The cannabis market is booming. About a third of US residents live in a state with access to recreational cannabis, and 37 states allow medical cannabis. In Canada and Mexico, marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use nationwide, while other countries are following suit. Mordor Intelligence has valued the global cannabis market at over $22 billion in 2020 and predicts double-digit annual growth through 2026.
Recreational and medical cannabis suppliers face packaging challenges similar to those faced by other agricultural producers, such as ensuring an adequate oxygen barrier. However, some of the challenges can be very different, due to regional regulations and differing consumer usage.
Digital printing is uniquely positioned to meet the diverse needs of the cannabis packaging industry. Here’s how.
Cannabis labeling presents unique challenges and opportunities.
For those new to the unique packaging needs of the cannabis industry, there are several issues to consider.
First, cannabis labeling requirements vary by locality and use, which precludes the mass production of labels. In Canada, cannabis labels must be simple and clear so as not to appear attractive or appealing to children. In the United States, cannabis chews may come in brightly colored packaging, but labeling requirements for states like California may not match other parts of the United States.
Consumer expectations also diverge: package designs that appeal to recreational cannabis users are unlikely to inspire the appropriate levels of trust for medical users. Each product may require several different label styles depending on where and why it will be purchased, making it difficult for packagers to achieve economies of scale with traditional printing methods.
To add to the complexity, different cannabis strains have different levels of active ingredients that must be specified on the label. In Canada, a packer could handle Sativa Flower, with custom labels showing its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) levels. After filling a few hundred packages, the packer can change the product to Panama Red, which has its own active ingredient levels and therefore requires a labeling change. Even though the products will be sold in the United States, the benefits of each will be different, suggesting the need for small runs of differentiated labeling rather than mass-produced labels that mask the uniqueness of each product.
This variety of requirements and opportunities can make it difficult to use traditional printing processes for cannabis labeling and packaging. Standard installation time for packaging or labeling equipment can range from a few hours to several days, reducing profit margins and slowing the delivery of new products. Cannabis requires a printing solution that can scale with the speed of this emerging market.
Digital printing solves many cannabis packaging needs.
Digital printing offers features tailored to the cannabis industry’s needs for quick setup, short print runs, easy label changes, and clear, vivid label content.
1. Variable data content: One of the advantages of digital printing is that it can accommodate variable data. In Canada, variable data is already included in cannabis labels, indicating the type of cannabis, THC levels and CBD levels, while the label design template remains the same. A customer using an inkjet system could print a total of 5,000 labels at one time, but precisely print as many of each design as needed, each personalized with different types and levels of cannabis to meet regulatory requirements and educate consumers. consumers.
2. No machine configuration required: Digital printing eliminates machine setup, reducing the time and labor required to complete each print run. Artwork can be sent to print and put into production immediately. When a new product is needed, a new design can be submitted while the machine continues to operate. Customers can modify packaging information to comply with local regulations or reflect different plant varieties and benefits, all without wasting days or weeks due to equipment reconfiguration.
3. Excellent graphics quality: Digital printing is comparable in quality to offset printing, which is noticeable in smooth vignettes, attractive natural tones and beautiful plant images. But while highly skilled print technicians may be needed to create plates and setup tools for mass production, digital printers can be used by any employee familiar with the software. This reduced labor cost puts high quality graphics within reach of small producers.
4. Target Marketing: With quick setup and short run times, digital printing makes it cost effective to print all the packaging designs needed by recreational and medical users in every intended distribution area. There is no need for large pouch inventories, long lead times or one-size-fits-all packaging designs. Because digitally printed packaging can be produced quickly and inventory can remain low, packers can adapt on the fly to tomorrow’s regulations and marketing opportunities while using time and supplies efficiently.
5. The packaging replaces the label: Since the digital printers can be retrofitted to existing converting equipment, packers can produce a package size with as many different label designs as needed, without interruption. This means that an existing investment in conversion systems can produce new types of products. With the cannabis market still growing and expanding, packaging requirements for different markets will not be standardized for the foreseeable future.
Digital printing supports sustainability and efficiency goals.
As the world pays increasing attention to climate change and waste management, digital printing on flexible packaging offers benefits to the entire packaging industry. Flexible packaging is lighter, requires less material and takes up less space in a truck than rigid packaging. Digital printing can be done in small batches as needed and the digital inks are water-based, reducing waste and water contamination.
In addition, digital presses emit less CO2 than traditional presses and do not require plates. Industry experts continue to make progress on recyclable and compostable flexible packaging materials to continuously improve the management of waste streams. Conditioners capable of showing attention and action to fight against their environmental impact become privileged partners. All of these benefits can be promoted to appeal to customers and consumers who want to reduce their carbon footprint.
Digital printing is designed for short runs, varied products, different regulatory requirements and divergent consumers that make cannabis a difficult market for packaging. Equipment is available to retrofit traditional packaging equipment with digital printing capabilities. Even better, digital printing makes it possible to produce a variety of packaging solutions, next year and beyond.