Cannabis Marketing and the Role of Packaging Design

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We’ve worked developing some of the leading brands in the industry and without a doubt, it’s a good time to be a cannabis vendor.

In the wake of growing legalization, the cannabis market is exploding in the United States. Projections estimate that the U.S./Canadian legal cannabis market will reach $47.3 billion by 2024. That’s a lot of bud!

This growth has sparked a veritable arms race in the cannabis market. New vendors are appearing left and right, each vying for consumer attention. And like any other consumer packaged goods, the shopper evaluates your product by your messaging, and of course, your packaging design.

Let’s review a few cannabis packaging best practices and line out a few things that manufacturers need to know.

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How People Buy Cannabis

Packaging design for cannabis may be even more important than packaging design for other retail products. But to understand why, we need to understand how consumers shop for cannabis products.

Unlike other products, legal cannabis is sold only through licensed dispensaries that have rigid policies on how marijuana products can be handled. Consumers can’t just browse the shelves and pick up different products on a whim; everything is kept safe behind glass. Shoppers must wait in line to speak to a dispensary employee (budtender) who pulls select products, discusses options, and walks the buyer through his or her purchase.

This is the typical process employed by most dispensaries, particularly for customers new to cannabis who aren’t really sure what they want. (Seasoned shoppers will know their favorite brands, of course—but for newbies, it’s very much a matter of browsing by sight.) Budtenders do their best to learn what the customer is looking for and which products will best suit each buyer.

In packaging design terms, this means three things:

1.       Because consumers who sight browse know less about specific products, they will rely heavily on packaging design elements at the point of purchase.

2.       Dispensary employees must know the necessary product details, profiles, and history to find the right product for each customer.

3.       All cannabis product packaging designs must be compliant with cannabis labeling laws. 

Cannabis Packaging Best Practices

With the above in mind, the goals of good cannabis packaging design are threefold: (1) impress the customer, (2) inform the budtender, and (3) follow the law. And with the following best practices in mind, you’ll see that these goals aren’t exclusive.

Quantity and Weight

For any cannabis product, the FDA requires you to include the quantities of the product or its weight, depending on the product itself. For example, a bottle of edible gummy bears may have a count of “50 pieces,” each containing 5mg of THC, whereas flower cannabis (bud) is sold by weight.

Strain Type

One of the most interesting things about cannabis is that no two strains are exactly alike. Through decades of cross-breeding and experimentation, there are endless varieties of cannabis strains. And as such, you need to make sure your buyers know what they’re getting. This includes the name of the strain (White Widow, Purple Rain, etc.) and whether the strain is a sativa, indica, or hybrid.

Cannabinoid and Terpene Profile

Cannabinoids and terpenes are the two elements driving the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Cannabinoid potency determines how “powerful” a high will be, while terpenes influence the product’s taste, aroma, and certain psychoactive properties.

Most cannabis producers report the percentages of just two of the most important cannabinoids: THC and CBD.  And as of now, few manufacturers report extensively on their terpene profiles—meaning that if you include these elements in your design, you’ll be giving the budtenders some great information to work with—making it more likely that they’ll be able to win over a potential customer.

Processor Details

Though not required by law in most states, it’s great for consumer trust to include details about the cannabis producer, processor, and retailer involved in the transaction. Not only does this breadcrumb trail give a shopper faith that this product is safe and verified, but it helps retailers trace the source of their stock and keep better tabs on the products they’re passing along. Best of all, this information is simple—usually no more than a few numerical codes—and can easily be incorporated into your design.

Again, this little detail can be a valuable selling point for dispensary employees, so include whatever information you can to help them along.

Safety Information

Safety is an obvious factor and worth noting for the creative approach that some companies are taking in their packaging. Though laws vary by state, cannabis packaging must be child-proof, resealable, and include some warning label about the risks of marijuana consumption. But this doesn’t need to be cumbersome to your design. For example, we’ve seen companies include this information in tightly-folded leaflets secured to the inside of the cannabis packaging. This strategy keeps you compliant without forcing you to plaster your designs with logistic details.

Packaging Material Options

Of course, much of the above information is printed out via label and simply slapped on whatever item is being purchased. But what about the composition of the package itself?

Put some thought into what type of packaging you want to use and what type of designs will catch your market’s eye. Some brands offer products in simple plastic containers with few design considerations. Others may use resealable foil pouches to preserve freshness, while others combine cardboard exterior packaging with interior plastic shells.

Put some thought into how you want to present your product, bearing in mind that these decisions need to align with your broader brand messaging strategy. For example, lofty claims about recycling sound better coming from a brand that offers cannabis beverages in glass or aluminum rather than plastic.

Design Basics Remain the Same

At its core, cannabis packaging design isn’t that different than that of any other retail product. The biggest differences come from the fact that it’s still a controlled substance, and customers purchase it in a controlled way.

But when it comes to competing side by side at the counter, the basics of competitive design remain as consistent as they ever have. Your design should reflect your brand’s identity, goals, and core values. Cannabis companies already in the marketplace know this well. And soon enough, many of these practices may be regulations in their own right. Keep this in mind as you design your layout and remember to stay flexible enough to accommodate any changes that may affect the industry.

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