As time passes, the cannabis market becomes increasingly competitive. While the industry heads towards consolidation, growers are asked to walk the extra mile to stand out in a market that is getting saturated. Of course, being able to grow superior quality cannabis is critical. But then, how do you preserve the quality all the way through the retail store or pharmacy? How do you catch the attention of the customer when it’s about choosing a cannabis product?
And this is exactly where packaging comes into play. At the same time, since cannabis is a highly regulated industry, also packaging comes with a set of rules licensed producers need to comply with. “These also depend on where you are active in,” JP Papaioannou with KacePack says. “For instance, Canada has a federal organization with an overarching policy for all the licensed producers. On the other hand, there is the US, where you have a more capillary organization, with each state making up the rules governing the packaging. We have some MSO clients that have to be careful about the positioning of the brand logo and the labeling according to the state where they market their product.”
From left to right: JP Papaioannou and Tom Allen with KacePack
But other than complying with the rules, the packaging plays also another important role. “Our clients are brand-forward,” he continues. “They want to differentiate themselves from others, and they do that for instance by selecting the packaging that highlights what the strain represents.” JP is specifically talking about the recreational market. Yet, branding is present also on the medical side, though there are other aspects of the packaging that are deemed more important. “Branding, especially in the recreational market, is essential. It tells the story of the product and presents that in a way that resonates with customers. This heightened focus on branding can be seen especially in the US, where cannabis brands can take more liberties with various design and decorative packaging elements. Unlike Canada, which has a more controlled situation, where the degree of branding elements is much less, and the focus is mainly on correct labeling. This approach strongly resembles the general situation of the medical market: less focused on branding, and more attentive to the quality of the packaging, and the ability for the cannabis to stay fresh as long as possible.”
Preserving the quality of the product
At the same time, preserving the quality of the product and attention to branding are not mutually exclusive, and KacePack demonstrates that. “We are very R&D focused, especially when it comes to product freshness. We have quite an extensive freshness program, from jars with pressured seals to paper packaging that can be sealed on site with automated equipment designed specifically for that. In other words, there is an engineering element to our business that is meant to complement the packaging itself. Through constant contact with growers and seeing the response from the market, we came up with packaging that on the one hand facilitates branding, and on the other hand, is capable to preserve the quality of the cannabis.”
Branding in the EU
This element is particularly important for the EU cannabis market, that is way more strictly regulated than in North America. “From a packaging standpoint, the EU would look at North America in terms of what they got wrong and learn from those mistakes,” JP continues. “In this way, they would be able to avoid some pitfalls, one of which is label requirements for instance, as these get changed all the time.” JP specifically refers to the legal language, the logo, and even the opacity of the packaging. “It was tremendously difficult not only for the people in the industry, but also for people like us to satisfy the customer. That is why it is critical that regulations are good and clear cut; ambiguous regulations are frustrating for all parties involved.”
“From a commercial standpoint, our dream scenario would be a European brand that has watched the California market, and wants to follow suit in terms of branding.” That’s why JP and KacePack are constantly watching over the production process. “Since we are based in Hong Kong, it allows us to have direct access to the manufacturing process,” he says. “We have a lot of vendors and partners that, just like us, do a lot of R&D. And the series of vendors span across all of our materials with various degrees of certifications. For instance, all our packaging is done with FDA-approved and food-grade material. None of that is a necessary requirement, but our internal standard is our requirement. All our materials are tested, and thus we would be able to supply European companies with GMP-grade packaging.”
That is why, for the time being, KacePack hopes to see a more clearly regulated market, where every player knows the limit within which they can operate and thus thrive. “The way to thread the needle is to make as clear as possible regulations. If these change and remain ambiguous, then cannabis growers and companies would need to be even more careful when it comes to navigate such waters."
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