How to target the cannabis consumer
Located in a nondescript building in the heart of Seattle’s industrial SODO district, in a facility that used to house a seafood processing operation, Evergreen Herbal creates cannabis-infused consumer packaged goods for patients and recreational cannabis customers.
Established in 2012 as one of Washington State’s first manufacturers and distributors of cannabis-infused products, Evergreen Herbal’s team of chefs, herbalists, and technicians continues to develop new ways to process and package cannabis. Products range from pre-rolled joints to carbonated beverages, teas and tinctures, infused chocolates, mints, sugar, and even hard candy.
Running a cannabis business is not easy, according to Andy Brassington, Evergreen CFO. In addition to the same issues that stress every other business, there are numerous additional issues that are difficult to manage. State cannabis packaging laws are “hit or miss” and often quite inconsistent.
“When packaging laws change as frequently as they do, it’s difficult to forecast and build momentum. We’re sticklers about the regulations, and we do our best to be compliant,” says Brassington.
“From our pure, zero-additive vape oil to our decadent dark chocolate bars, we are all about delivering delicious cannabis products made with local ingredients as well as natural colors and flavors whenever possible,” says Marco Hoffman, Evergreen Herbal’s Founder and CEO.
From safety to potency to value, creating a world-class cannabis brand is Evergreen Herbal’s brand strategy. “Cannabis processing is a hands-on business,” says Hoffman, “with testing at multiple stages across extraction, manufacturing, and packaging to ensure elimination of residual solvents, pesticides, and microbials.”
Like other pioneering companies that want to see a fledgling industry grow to maturity, Evergreen Herbal is committed to collaborating with fellow industry leaders, researchers, policy makers, and advocates to build a thriving cannabis industry that benefits everyone.
As one of the first to introduce a cannabis-infused beverage in Washington State, Evergreen Herbal experienced problems early on with product consistency. “We’ve re-invested and re-configured our bottling line to ensure the quality our customers have come to expect,” says Jackie Brassington, Evergreen Herbal’s General Manager.
Another popular treat manufactured by Evergreen Herbal is the 4.20 candy bar, which also comes in a mini format. The cannabis-infused minis come in a ten-count bag. Individual 10-mg minis are placed on a conveyor and run through an Excelflow wrapper for individual wrapping before getting bagged.
Products are labeled by machine and by hand. Secondary labels are mandated by law to include producer, processor, and retailer information as well as individual harvest batch data. Another required label, recently introduced by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WALCB), clearly states “NOT FOR KIDS.” Different product types (i.e. form factors) often have different packaging rules and regulations, which makes efficiency elusive.
As for the marketing genius behind Evergreen Herbal, meet David Paleschuck, a veteran marketer and branding expert with more than 20 years of experience at world-class companies including American Express, MasterCard, Pepsi, and Microsoft. “I saw the opportunity materializing right in front of my eyes,” says Paleschuck. “My friends and colleagues were leaving Starbucks, Amazon, and other world-class companies to enter the segment. I knew it was time”.
Paleschuck realized he had a skillset that the industry required but didn’t have the in-depth technical and cultural knowledge possessed by industry insiders and lifetime veterans. So he set out to learn more. In doing so, he’s interviewed more than 400 cannabis brand owners, master growers, and industry influencers. He perhaps now knows more about cannabis brands than any one individual, and the result of his journey is a soon-to-be released book titled, Branding Bud: The Commercialization of Cannabis, a critical review of legal cannabis brands, their assets, and the strategies behind them.
“What it comes down to is there are discrete and non-discrete cannabis consumers,” says Paleschuck. “There are those who don’t want to smell like cannabis and those who don’t mind. Additionally, there are patients and recreational consumers. We separate our product lines into these categories and build customer profiles around them. In many ways, it’s about lifestyle and how cannabis consumption fits into it.”
Building brands and creating “consumer hooks” is what this veteran marketer is all about. He creates brands from relevant topics and concepts that resonate with consumers. From Mountain Dew’s “Do The Dew” to MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaigns, Paleschuck understands what’s meaningful to consumers. “It’s all about ‘trust marketing,’” he says. “We’ve come to expect consistent user experiences from the brands we buy. Our credit cards, our favorite drink, and now our favorite cannabis-infused product. It’s all very much the same.”
So what’s different? “Everything’s different,” says Paleschuck. “Cannabis cannot cross state lines. That means we think in terms of local markets. While many of Evergreen’s brands are sold in different states, they have slightly different packaging due to varying State rules and regulations. That’s why we pay a lot of attention to packaging and the ever-changing rules and regulations.”
Paleschuck and colleagues at Evergreen Herbal are expanding to meet the demand of the growing legal cannabis market. Management understands it will take time to create the efficiencies and standard practices that exist in other industries. Until then they’ll run lean and mean—and most important, compliant.
Cannabis with a higher purpose
Housed in a former Boeing wing sub-assembly warehouse in Renton, WA, Soulshine is an indoor grower/processor concentrating on growing premium products. Co-founders Mike Mercer and Patrick Wlaznak came out of the financial world, and they spent a lot of time deciding what type of company they wanted to start. High on the list was being socially conscious.
“After figuring out our logo, our look, and what the brand should mean to us, it was important to focus on the packaging material,” says Wlaznak. It needed to be compostable or recyclable and definitely non-wasteful. “Something we would be proud to see in our retail partner stores,” says Wlaznak.
A typical packaging format at Soulshine is a bag in a windowed folding carton. The clear low-density polyethylene bag, supplied by ClearBags, is recyclable, as is the folding carton, supplied by Emerald City Graphics. Even the carton’s clear window scores sustainability points. Made by Multi-Plastics, Inc., the EnviroSafe® material is a biodegradable cast cellulose film.
As for the label on the carton, that’s also compostable. The labels come from Pure Labels, a division of Elevate Packaging. That firm’s Rich Cohen says there is a “secret sauce” element to precisely how the labels are made, but essentially his firm is more of a “value-added broker” than a press-owning converter. An unnamed supplier sends Elevate Packaging a paper face stock that is made from sugar cane by-products and is certified compostable. Elevate sends the material to another unnamed partner who applies a release liner by way of an adhesive that is also certified compostable. Then the material is returned to Elevate’s Chicago facility. When a customer requires labels, Elevate outsources the printing to one of three converters and arranges to have the finished rolls of labels sent to the customer.
Soulshine’s Wlaznak continues to look for ways to optimize sustainability in his approach to packaging. The bag that holds cannabis flower inside the carton is a good example. Though currently made of a material that can be recycled, Wlaznak is working with a company in Israel that may be able to deliver clear compostable/barrier food grade bags.
To go a step further, Soulshine also supports Emerald City Pet Rescue, contributing a portion of each sale to that organization. Soulshine customers appreciate this commitment to social consciousness, and they are not shy about singing the company’s praises on social media, both for sustainable packaging and commitment to animals.
Soulshine employs individual grow rooms for maximum control of plants and any pests that might appear. And while grow lights do use a lot of electricity, many farms are located hundreds of miles away from Seattle and use a lot of fuel shipping product to the city. Soulshine, by contrast, is only blocks from many of their retail partners. They also recycle 60 percent of their grow water.
The grow rooms occupy about 20% of the available space in the warehouse, and in order to expand Wlaznak knows what has to happen next. “The single biggest limit to our growth right now is the need to automate our packaging,” he says. Currently, all packaging is done by hand, but Wlaznak and a team recently traveled to PACK EXPO Las Vegas where they purchased a Paxiom machine for weighing, filling, and sealing.