Pro Marijuana Packaging 5 Guiding Principles

Updated: May 13, 2019

A Changing Cannabis Packaging Landscape

Nowadays, cannabis packaging must catch the attention of the consumer in an ever-growing array of products. But…gone are the days of smiley faces on clear plastic baggies. In many states, marijuana packaging also has to convey important information to the consumer about what’s inside the package. Requirements for medical marijuana include providing information on dosage, ingredients, etc. On top of this, some states have stringent yet changing packaging and labeling requirements. For example, there are temporary rules in effect from March 1, 2016 until October 1, 2016 for medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon. One of Oregon’s packaging rules (among others) requires that the design of the cannabis package itself must render the package child-resistant. All these fast-moving rules and regulations are making many businesses rethink their cannabis packaging.

And then there’s branding to consider. As the cannabis industry continues to grow rapidly, it’s becoming more and more important for companies to think about how to differentiate their products from competitors. With a growing and crowded landscape of dab products, vape pens, edibles and more, every smart cannabis company is now thinking about how to make their products stand out from the competition. In addition, you probably want to make sure you know that your packaging design is returning the results you expect and providing value for your investment. A lot to consider and far from the days of clear plastic baggies with a Post-it® or scribble for a label…

So with all that in mind, today’s marijuana packaging needs to balance form, function and design while meeting the needs of an increasingly knowledgeable and discerning consumer.

5 Packaging Guiding Principles

So how do you make sure that your marijuana packaging is up to the sniff test (pardon the pun)? Well, good design principles are fairly universal and there are some general rules that apply to marijuana packaging as much as they apply to other types of design issues. Here are our five of our key design principles when we think about designing marijuana packaging:

1. Know your Audience

The key to designing all great packaging starts with knowing and understanding your target audience. Requirements in most states where cannabis consumption is legal for medical and/or recreational use state that cannabis consumers must be over 18 or 21 years of age. But knowing you are targeting an adult audience isn’t enough. As legislation shifts and cannabis consumption becomes more mainstream and socially acceptable, more information is becoming known about cannabis consumers themselves. For example, according to Civilized and Environics Research, most marijuana users are likely to be homeowners, employed full-time, and married with children.

If you’re targeting millennials, you probably know that this is the generation of people born around 1982 to 2000. This generation is now in their early twenties to mid-30s – so it makes sense that many of these folks have families and jobs. The typical “stoner” stereotype of the single young male without a job simply doesn’t ring true any longer. The good news is that millennials are still the majority of cannabis consumers, though that’s changing rapidly. More and more baby boomers are either returning to try cannabis again as they did when they were in college, or are becoming more open to trying it for the first time. These cannabis novices may be looking for a much more sophisticated experience to reflect their lifestyle choices and personality while still remaining discreet. Natural or rich colors, elegant decorative designs and containers that are functional and beautiful can all give the look of something your customers would be proud to have in their home or in front of friends.

Or you may be targeting a more price-conscious crowd, in which case you may opt for simple clean lines and a functional design that still showcases your brand identity quickly and clearly. Perhaps you’re targeting men of a particular age or income for your specialty rigs, or women who are looking for particular types of cannabis-infused body products. These are very different types of cannabis consumers and products, and the packaging and labeling should be designed so that it appeals to that particular target audience.

Understanding your customer and how they purchase your products includes considering several factors such as demographics (age, gender, education level, marital status etc.), psychographics (activities, interests etc.), geographic factors (place of residence etc.) and others. In marketing lingo, this is known as customer segmentation. Segmentation is a crucial step in designing your product packaging appropriately and for the right audience, so your products and packaging can deliver on the investment you’ve made in your business.

2. Consider the Function

One piece of packaging that has me puzzled is stick-of-butter packaging. You know – the little piece of wax paper that most sticks of butter are wrapped in (in the US). While I love the handy little measuring guide on the outside of the wax paper, I’m always confounded by the envelope-style wrapping of the wax paper itself. It’s easy to open but if I just want a small piece of butter from the stick, I have to be really careful with the wax paper so that the stick doesn’t become a glob of buttery mess next time I need it. A better design might be a way to peel off the wrapper along with the amount of butter I actually use? You understand the problem. Designing a package to function well is more than simply covering or containing what’s inside. It requires thinking through how the customer will experience the product – the package itself may be a dispenser, a tool, a guide or even transform into something else once the product is released.

Whether you’re selling seeds, extracts, concentrates, edibles, oils, shatter or other cannabis products, tools or accessories, make sure your customer can easily open, use and re-use the package, if that’s what’s intended. Keep in mind of course that the packaging also needs to comply with state laws for child-proofing (among other packaging and labeling regulations), which often means designing a 2-step process for opening the package. So easy to open shouldn’t mean easy to open for children. Some companies go a step further with their packaging and build helpful tools into the package (like measuring guides on butter sticks) or even better, by delivering unexpected moments of delight.

An example of a wonderful package is the plantable coffee cup designed by “Reduce Reuse Grow”. Their native seed-embedded cups are biodegradable and aimed at benefiting reforestation efforts, offsetting overgrazing and fire destroyed areas, starting with California. A great example of a package that becomes something even better after it’s first use is over.

Above all, great functional packaging should improve the way a consumer interacts with your products, eliminate as many barriers to purchase as possible, and better yet, encourage your customers to return.

3. Define your Brand