5 Common Cannabis Packaging Problems—And How to Solve Them

5 Common Cannabis Packaging Problems—And How to Solve Them

STO Responsible’s Sandra Elkind and Nicole Elkind discuss the industry’s common challenges, from balancing safety and sustainability to standing out from the crowd.

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September 20, 2018

Sandra and Nicole Elkind say they’ve identified some of the cannabis industry’s most common problems with packaging. Together, they intend to solve them.

The two sisters co-founded STO Responsible to provide child-resistant and sustainable packaging options to cannabis companies. Their work has been guided in part by conversations with industry stakeholders, Sandra says.

“One of the things that kept popping up was that they have a lot of difficulty around packaging,” she tells Cannabis Business Times. “Nicole has a strong business background, and I have a strong design background, and so we decided to come together and tackle those problems. About three and half years ago, we set out on this path and have been working on not only solving how to develop a child-resistant package for the cannabis industry specifically, but also to look at … some of the bigger problems in the industry in packaging, like sustainability and helping to create a safer market as it gets bigger.”

Here, Sandra and Nicole outline common packaging problems that cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries face as they package their products in compliance with state regulations, and provide insight on solutions.

Photo courtesy of STO Responsible.
1. Balancing Safety and Sustainability

For a package to be strong enough to be child resistant—a common requirement in the cannabis space—the sustainability component may suffer, Nicole says. Plastic is often used to meet child-resistant packaging requirements and is typically not as environmentally friendly as other materials. Some packaging companies, such as STO Responsible, offer a more sustainable solution.

“We chose to go with a plastic that has an accelerated degradation rate to it,” Nicole says. “So, it’s not only recyclable, but the degradation of the plastic is sped up by a formula we have inside of our plastic.”

Packaging choices in the industry can be limited, which makes it difficult for companies to find packaging that uses the least amount of material and has the smallest carbon footprint possible.  Companies should hunt for multi-use packaging that accomplishes multiple goals at once, Nicole says, to reduce the amount of packaging needed to accomplish these goals.

“Oftentimes [with] these packages [or] exit bags, the consumer just pulls their product out of it and tosses that certified child-resistant vessel out because it’s hard to open and close or it is just an exit bag,” she says. “So, one of the things that our product addresses is that it’s multi-use—you can actually keep your product in it and it remains child resistant at home until the product’s gone. I think that’s important just because for producers, it’s the right thing to do.”

As the industry continues to mature, it tends to develop new technologies, Nicole adds, and more child-resistant packaging options are emerging with time.

“You have companies playing with a lot of different types of materials that you don’t see other industries even approaching, so I think the future for cannabis is for us to really start pushing the boundaries of how we use material and how can we use current technologies to make better materials,” she says.

2. Ensuring Proper Labeling (While Leaving Room for Branding)

Base packaging in the cannabis industry must often be opaque or clear, depending on state regulations, and bear state-mandated labels, Nicole says. Ever-changing regulations can be hard to keep up with, and including branding in addition to the required labels is also difficult. Warning labels, for instance, are often mandated at a specific size or location on the packaging.

STO Responsible aims to create packaging that gives companies more space and a flatter front for labeling, which allows the legal language to be separate from branding and offers flexibility as regulations change, Nicole says.

“So, for example, our boxes can hold and handle the warning labels if you want to use a sticker right on our box, or if you want to have some sort of wrap or sleeve around the box, we’ve designed different versions that would allow our manufacturers to put that legal language … on the box, but then have the wraps of their branding cover it up, so the consumer would be able to open it and see it at their leisure, but the manufacturer doesn’t miss out on an opportunity to have branding space on the shelf,” she says.

3. Standing Out From the Crowd

Implementing those branding and display options in such a way that helps cannabis companies distinguish themselves from their competition is the next challenge, Nicole says.

“Since every dispensary is a little different in their take—and because it’s sort of a newer industry—they don’t have the same sort of retail space that a normal grocery store or a liquor store might have where you can have an end unit kiosk all for your brand,” she says. “Really, one of the main things that they have to fight for is shelf space and how to stand out on the shelf space, be that inside of a display unit or on walls behind the budtenders at the dispensary.”

And it can be difficult to find packaging that allows a company to stand out from the crowd, as there are limited options for display units as compared to other consumer-facing products, Nicole adds.

“A lot of times they end up using a lot of additional packaging in order to do that, where they might start off with it having the pop-top package, but they want to stand out on the shelf, so they then put that into another package,” Sandra says. “We really wanted to set out and create a package that would give them that presence on the shelf and then not really require them to have to have additional packaging on top of it to get that presence.”

Creativity also suffers from the lack of available packaging options, Sandra adds, as limited packaging shapes may limit manufacturers’ creativity when it comes to creating products.

“This can be a big problem … in states that have lighter regulations and are now moving into stricter regulations because you might have a company that has been making their fancy baklava for two years, … and now the new packaging regulations don’t allow for them to package their baklava anymore and they have to change their product offerings,” she says.

Cannabis companies should look for packaging providers that are working with product development and creating innovative packaging, Sandra adds, in order to continue to produce products that help them stand out.

4. Finding the Right Packaging Partner

When shopping around for a packaging provider, cannabis companies should not only look for innovative packaging providers, but also providers who offer a domestic supply chain and flexible delivery, Sandra says.

“A lot of people get wrapped up in, does this package work? But getting the package to you in a timely manner and not having to worry about going through ports and how much do you have to wait on delivery each time could really help ease some of the frustrations that they’re dealing with in the compliance of packaging,” she says. “Knowing that you have a company that has a domestic supply chain and a company that works with what delivery schedule you need can really make a difference in your experience in the packaging area of cannabis.”

5. Satisfying the Consumer

Through STO Responsible’s research and development efforts, it has discovered that cannabis consumers are most interested in sustainable and easy-to-use packaging, Sandra says, and companies should strive to satisfy these desires.

“You find a lot of people who will complain that they struggle to get into the package to get their medicine,” she says.

Another factor consumers consider—which may often be overlooked—is if the package is pet-resistant, Sandra adds.

“If their dogs’ teeth can get into the package, then they’ll eat the brownie, or if they’re able to basically push their paws in and figure out how to open it, … they’ll figure out how to get into it,” she says. “One of the things we did when we were in our development was to really take into account not only [a child-resistant] approach [to] this, but what are dogs doing when they smell that in there and they want to get to it?”

Top image courtesy of Adobe Stock