Cannabis Packaging Addresses Market Trends

In states where it is legal, medical doctors are beginning to prescribe marijuana to treat a variety of conditions, and medicinal use is the subject of continued research.
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By Jorge Izquierdo, Vice President of Market development for PMMI

Many forces are driving growth in the cannabis industry: legalization in more areas of the world, interest in edibles/drinkables and medicinal benefits, and introduction of innovative products. Gummies are particularly popular, with 86% of women expressing an interest in trying them, according to a study by Mintel. (1)

In states where it is legal, medical doctors are beginning to prescribe marijuana to treat a variety of conditions. Medicinal use is the subject of continued research. As of February 2023, one cannabis-derived drug product, Epidiolex (cannabidiol), has been approved by the FDA, and clinical trials are underway for others. The agency also has approved three synthetic cannabis-related drug products, Marinol (dronabinol), Syndros (dronabinol), and Cesamet (nabilone). These approvals are encouraging investment in marijuana operations, according to a study by Mordor Intelligence. (2)

Innovative new products, such as CBD-infused shots from Hello Juice & Smoothie, are also capturing consumers’ interest. Meanwhile, the National Cannabis Industry Association promotes industry growth by working to achieve a favorable social, economic, and legal environment in the United States.

Cannabis Packaging Challenges

With these forces in play, the cannabis market is expected to end 2024 with an estimated value of $33.84 billion and is forecast to grow at a 15.40% compound annual growth rate to reach $69.25 billion by 2029. (2) Flowers are the most popular product, but concentrates are poised to grow faster. This growth is paving the way for more opportunities for packaging equipment and materials. Packaging and brand identity are particularly important for consumers in the young adult and high-earner categories. (1)

However, it can be a challenge to choose the right packaging to suit not only the type of product (dried flowers, concentrates, topicals, sublinguals, and edibles) but also the intended market. There are many packaging options. But whatever the choice, it must comply with the special labeling and packaging regulations for cannabis products. Child resistance is perhaps the most important and challenging requirement, followed by specifications about how the package functions and looks, as well as how information like warnings and suggested dosage are presented on the label, according to Cannabis Market Update: Unique Packaging Challenges for THC and CBD Products, a report published by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. (3)

The packaging also must protect product shelf life with appropriate humidity control and barrier properties, differentiate and sell the product, provide convenient product delivery, and meet consumer and regulatory demands for sustainability. Regulatory requirements related to sustainability can be quite specific. In New York, the 2021 Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act legalizing adult-use, medical, and hemp cannabis (also known as marijuana or recreational marijuana) prohibits the use of plastic packaging unless it contains at least 25% post-consumer recycled content. (4)

Packaging Formats for Cannabis Products

The form of the cannabis product exerts the biggest influence which packaging format is chosen. (3)

For dried flowers:

  • Plastic or glass jars
  • Mylar bags
  • Steel cans

For concentrates:

  • Small cups (plastic or glass)
  • Syringes
  • Glass or plastic bottles with droppers
  • Blisters
  • Pill bottles

For topicals:

  • Glass or plastic jars
  • Flexible tubes

For edibles:

  • Glass or plastic jars
  • Flexible pouches
  • Aluminum bottles

For medical:

  • Push-and-twist pill bottles
  • Blisters
  • Flexible pouches.

The industry is exploring flexible packaging as an environmentally friendly alternative to rigid plastic and a lighter-weight, unbreakable alternative to glass. The edibles segment, especially, has seen growth in flexible packaging to meet regulations and consumer demands for convenience and sustainability. Flexible packaging also can help cannabis products stand out from the competition by conveying an upscale brand identity. The lighter weight of flexible packaging scores sustainability points, and new substrate options that are recyclable, compostable, contain recycled content, and/or are based on renewable sources are multiplying rapidly. (3)

For example, Wyld, a fast-growing producer of cannabis edibles, is making progress toward its goal of converting to compostable or recyclable packaging. In 2023, it launched its Wyld Ones 100mg one-piece gummy in compostable pouches. It also converted to a compostable flow-wrapping material for product destined for Washington state, which requires each gummy to be individually wrapped. In addition, compostable bags have been added to Good Tide tubes sold in Colorado to help prevent the product from drying out in the state’s low-humidity environment. (5)

Automation Needed

Many cannabis companies rely on manual labor for processing and packaging, struggle with labor shortages, and discover sustainable packaging formats may not run efficiently on existing machines. Automation can solve these problems and position firms to meet rising consumer demand. As a result, growers, processors, and packagers are embracing automation and need OEMs that understand the complexities of their business, provide guidance about lean manufacturing and process automation, design cost-effective equipment for smaller operations, and offer support such as troubleshooting.

Where few shared standards for packaging exist, cannabis packaging companies must forge new ground and innovate.

Discover the Latest Innovations at PACK EXPO International

The latest innovations for cannabis processing and packaging will be on display at PACK EXPO International (Nov. 3–6, 2024, McCormick Place, Chicago). Sustainable solutions will be found at the new Sustainability Central and accompanying Sustainability Stage and via the PACK EXPO Sustainability Solutions Finder and PACK EXPO Green program, which identify exhibitors that provide technology such as sustainable processes and machines, renewable and biodegradable packaging, source reduction and lightweighting, recyclable and recycled-content materials, or innovations that reduce carbon footprint.

As the world’s most expansive packaging and processing industry event in 2024, PACK EXPO International will feature 2,500 exhibitors offering solutions to many of today’s biggest manufacturing needs for 40-plus vertical markets. More than 45,000 attendees from CPG and life sciences companies worldwide will converge, searching for innovation, connection, and insight. For more information and to register, visit www.packexpointernational.com

About the Author

Jorge Izquierdo is vice president of market development for PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.  He oversees PMMI’s market development plans, research and programs for strengthening the competitiveness of North American suppliers of packaging and processing equipment.  See Jorge’s biography at: https://www.pmmi.org/node/8761

References

1 Mintel. US Cannabis in Food and Drink Market Report 2023, Market Study, US Cannabis in Food and Drink Market Report 2023 (mintel.com), accessed June 14, 2024.

2 Mordor Intelligence. Cannabis Market Size & Share Analysis — Growth Trends & Forecasts (2024–2029), Market Study, https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/cannabis-market, accessed June 14, 2024.

3 PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. Cannabis Market Update: Unique Packaging Challenges for THC and CBD Products, Market Report, 2020. (3)

4 State of New York, Office of Cannabis Management. Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) | Office of Cannabis Management (ny.gov), accessed June 14, 2024.

5 Wyld. Wyld Impact Report 2023. Executive Summary, WYLD_IMPACT_REPORT_2023_DIGITAL (1) (1).pdf(Shared) – Adobe cloud storage, accessed June 17, 2024.

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