Packaging failures are more common than you may think, especially in the cannabis industry where regulations and requirements can change rapidly. In California, several high-profile companies had invested in new packaging shortly before new regulations took effect this year, and all that hard work (and expense) hit the trash bin because some part of the container, label, or child-resistance was no longer compliant.
These costly mistakes not only impact the bottom line, but also have future ramifications. Growers and producers will be unable to ship any product until new, compliant packaging is developed and manufactured. In other words, discovering your packaging is not working is a nightmare.
One unfortunate yet common occurrence when using plastic containers, like pop tops, is chemicals or odors leaching into the product, causing the containers’ contents (flower, for example) to smell like plastic. This often occurs when cheaper plastic is used to manufacture the container and/or contaminants have entered the production process. Some companies try to ameliorate the condition by moving manufacturing to the United States and using higher grade plastics. However it is important to note virtually any type of packaging has the potential to affect the smell and taste of the product it holds. A well-known food manufacturer’s shipment of fine chocolates was impacted when the cardboard heart-shaped candy box was found to have a chemical odor. An analysis of the package found low-grade molecular compounds similar to mineral oil. When presented with the facts, the Chinese box manufacturer admitted it had used naphtha instead of isopropanol to clean the boxes prior to shipping.
Material type, material quality, and manufacturing processes all can significantly impact the contents of packaged goods.
Adhesion and sealing
All too often, containers open prematurely, causing products to leak or become exposed to the elements. Some packaging manufacturers are experimenting with lower-cost adhesives, such as a polyurethane-acrylic hot melt, and the results are mixed. Other times, adhesives are not properly cured, and incomplete polymerization causes premature deterioration of the seal. In plain English, your box can pop open and labels can fall off while the product is still sitting on the shelf. This can cause flower or extract to become contaminated or result in time-consuming labor to re-adhere ineffective labels.
While uncommon in the cannabis industry, canned products like soups, vegetables, or other food items frequently come open prior to sale. This is due to incorrect application of the epoxy liner inside the can, which causes it to delaminate and the top or bottom to detach. Tiny variations in the epoxy manufacturing process can cause the problem. If the manufacturing environment is not tightly controlled, the introduction of a foreign substance such as sulfur can cause the epoxy to fail.
This is a big problem in the cannabis industry, because so many products rely on a label to convey vital information. On some packages, the label includes testing results and other required information. On other types of packages, the label contains all the product information as well as branding elements including logos. Understandably, a labeling failure can be a big headache.
Not all label failures are due to faulty adhesive. Some are due to ink migration or smearing. Some packages are designed with a gloss surface, making it almost impossible for the label to stay adhered through no fault of its own.
Successful labels are designed in conjunction with the package itself. It is vital that a packaging team understand the numerous elements that can significantly impact label quality and usability.
The bottom line
It would be easy to say all packaging failures can be avoided if handled by a professional, reputable, and experienced packaging company. There are, however, a lot of do-it-yourselfers who want to save a few bucks and try to manage the process themselves. For them, it is important to note not all contract packaging manufacturers are equal.
When working with a packaging company, don’t ask for a type of packaging that is outside their core expertise. While they may bid on the job, there are many things that can go wrong when dealing with companies operating outside their skill set. Also remember some manufacturers may subcontract jobs to other companies when they don’t have a certain piece of equipment or they are too busy. Accordingly, make sure you know who is handling all aspects of your project. Transparency and honesty are key.
Packaging doesn’t have to be a nightmare. The key is knowing the minefield before you enter. If you choose to work with outside vendors, select an experienced and reputable partner who will make sure your project is error-free so your package works like a dream.
KARY RADESTOCK brings more than 20 years of award-winning print and packaging expertise to some of the top brands in the world. She launched Hippo Premium Packaging in order to fill a need for professional, compliant packaging, brand development, and graphic design for the emerging cannabis industry.