How to find a cannabis packaging supplier and what to avoid

How to find a cannabis packaging supplier and what to avoid
Finding the right packaging supplier for a marijuana or hemp business can be rife with pitfalls. Supply-chain issues, long lead times, bad culture fits – the list of potential problems is long.
To sidestep such risks, find suppliers who focus on quality, communication and transparency, to name a few desirable qualities.
That's according to the executives from several North American cannabis companies who spoke to Hemp Industry Daily about what to look for in a prospective packaging supplier, as well as red flags to avoid.
Their quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
Brooks Allman, founder and head of product, Platinum Brands, Denver
Find a packaging supplier who can consistently meet deadlines and provide plenty of forewarning about delays.
Depending on how you source your packaging, it is also very important for both you and the supplier to understand each other's cultures.
For example, Chinese New Year takes place in February, which can interrupt lead times.
Not knowing how to properly prepare for orders around that time can lead to challenges.

Chris Lane, chief marketing officer, Airfield Supply Co., San Jose, California 
Our No. 1 goal was to find companies that truly shared our values of sustainability and recyclability but could also live up to our design intent for the brand – ones that could source materials like recyclable steel, reclaimed ocean plastic and post-consumer-waste paper – but also understood that we had a design goal to reach.
We knew that we didn’t want to compromise on either side, but that, in doing so, it would make for a more complex process.

Jonathan Persofsky, co-founder and CEO, Green Gruff, Boca Raton, Florida
It’s all about ability to deliver and lead times. Make sure you can get what you need to match your production runs.
You also need a supplier that can help forecast properly, so you don’t get caught without packaging when you need it.

Samip Shah, chief operating officer, C3 Industries, Ann Arbor, Michigan
It’s critical for suppliers to have worked with a variety of packaging materials and form factors.
Packaging suppliers with industry range (e.g., cosmetics, food, pharma, beauty, etc.) tend to have really strong problem-solving capabilities within their organizations – this is a key attribute.

Erin Mulkeran, product and special projects manager, High Life Farms, Chesaning, Michigan
With everything that has happened over the last few years, packaging suppliers are finding it difficult to secure their raw materials.
We have found the ones that have an extensive list of partners have been able to provide us with consistent services.
Also, due to the shipping-container issues, it seems the larger suppliers are able to secure them faster, so while you may pay a higher fee for shipping you will at least get them in a timely manner.

Thomas Winstanley, vice president of marketing, Theory Wellness, Stoneham, Massachusetts  

Reliability is crucial. It’s always essential to ensure that they can deliver on any promises, whether a timeline, price point or general quality.
This becomes increasingly important when you evaluate their place in the supply chain and whether they are brokering or directly producing. The more degrees of separation, the greater propensity for error or gaps.

Red Flags

Allie Marconi, senior director of marketing, Copperstate Farms and Sol Flower, Snowflake, Arizona
If there is poor communication in the beginning, that’s a red flag for me.
Working with a packaging vendor is a partnership, and you need to be able to rely on them, especially in crunch-time situations.
A strong two-way share of information is essential.
When I need something prioritized with a supplier, a prompt response and a strategy is reassuring and shows that this isn’t a one-sided goal.

Eric Leslie, chief marketing officer and co-owner, Cheeba Chews, Boulder, Colorado
A lot of the packaging companies that we are solicited by are just sourcing materials and solutions from overseas.
This means you need a lead time of at least 45 days – in normal circumstances – to get your packaging and that there’s a middleman upcharge on the cost.
Long lead times could also mean the company just can’t support your breakneck industry pace.
With supply-chain issues constantly in flux, there will be inevitable delays, but your best providers will do all they can to help prioritize your production timeline.

Trent Woloveck, chief commercial director, Jushi Holdings, Boca Raton, Florida
Packaging suppliers often mask actual costs by adding surcharges, increased shipping expenses and variable tariff charges.
All these additional expenses will then be invoiced, either separately from the packaging product purchased or as a collective line item.
Therefore, it may seem like you’re saving money with packaging, but in reality, the actual cost is often unpredictable and difficult to track.

Lauren Claire Smith, director of product and innovation strategy, Plus, San Mateo, California 
Always get a physical sample of any packaging prior to purchase.
Fill it with your actual product (or a 3D-printed version) and gauge the typical user experience by practicing opening and closing it.
The child-resistant packaging required for cannabis by state regulators can be cumbersome and finicky.
The consumer’s experience is paramount, so personally ensuring ease of access to the product is critical.

Austin Stevenson, chief innovation officer, Vertosa, Oakland, California
A big red flag that cannabis operators should look out for in packaging suppliers is an unfamiliarity with local compliance requirements.
We currently operate in a fragmented, state-by-state (marijuan regulatory structure, and it’s critical that brands have compliant packaging.

Compliance in packaging relates to font size, legal warnings or disclaimers that must be posted on the package, child-resistant closures, tamper-evident features, marketing that implies certain health claims and opacity and permeability.

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