What is the Role of Luxury Packaging in an Ever-Changing Cannabis Industry?

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 03/22/2018 | 4 Minute Read

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What’s not to love about some divine, luxury cannabis packaging? There’s the floral and feminine Venna, the colorful yet minimal Seven Point, and the sultry and sophisticated Daddy Grey Beard. Whether or not you partake, you can’t deny how downright gorgeous this packaging is in an industry which offers heaps of growth and opportunity.The legal marijuana business is just getting started, and with a bang—looking ahead, sales for the market in the United States and Canada maytop $20.2 billion by 2021. As cannabis becomes mainstream, we’re also seeing more and more chic cannabis designs that put mylar baggies to shame.

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But while luxury cannabis packaging is a perfectly fine idea, it’s a little different in practice. Medical cannabis with a doctor’s note is legal in 29 states in the U.S. and recreational weed is permitted in 9 states (and Washington, D.C.), so you don’t have to look too far if you want some. But this means if consumers can find roughly the same quality product for less, they will.“As more and more producers come onto the market, the price goes down,” explained Julie Saltzman, director of marketing for Berlin Packaging. “It’s becoming saturated, so you need to get distinction at ground level.”Distinction. This is exactly what makes consumers choose one “roughly-the-same” item for another, making whatever you offer absolutely irresistible regardless of how similar the product or service might be. This results not only in sales from new clients but also some serious customer loyalty.So how can brands achieve a luxury distinction with marijuana?“What I’ve found is that, like anything, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Julie. Berlin Packaging’s design for Sunday Goods, an Arizona-based brand, is a perfect example. While we’re seeing more cannabis designs (and luxury cannabis designs) regularly, this one is delightfully fresh. The key is Sunday Goods doesn’t merely sell cannabis—it sells the lifestyle of cannabis, one which is relaxed yet sophisticated.Sunday Goods masters its aim for the luxe high life. Using a rich navy, crisp white, and splashes of gold, the color palette pairs with a traditional serif font. No trippy rainbows, no cartoons holding enormous blunts, no recognizable leaves scattered about. “Now, nothing can look too cannabis-branded,” added Julie. “You don’t want just a leaf on it. You don’t want something that screams ‘cannabis.’ It’s the aesthetic the industry is going for now.”

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Of course, cannabis packaging also has to comply with differing and rapidly changing regulations for packaging. Julie’s advice for designers who want to keep up is to start with the most rigid guidelines. “Begin there,” she advised, “because you don’t want to get six months down the road only have to start all over again. So start designing towards the strictest regulations, which is California.”For designers this includes quite a few factors, such as packaging which is certified child-resistant, mandatory opaque containers any edible product, and a way to reseal products which have multiple servings. Additionally, two panels must appear on the packaging—the primary and information panel— and these outline crucial details like the amount of THC or CBD in the product, a government warning statement, and specific instructions for use.Aside from leaning towards strict regulations when developing cannabis packaging, Julie also urged designers to seek out child-resistant packs. While Arizona currently doesn’t have this rule in place, she predicted they soon will—along with the rest of the U.S.But looking to the future of the industry poses a challenge since the past often helps inform and guide where packaging design goes. Designers can’t look back fifty years to see the practical evolution of cannabis packaging. Instead, that innovation must happen right now.While there isn’t a backlog of designs to learn from, there is an industry which designers can turn to for some inspiration: alcohol.

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“Liquor companies have found a way to elevate premium spirits,” Julie mentioned, “and not even with just branding and design. They do it with the bottle shape.”Think about shelves of liquor behind a bar. You’ll see tall, skinny vodka bottles and basic round whiskey bottles on the bottom shelf, and as you work your way up they become increasingly diverse. Julie suggested designers get creative here in an effort to gain coveted distinction, adding, “Package shape itself is more important than graphics. I really think that’s going to set the standard in the future.”Above all, Julie emphasized the importance of creating real-world solutions. This means as much testing as possible—a necessary first step for this developing industry.“Actually think about the usability of how a consumer uses the product,” she mentioned. “It’s not food, it’s not pharmaceuticals. It’s its own unique entity.”

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