Why is Marijuana Packaging taking so long & keeping me from getting to market?

Why is Marijuana Packaging taking so long & keeping me from getting to market? | Crativ Packaging

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Have you had struggles getting your product to market because of marijuana packaging requirements?  You’re not alone.  In fact, cannabis packaging timelines are very similar to packaging in other markets.  

I come from the medical device industry and launched multiple medical products as a manufacturing project engineer.  Packaging was almost always the critical path for lead time of getting the product to market.  If not planned properly, packaging will be the last thing stopping you from getting your product in dispensaries.  Packaging stopping your launch creates immense frustration.  I’ve been there.  So, how do you plan your product launch with cannabis packaging being a major up-front consideration?

Follow the 6 Steps to Marijuana Packaging Development with a timeline driving your team to key milestones.

The 6 Steps to Marijuana Packaging Development

Step Number Time Needed

1.      Understand your regulatory environment.

What are the packaging requirements?  What are the labeling requirements?  How do these requirements impact the particular product that you are launching?  Study this information yourself or assign someone on your team to do it.  It’s not hard, but it’s somewhat tedious and is open to much interpretation.  As you explore options for cannabis packaging you will need the person that has read the regulations as a reference and to continually go back and interpret the regulations based on the questions you have.  Pull the packaging specific regulations out, give copies of just that to your marijuana packaging development team, and have as a reference with notes and highlights for every meeting.  Involve your legal team from the beginning.  If you don’t have a legal team get an attorney.  A formal legal review is imperative before you go to market.

1 to 8 Weeks – if you have cannabis knowledgeable legal representation it could be fast.  If you want to launch a cannabis product get started on this NOW!
2.      Size up your product.

You may already have your product designed and ready to go.  Or possibly you are already on the market and just have to upgrade to child-resistant packaging.  If you’re just starting to develop your product consider yourself lucky.  Thinking about marijuana packaging at the early stages of product development will help to drive decisions and avoid frustration later.  We are going to make the assumption that you are required to implement child proof (or child resistant) packaging.  The child proof requirement narrows down your search for options.  Be flexible on the size of your product so it can fit in existing child proof marijuana packaging that is off the shelf.  Since child proof packaging requires third party certification, there are fewer options to choose from.  Start by doing a google search and request samples from everyone you possibly can.  Understand what MOQ (minimum order quantity) is, which could rule out some options.  After you get all of your samples of child proof marijuana packaging you will have to choose one that meets the basic physical requirements of your product.  This will narrow down decisions that have to be made in the following steps.

2 to 6 Weeks – hopefully your product already works with existing child proof package that is readily available and in stock.  If so great!  If you want differentiation for your brand some specialty and premium marijuana packaging products might make more sense.  Don’t expect a marijuana packaging supplier to be able to quickly develop you a new child proof solution.
3.      Develop your branding and labeling strategy.

This step assumes that you already have your brand developed and understand what has to go on the package from the standpoint of regulatory required labeling.  Based on the packaging you choose, different decisions will have to be made about how to get it printed with your brand and required marijuana packaging regulatory labeling.  In the case of child proof box products, you will be required to purchase a minimum order and there will likely be a longer lead time than if you chose a sticker printing and application model which is more prominent in marijuana packaging today where child proof packaging is required.  Sometimes a box that isn’t child proof can be used in combination with a child proof marijuana package.  You must look carefully at your choices of marijuana packaging and assess whether they have enough space to print all of the labeling required.  There are options such as extended content (accordion or peel & reveal) labels, but those will drive up your costs.  Look for large, flat surfaces.  Be prepared to spend a significant amount of labor applying labels or consider hiring someone who has equipment to apply the labels for you.  Speaking of labor, be sure to assess the amount of labor that will be required for each of the options you are looking at.  Some child resistant packaging requires more assembly when you get it.  Such labor costs must be calculated into the total cost of packaging analysis.  Don’t make the mistake of only basing your packaging decision on the cost of the actual package itself.  Also consider labor cost for labeling and assembly.  Secondary labeling for batch specific information, potency results, etc. will also be required.  Try to implement as much labeling into your primary label as possible.

2 to 4 Weeks – The choice you make here could significantly impact your competitiveness.  Drive to be competitive with low minimum order quantities to stay flexible when regulations change.  Choose packaging that has a low cost of labor for assembly, printing, and labeling.  If possible make your primary package generic to some extent and add more information with small stickers:  Sativa, Indica, Hybrid for example.
4.      Select Your Supplier

You’ve spent hours / days / weeks understanding the marijuana packaging and labeling regulations.  You’ve gotten samples and chosen child proof marijuana packaging that fits your product.  You’ve got a strategy for getting your brand and regulatory information on the package.  By now you’ve probably had multiple conversations with multiple suppliers of different types of marijuana packaging.  You may have settled on one that is the sole supplier of that product, or you may have chosen more of a commodity product like a bottle.  In any case it is paramount at this time that you discuss forecast and lead time with your supplier.  But you don’t have a forecast…  Your product could skyrocket the first week it’s on the market.  After all, this is cannabis!  With so many new marijuana products coming on the market, child proof marijuana packaging is becoming much more in demand.  The best thing you can do is develop a trusting relationship with your marijuana packaging supplier and be transparent with them about how your business is launching and growing.  The more they understand about when you will need packaging and how much, the more likely you will be to have it when you need it.  Imagine going through all of the design and steps to select your packaging and then having your supplier tell you it’s going to be 8 weeks.  Confirm that your supplier has inventory and can service you based on the forecast that you provide.

1 to 2 Weeks – In requesting samples in Step 2 hopefully you’ve already generated some initial supplier relationships.  At this point you should have it
5.      Get Artwork / Labeling Approved

Again, this step assumes that you already have your brand developed and understand what has to go on the package from the standpoint of regulatory required labeling.  With these two inputs and the packaging selected you must finalize your artwork to fit on the packaging of choice.  Work with your supplier and get die lines for the artwork.  You might have a graphics designer in house, or you may outsource this service.  Regardless, the next step is to lay out the brand and regulatory information and make sure it fits.  Don’t be surprised if there might be an iteration at this step back to the “Size Up Your Product” step if the packaging won’t hold all of the information.  Also don’t be surprised if the packaging has to be significantly bigger than the actual product itself to be able to hold all of the required information.  It’s just the nature of the marijuana packaging challenge.  Establish quickly in the process who is required to sign off on artwork and have at least one or two extra people not involved in the process to just proofread before it is time to go to print.  Finally, have a formal sign off form and establish revision control (rev 1, rev 2, etc.) for each brand and product type.  In the medical device industry, approval of labeling always took a long time.  It is inevitable that you will need a legal review. Don’t miss the step of getting an attorney on board early to work with you through the regulatory approval process.  And finally, as frustrating as it will be, expect the regulations for labeling to change quickly after you complete your packaging design and launch your product.  The person you assigned to interpret the regulations must keep a sharp eye on labeling and packaging regulation changes.  Once again, carefully consider the flexibility of your packaging design.  Long warning statements, pesticides used, extraction method, multiple license numbers may not be required now, but they likely will be.  You don’t want to be stuck with high inventory of that beautiful packaging you developed only to be told that you have to put multiple stickers on it to make it compliant again.

1 to 6 Weeks – Try to get all decision makers in the same room with your graphics designer.  Schedule weekly meetings and let everyone know that their willingness to make artwork and marijuana packaging approval a priority will drive speed to market.
6.      Order Your Marijuana Packaging

All of the above steps and strategies are in place and you’re ready to “GO TO PRINT”.  You’ve identified a good supplier and have kept them in the loop during your packaging development.  Or have you?  If not be hopeful that there isn’t a 6-to-12-week lead time.  Again, the demand for marijuana packaging is accelerating.  I can’t stress enough the importance of working with your supplier early and making sure they can meet your launch lead time and demand.  Hence this BLOG.  Plan, plan, plan.  You’ve heard it before but planning for marijuana packaging is of utmost importance.  Speed to market could potentially be the difference between your brand being early in the game and snatching up market share…. Or not.  Don’t let packaging be the barrier.  When you get the packaging from your supplier be sure to inspect it.  Make sure that it matches the final approved proofs that were submitted.  If it’s wrong now you can fix it immediately if needed or wait until the next batch of production.  Consider ordering a small lot to get started even though it might cost more.  And, remember to be open and communicate with your supplier how your launch and your growth are going.  Give them every opportunity to not let packaging be what stops you from ramping your production and driving revenue.

1 to 12 Weeks – Is the marijuana packaging product you’ve chosen in stock?  Or is it a 6 to 12 week lead time from China?  Don’t be surprised.  Through the above steps you should know this before getting to this step.  But if not, make lead time one of the first questions you ask the supplier.


So you mean it will take 8 to 38 weeks (2 to 9 months) to get my child proof marijuana packaging in place?  Yes.  You might be able to come up with a quick and dirty interim solution with some off the shelf packaging.  But you’ve got to make sure you are compliant with regulatory labeling and child-resistant packaging requirements.  And, you’ve got to make sure you are partnered with a supplier that can support your product launch quantities and growth.  It was inevitable that labeling and packaging approval and validations were always the long lead time items in a new medical device launch.  With marijuana packaging and labeling being in a similar regulated category, it is not surprising that such lead times for packaging and labeling development must also be expected.  Companies that develop brands and strictly adhere to regulations are those that will ultimately take and maintain market share.  Be a serious competitor in the cannabis industry and plan your packaging and labeling strategy as soon as possible.

Bill Ludlow

President, CEO

CRATIV Packaging

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