Dec. 2020, the U.S. House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, but it was not voted on by the Senate before the end of the year. As of press time, cannabis advocates are now waiting for the legislation to be re-introduced. The MORE Act would be historic in that it would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), though it would take time for regulations to be developed. As the bill was written, states could choose how they regulate cannabis, including permitting Veterans Administration (VA)-affiliated physicians to make medical cannabis recommendations to qualifying veterans. A 5 % federal retail sales tax would be imposed, with revenue directed to programs that benefit those impacted by previous laws.

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Moving to Schedule III: In late January, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) filed a proposal to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the CSA. While this would open up opportunities for scientific research, many advocates prefer that marijuana be removed from the CSA entirely as the MORE Act intends to do. Medical Research: Another bill that died in the Senate in 2020 was Medical Marijuana Research Act. The act sought to create an easier registration process for marijuana research and expedite research application approval, grant easier access of cannabis to researchers from state-legal marijuana businesses, and allow for private manufacturing and distribution of marijuana solely for research purposes. PW

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Quotable: Dia Simms question “Can you fill my 200, 800, or 8,000 stores?” There may be temptation to say, “Of course I can,” but collectively the answer is no. “Maintaining stock is extremely important. You have to plan for your brand to be successful but also have the ability and not fool yourself into thinking that you can fulfill that. It’s okay to say “no” to a retailer to make sure that you’re not going to disappoint them down the road because there’s no second chance. As far as the manufacturing strategy is concerned, generally we like you to have at least 50% of your on-shelf inventory in back stocks for at least six months.” Tacy agreed that saying “no” has been an important key to their success. If you put out a great marketing campaign, be prepared for the orders that follow. “You could be back-ordered for two months, and a back order… that is the kiss of death in business. We have got to make sure that the growth is strategic,” she said. “We find that happens all the time… this amazing deal when the timing is not right. It really has been what has put a lot of small businesses out of business. So it’s better to hang tight and be patient and just grow your business like a plant,” and focus on your roots. 4. Look at pricing parity. Why is it important to create pricing parity between e-commerce and brick and mortar channels? Tacy said her customers are guaranteed to get the same price across the board everywhere, and that the only place they can get a better deal is in a brick-and-mortar location. “We have franchises, corporate stores, and e-commerce, so this pricing parity is something that is really integrated in every level of our business. And it is so important for the customer to know that no matter what, you will never find our product online less expensive, the only place you could get an additional benefit is going into a brick-and-mortar. It’s just a basic business strategy that has got to be implemented.” Changes in customer behavior have highlighted pricing parity. “This

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“During this time, this extraordinary time we’re in—a pandemic and a social justice revolution—cannabis was deemed essential… I think we should feel so confident and be so free to be bold and actually double down on the opportunity instead of shrinking back… I think it is the perfect springboard for us to establish our dominance and an opportunity to free us to be truly, truly innovative.” —Dia Simms, CEO at Lobos1707 (Fmr. President, Combs Enterprises)

has certainly garnered more attention lately, I think because retailers are clamoring for customers. More people are shopping online than ever before,” said Patterson. “There’s so many different points for CBD or any product to be sold online that as a brand, you have to make sure that you have good solid contracts in place to protect yourself, to protect your retailers, and to protect your word when you give that word to the retailers.” —Keren Sookne

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Cannabis Still Faces Growing Pains Social equity programs in some states have varying levels of success. Predatory investors, stalled applications, high tax rates, and more are contributing to lack of success in promoting minority-owned businesses. The industry as a whole is still looking for more eco-friendly packaging, but at present it’s hard to balance child-resistance requirements with the desire for minimal packaging, particularly with smaller volume ordering. In the CBD market, many bigger retailers are only leaning in with topicals. “I would say 90% of our customers, and that includes CVS, Walgreens, and Dollar General, they’re all dealing in just topicals right now,” said Blake Patterson, MarketHub CEO. “There’s very few that are looking at the ingestible market because of the lack of clarification from the FDA.” That also presents an opportunity to brand owners looking to expand—establish yourself with retailers through topical product lines and prove to the retailer that you can meet demand and create value. “When it is time to take on ingestibles, that’s who we’re going to look to,” Patterson advised. —Keren Sookne

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