Utilising growth opportunities

Anne-Marie Hardie investigates how the metal packaging industry is responding to a gap in the market, with the growth of the cannabis industry.

Scott Martin, president and CEO of N2 Packaging Systems, based in Twin Falls, Idaho, US, initially ventured into the cannabis industry as an investor. However, he quickly saw both the growth opportunity and the need for quality packaging.

The benefits
It was 2013, and packaging for cannabis was still an afterthought. The majority of products were packed in low-quality plastic that paid little attention to preserving the product. N2 Packaging System’s wanted to change that; their solution – a patented, hermetically sealed aluminium can, which uses nitrogen to preserve the product and extend its shelf life.

At the time, Martin assumed that the market would jump onto this new packaging format. Instead, he discovered that they had some tough hurdles to overcome. “Most of the market preferred to see the product, making an opaque can a difficult sell,” explains Martin. “Also, the producers felt that the can deterred from the overall presentation.

A common response was ‘we are not going to put weed in your cat food can’,” says Martin. However, N2 Packaging knew that they had the right product and so they continued to move forward, despite the initial roadblocks. This included developing a child-resistant end for a seam rolled can in 2014. Thankfully, as the industry continued to grow, larger companies entered the market and saw the need for storage and having a packaging format that was able to preserve and back stock various strains. Honest Marijuana is one company that chose N2 Packaging as their packaging partner.

“Since we were involved with a perishable product, we wanted a package that was able to preserve the taste and aroma of the flower,” says Serge Chistov, financial advisor, Honest Marijuana Company. “The food grade can maintains the freshness, while being both child-resistant and recyclable. From the first experience with the N2 can, Honest Marijuana was impressed by the way that the aroma and flavour of the flower was preserved.”

Today, N2 Packaging System offers a variety of sizes and formats ranging from 27mm to 4 inch can styles. They’re also in the process of developing a number 10 can for those companies that are seeking an option for their cannabis oil. The biggest benefit that N2 Packaging Systems offers to their clients is preservation.
However, there are other benefits with using metal that the industry should share, shares Martin, including being non-breakable (unlike glass) and an environmentally conscious alternative.
“From Canada and other areas around the globe, we’ve seen a big push back from plastic packaging,” says Martin. “Our format provides these companies with a greener alternative.”

Shifting perceptions
When it comes to packaging, Verano Holdings would like to move away from single source packaging to using more recyclable materials.

“There is just a natural congruency between the cannabis industry and using earth-friendly packaging,” explains Sam Dorf, chief strategy officer, Verano Holdings. “Currently, Verano Holdings uses metal packaging for their pre-rolls. This format is attractive to the client, while maintaining the integrity of the product.”

Dorf is also intrigued about the capabilities of nitrogen-infused packaging, particularly for states like Nevada and Colorado in the US, where the climate is very dry. At the moment, Verano Holdings uses glass bottles for their flowers mainly due to its overall presentation.

“Design is huge when it comes to packaging,” says Dorf. “For the most part, it’s a boutique product. I would like to see in the market a metal package that is user-friendly, child safe, and attractive to the consumer.”

Stand out from the crowd
Although the price point is always at the top of mind, Laurel Gregory, creative director, Hybrid Creative, Santa Rosa California, cautioned that it’s important that the brand is not compromised.

“There should be a consistent look across the entire product line,” says Gregory. “This includes the wording, colours, and the material that the package is made out of. When selecting a packaging vendor, it’s important that they not only understand the challenges within the cannabis space but also have the packaging that best reflects your brand.

When it comes to packaging, Verano Holdings, states that they are not firmly tied to any format. Instead, they are continually looking for innovative packaging that will protect the product, abide by the regulations, and be aesthetically pleasing to the consumer. “We want to stay at the forefront of the industry and are always on the look out for innovative packaging,” adds Dorf.

Establishing a strong brand is one way that cannabis providers will be able to stand out from their competitors. Each aspect of the presentation needs to be considered, from the material of the packaging to the type of language used. However, one of the challenges says Dorf, is being able to express the brand when the packaging is so tightly regulated.

Navigating through a myriad of regulations
Each state and country has slightly different regulations which can make it particularly challenging to stream through all of the chatter.

“The package needs to not only protect the product but be compliant with whatever the state laws are, which varies,” says Dorf. “Even something like child-resistant can mean different things in each state, as well as what wording and imaging are allowed.”

With the recent cannabis legalisation in Canada, N2 Packaging was confronted with additional challenges and opportunities. One such legislation was the necessity of being able to trace a product in the case of a recall.

“We formed a partnership with Authentic Vision, in Salzburg, Austria,” explains Chistov. “This will provide a unique identifier which can then be used for recall information or as a back-end marketing feature.”
The recent partnership with Authentic Vision has been an incredible turning point for the company providing both the ability to trace the product while offering producers the ability to interact with their end consumer.

“The government of Canada is extremely excited about what this could mean for their industry,” says Martin.

“One of their major concerns is the potential emergence of a black market, the integration of this technology will allow the government to see if any trigger points were missed and quickly stop the growth of a divergent market.”

Also, the technology provides the ability to isolate those strains and groups of cans that have been recalled, quickly providing that information to the end consumer.

Despite the potential challenges with regulations, Martin shares that it’s the various regulations that continue to drive their company forward.

“The clear regulations in Canada have helped guide us with making sure that both the end product and the equipment to produce it meets the Canadian guidelines,” says Martin.

“On the equipment side, N2 Packaging obtained CSA certification, also, to the CE certification that was required for the US market.”

A growing opportunity, including cannabis in beer
When asked about the future for metal packaging, Martin is extremely positive. “We think over time, the industry will recognise the benefits that metal packaging offers for cannabis both from preservation and an environmental standpoint.”

Brewmaster Keith Villa saw the growth in the cannabis industry and wanted to offer consumers a non-alcoholic beer infused with cannabis. His company, Ceria Brewing, in Arvada, Colorado launched its inaugural product in December 2017, providing consumers the taste of beer with a specialised marijuana formula designed to mimic the effects of alcohol.

When choosing a package, the automatic choice for Villa was the aluminium bottle. “The laws in Colorado state that the package must be opaque and childproof,” says Villa. “The bottle offers both of these qualities with a pry off top that requires a tool for removal.”

As an additional benefit, the package is aesthetically pleasing and makes the product stand out on the shelf.
N2 Packaging is also keeping a close eye on the infused beverage market: “We’ve designed a child-resistant lid for a soda can,” notes Martin. “The cap clips onto the seam roll, and once removed, it acts as a dosing unit.”

The state of California and Colorado currently require a measuring unit on any infused beverage that is over 10mg of THC. This child-resistant lid responds to this need.

To provide further validation of their product, N2 Packaging has entered into a five-year stabilisation and life cycle study. This study, which began 18 months ago, reviews a variety of packaging formats including plastic tubes and mason jars, every three months. The initial results for the metal packaging have been extremely promising.

“Between the 9th and 12th month of the study we discovered that the turpines in the cannabis not only stabilised but began to increase,” says Martin.

N2 Packaging is extremely excited about what these results could mean for the industry, both in protecting the integrity of the product and potentially opening up a new, higher price point market of aged cannabis.

Despite these results; the company recognises that overcoming the initial barriers of metal packaging will still take some time.

Until then, N2 Packaging continues to offer a plastic alternative for those clients that are still seeking that visual option.

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