Cannabis Packaging Regulations and Best Practices
Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
As one of the fastest-growing, highly regulated industries in the country, the cannabis industry has been a potential goldmine for years. Brands have evolved from illicit-market-esque branding with sophisticated marketing strategies.
In the messy throes of brand strategy, in-store design, social media marketing, digital advertising and more, packaging design remains an underestimated piece of the mix. Cannabis product packaging is a quiet sales pitch to your customers to buy your product; it communicates the price, value, product benefits and the brand’s identity. It is often the first touchpoint when a customer browses displays in a dispensary. In fact, 72 percent of American consumers say that a product’s packaging design has an impact on their decision to buy.
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Let’s look at why cannabis packaging is so overlooked and how you can change the game by leveraging it for your brand.
Why are there so many cannabis packaging regulations?
Whether for medical or recreational purposes, each state has different packaging and labeling requirements. According to CannaCon, “the most restrictive states for cannabis packaging regulations are Alaska, California, Maryland, and Massachusetts. The least restrictive are Arizona, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont.”
These regulations include stipulations around:
• Cannabis terms that can and cannot be used
• Milligrams of cannabis per package
• Font size
• FDA warning statements
• State certification language
• Expiration date
• Usage instructions
• Company contact information
• And more
Due to its federal status as a Schedule 1 drug, cannabis is highly regulated even in the states in which it is legal. This is in part due to the fact that cannabis products can come in the form of chocolates or gummies that are virtually indistinguishable from their non-cannabis counterparts.
Think about it: chocolate edibles in non-cannabis packaging + kids = really bad.
State-by-state regulations are not always clear. Most states want to have some form of control over their cannabis industries while it is still considered federally illegal. Therefore, to prevent fake products and discourage illicit market sellers, state governments establish regulations that legal companies need to abide by in order to sell their products in dispensaries.
For this reason, most brands do the bare minimum to meet the regulatory requirements and get their products on a shelf as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, as the cannabis industry heats up, the bare minimum won’t be enough to get you noticed.
What are cannabis packaging best practices?
While regulations vary from state to state, professional packaging can provide a competitive edge that helps you rise as an industry leader. Here are three basic guidelines to leverage your cannabis product packaging and set yourself apart in the market:
1. Be consistent.
Consumers have a wide range of options to choose from. The key to standing out is to make an instant impression, which comes in the form of brand consistency and thoughtful, human-first design.
Visuals are important when it comes to product packaging. At a basic level, your packaging should have recognizable, legible, on-brand fonts, imagery and colors. Both past and potential customers alike should be able to recognize your products and differentiate between yours and the others on the shelf.
To get more complex, your packaging design can be informed by philosophies from neurodesign, color theory and more. Everything from the color and layout of your packaging to the material and innovative design of the container itself should create attention to pull in your ideal customers.
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2. Think outside the box.
Many cannabis businesses think of packaging simply as the regulation-riddled box a product comes in. However, thinking outside the box is key to tapping into the power of packaging.
According to a 2020 packaging survey, 57 percent of consumers said packaging communicates the brand or company’s core values and impacts product satisfaction. Brand loyalty increases when you are consistent in your commitment to those values. By incorporating fun brand stories and call-outs around your core values, your product packaging goes from the cardboard box protecting your product to a relationship-building tool.
Many cannabis packaging designs already incorporate QR codes with each product’s third-party test results. Why not step it up to a landing page that includes test results along with a video from the farmer who harvested the plant or from the CEO, thanking the customer for their purchase and providing ideas of how to use it?
When you think beyond the functionality of the packaging, you can use every product interaction as a means of getting closer to your customers. When you make this clear through your cannabis packaging design, your customers will likely reward you with loyalty.
3. Give back to the planet.
Consumers and professionals alike in the cannabis industry highly value sustainability. As a field that relies heavily on the health of our environment, many quality standards incorporate pillars of sustainability as an industry average.
The vast majority of cannabis packaging is not made up of disposable plastics. Simply put: Planet-friendly, consumer-centric package design resonates with the industry. A 2020 IBM report found that over 70 percent of consumers who deem sustainability as important would pay more for brands that are environmentally responsible.
More than that, it is becoming expected by consumers. Recyclable, biodegradable materials such as paper and glass for your cannabis packaging are becoming an industry standard. Incorporating eco-friendly packaging can put your cannabis product among the best of the best, and consumers might not mind spending a little extra to support the planet.
Invest in your cannabis packaging design.
Packaging is a powerful tool that can create brand awareness, brand loyalty and a memorable out-of-box experience for your customers. As much as we’d like to say “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” consumers are always judging products and brands by theirs. Consumer-centric cannabis packaging design could be essential to cut through the noise of your competitors and connect with consumers past the point of sale.
So, the next time you have to sit down to think about your product, don’t neglect the packaging design process: Be meticulous about the regulations, be consistent in your visual design, think outside the box and incorporate sustainability.
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