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Taking the Packaging Industry to New Heights (or Is It Highs?)

By Tom Weber

June 4, 2019

width=300By correctly choosing the best cannabis packaging types to match your client’s specific product, you can present your unique offerings in protective, dynamic, and eye-catching corrugated or folding carton packaging with various inserts, while adhering to all necessary and ever-changing regulations.

If You’ve Already Planned Your Cannabis Packaging Strategy

It should be easy for you to decide on what type of cannabis packaging will best protect and carry the brand forward for your newest clients.

It’s important to review packaging options with your clients to detail any pros and cons of your chosen blend of primary and secondary packaging. Your choice would ideally be the maximum among: product protection, cost-effectiveness, ease of use, shelf presence, handling and shipping environment, and corporate philosophy, if your client is particular about the sustainability aspects of your particular cannabis packaging.

Matching Packaging to Your New Clients’ Cannabis Product(s)

Our greatest efforts should include choosing and creating cannabis packaging that is perfectly suited for your clients’ needs. This means that your chosen cannabis packaging types should be more than ready and competent in addressing their product market needs and preventing any shelf-life, quality, and structural damage . These are, in many cases, new clients with new businesses and very limited experience with our beloved industry.

Types of Cannabis Packaging Styles

Rigid Cannabis Packaging

This type of packaging is defined as any container with unyielding structure, hard packaging made of material such as glass and metal. When it comes to product value perception, any container that is solid and heavier than other containers is viewed as premium, not disposable.

Pros of Rigid Cannabis Packaging

  • Hard material provides the marijuana product with excellent mechanical protection. This is of utmost importance, especially with cannabis flowers, to prevent the heads from getting crushed and subsequently increasing the oxidation rate.
  • It holds its form well, which makes for a consistent packaging presentation.
  • It’s inert and, therefore, a safe choice.
  • Most rigid container materials are made of completely nonporous material, are easy to clean, and are hygienic, which allows for a longer shelf life of its contents.

Cons of Rigid Cannabis Packaging

Depending on where you are, some rigid containers (naturally clear) may need to be packaged in an additional exit bag due to regulations disallowing transparent packaging.

Especially with oils and concentrates, accessibility can be a problem depending on the container’s shape, and it can be difficult for customers to get every last bit of product.

Some rigid materials, such as glass, can break or shatter easily, and cracked containers will be highly prone to contamination.

Semi-Rigid Cannabis Packaging

This type of packaging is defined as any container that has some structural give and holds its form unless a moderate amount of pressure is exerted on it. These packages are neither rigid nor flexible. They are made of material such as folding cartons, corrugated boxes, paper tubes, thermoformed plastic tubes, clamshell containers, and plastic cups with lidding.

Pros of Semi-Rigid Cannabis Packaging

  • They are highly cost-effective and easy and quick to produce.
  • They are a lot lighter than rigid containers, making transport and storage cheaper. Many styles ship in a knocked-down fashion.
  • Some semi-rigid materials are easy to mold, allowing customization options for your brand and type of product.
  • Containers of this material are tough yet flexible, have good transparency for cannabis product viewing, and usually come in high gloss for a great commercial marketing esthetic.
  • These don’t really break, shatter, or tear, so they’re hardy against handling and wear and tear.

Cons of Semi-Rigid Cannabis Packaging

  • Most semi-rigid containers can scratch easily if not properly handled, leading to an unprofessional presentation.
  • Unlike rigid containers, most of these are plastic and can degrade quality—watch out for old inventory.
  • Plastics can yellow over time and create visual distortion.
  • Some semi-rigid containers aren’t easy to recycle, and some consumers regard these containers as pollutants.
  • Specific materials are flammable, especially if stored near solvents and oils.

Flexible Cannabis Packaging

This type of packaging is made of material that is yieldable. When filled and sealed, flexible containers may change in shape. Examples of these containers include bags, pouches, envelopes, sachets, or wraps, made of paper, plastic film, aluminum, or a combination of these (usually ranging from 13 to 75 micrometers in thickness).

Pros of Flexible Cannabis Packaging

  • These are widely and readily available.
  • Parchment paper is the most ideal for concentrates because it has a silicone surface that oils won’t stick to.
  • They are flexible, and breakage and consequent contamination aren’t serious concerns.
  • They’re ergonomic and easy to handle and manipulate. These are perfect for shelf display, as they can fit closely around the product/contents and take little extra, unnecessary space in storage and transport and on the shelf.
  • Flexible packages are relatively lightweight, stack easily in storage, and are cheaper to ship than other rigid or semi-rigid containers, for less complicated shipping protocols.
  • They’re recyclable and reusable.
  • These have excellent printing capabilities—flexible materials can have prints on them, instead of purchasing separate product labels.
  • There are many customization options available to further increase a flexible container’s ease of use for customer handling, as well as for branding purposes (e.g., tear notches, hang holes, degassing valve, adding clear windows on an opaque body, etc.)

Cons of Flexible Cannabis Packaging

  • If purchasing lower-quality flexible containers, these will be thinner and will be prone to tampering and puncture during transport and handling.
  • Depending on the cannabis product, some flexible containers can be used only for packaging cannabis concentrates and won’t be adequate for most cannabis product formats.

General Reminders Before Executing Your Strategy

  • A few of the oils produced by cannabis, such as limonene, can dissolve certain plastics. The resulting residue is deposited on the cannabis product itself. Make certain any inserts you may be considering will withstand the many oils generated by these plants.
  • Hard plastic, especially when utilized as an insert, is quite inert and a safer storage choice, particularly when used within corrugated or folding cartons.
  • You don’t want your client to package cannabis flowers in flexible containers (except for stand-up pouches) because of the risk of flowers and trichomes being crushed. This can be mitigated by utilizing a bag-in-a-box approach.
  • You may have a client who wants to package dried cannabis flowers in airtight containers. When dried marijuana drops to minus 7 percent water content, volatile terpene oils follow, and the once-quality product loses some of its potency. This may not be a place for corrugated or folding cartons currently, unless the airtight container is inserted for shelf presence and marketing purposes.
  • Rigid containers provide excellent protection to dried and delicate cannabis flowers. These may require an added label, insert, or outer wrap paperboard sleeve for decoration.
  • Vacuum packaging marijuana flowers in mylar bags is another common way for your clients to package product, as long as both the container and product have safe anaerobic bacteria levels. These bags can then be packaged into a folding carton with an additional point-of-purchase display for maximum marketing effect.
  • To lengthen the shelf life of cannabis edibles, you may consider adding small desiccant packs tipped into your packaging style to continuously wick any moisture away from the product.

We hope this summary has been helpful to you as you finalize packaging for your unique cannabis clients. When in doubt, remember that discussing your best options with us, AICC, is still one way to go before manufacturing your packaging to serve one of the newest—and possibly largest—breakout markets to come into the packaging sector in the past two or three decades. Visit www.aiccexperts.org to ask your questions.


width=150Tom Weber is folding carton advisor for AICC. Do you have any questions? Ask Tom at 440-221-3103 or tweber@aiccbox.org.