Design takes flight
Harmony Extracts was launched in 2016 with one goal: to create cannabis concentrates of the highest quality. The Denver-based team of roughly 36 employees has quickly risen as a leader in Colorado cannabis concentrates, and package design has played an important role.
Austin, TX-based Pentagram was enlisted to develop Harmony’s brand identity. Providing a useful design framework was Harmony’s deep respect for the natural world, specifically the hummingbird. Why the hummingbird? Because it’s nature’s most efficient extractor, and Harmony Extracts aims to mimic the bird’s powers of extraction by efficiently refining only the best of what nature has to offer. It was this background that led Pentagram to design the Harmony hummingbird. Replete with cannabis-leaf-shaped tail feathers, the design nicely echoes the brand’s roots in nature.
The same care and attention to detail was brought to bear as Harmony Extracts worked on the packaging for The Pure™, a new line of THC vape pens that deliver 100% pure, natural terpenes derived from the cannabis plant. Like any package design project in the newly emerging and constantly changing recreational cannabis market, arriving at a successful package for The Pure was challenging. Shelf appeal, of course, was crucial in a Colorado market already crowded with competitors. But regulatory constraints also had to be factored in. On top of certain warning messages that must be clearly visible, the package must also be child-resistant.
Upon referral from a mutual contact in August 2016, Harmony enlisted New Jersey-based Sonic Packaging Industries (www.sonicpackaging.com) to come up with a secondary packaging solution to house the new line of vape pens. The majority of packaging providers Harmony spoke with prior to Sonic could provide part of the solution but not all. Some did not fully grasp Harmony’s brand vision, while others did not have the range of converting competencies required. Sonic’s experience in child-resistant package design coupled with an ability to create a “turnkey” solution for componentry procurement and customization that could carry the brand message made Sonic an easy choice for The Pure.
Harmony came to Sonic seeking creative design coupled with intuitive, functional parts that could remain with the consumer long after the cartridge was removed. In addition, Harmony wanted primary packaging for The Pure to have a soft touch with matte finish and spot varnish. Secondary packaging for The Pure also had to be designed around a child-resistant vial to contain the profiled vape cartridge.
Answering Harmony’s “cannabis call” was a first for Sonic. Having maintained a flawless track record for 25-plus years creating packaging solutions for Fortune 500 companies in pharmaceuticals, medical, diagnostics, and cosmetics, taking on The Pure was a risk. Not only would it mean working in a developing industry without clearly defined requirements, working in the cannabis space also meant possible conflict with other vertical markets in the Sonic portfolio. It was a hard call, but Sonic decided to greenlight the project.
After conducting a thorough discovery and evaluation process, Sonic proposed the idea of creating a customizable holder for The Pure glass ampoule (container) with a sleeve that, once removed, would expose an internal, printed tray. The trays and cartons would be semi-automatically assembled on an as-needed basis.
Roll out of The Pure took place over the course of 12 months. During that time, Sonic worked with Harmony Extracts to iron out kinks and ensure that throughout the process, quality and adherence to regulatory standards were never compromised. Housed in packaging that reinforces the brand without cutting corners on compliance or child-resistant standards, packaging for Harmony’s The Pure is an iconic artful memento that is also reusable and will remain with consumers for long-term brand loyalty.
With many of the competing brands in the concentrate market merely placing cartridges into a blister, pill bottle, or pop-top container to meet regulatory requirements, Harmony’s commitment to creating a superior user experience for The Pure is generating long-term customer loyalty while maintaining “The Harmony Standard” of excellence. The result is a top-notch addition to an already booming brand. The Pure successfully combines safety, compliance, usability, and marketability into one package that, like the hummingbird, is small but mighty.
Cannabis by the numbers
In the summer of 2017, PMMI Business Intelligence commissioned a study on the cannabis market, the highlights of which are presented here.
• Currently, 65% of cannabis sales stem from medical marijuana.
• Medical marijuana is now legalized to varying degrees in 30 states with legislation pending in 14 more.
• Recreational use of cannabis, which is fast growing, usually outpaces sales of medical marijuana by a ratio of 15:1 in the first few years after legalization. Nevada, where tourism will boost sales of recreational cannabis, expects that ratio to be more like 20:1.
• Experts believe that by 2021 every state in the U.S. will have legalized cannabis for medical use, and sales of medical marijuana will top $15 billion.
• An additional six states are expected to legalize recreational cannabis sales in the next two years.
• With sales growing rapidly, the formats are shifting away from cannabis as a flower or bud. Increasingly popular are more processed formats, including oils, edibles, and topical products. This should open up new opportunities for suppliers of packaging machinery and materials.
You can download the entire study for free at: pwgo.to/3349
Cannabis packaging from the supplier’s perspective
What does the nascent cannabis market look like from those who supply packaging machines? We asked a few to weigh in.
“There’s so much variety in product offerings and packaging styles and formats,” says Scott Reed, VP of Sales, Marketing & Customer Service for packaging machinery OEM ADCO (www.adcomfg.com). “That’s what excites me as an OEM. The application is not just a bakery item, not just a cookie. You’ll visit a site and they may be filling carbonated soda in one room, baking edibles in another, extracting oils across the aisle, and more.”
Leading the vanguard in cannabis machinery sales, ADCO is one of the few OEMs that has appointed a cannabis industry specialist. Her name is Ann Davern. “What’s so cool about this is you don’t have to look far before you see another application,” says Davern.
While major CPG companies are not touching cannabis yet, Reed and Davern say they can imagine a market with major players and dedicated packaging lines. Davern is also seeing a time when current producers will seek out larger facilities that are big enough to house semi-automated and fully-automated packaging equipment. The potential, she says, is impressive. “Not only are we seeing interest in horizontal and vertical end-load cartoning, but also in automated filling, leaflet feeding, coding and printing, robotic product handling, case packing, and more. We’re seeing companies that are just on the cusp, just getting there. You can see their eyes go wide when they say ‘You mean we don’t have to do this by hand?’”
To a certain extent, adds Reed, cannabis packagers are taking cues from the pharma industry, looking at precision weighing applications and child-resistant packaging.
Like Reed, packaging machinery distributor Richard Coates sees the proliferation of products as a distinguishing mark of the cannabis scene. “Flowers, oils, edibles—and hardly anyone has any experience or background in how to package them,” says Coates, who represents Plexpack (www.plexpack.com), a maker of bag sealing and shrink-packaging equipment. “In an industry with few standards or recognized best practices, it’s been a bit like the Wild West.”
Having said that, Coates also observes that he is beginning to see a shift to greater sophistication overall. Many in the cannabis business, he notes, got their feet wet in the equipment space by purchasing machines at auction. China, too, was a frequent source. “Maybe there were deals where you buy so many bags and you get a machine for free,” says Coates. “But those machines got torn up pretty quickly. So now it doesn’t bother them to spend considerably more for a robust machine. They’re looking for quality now. They’re also looking for education.”
So is this a 21st century gold rush? “To tell you the truth,” says Coates, “we’ve been selling into this market for years. But our customers claimed to be packaging spices or tea.”