Pot sell­ers turn to pack­ag­ing in bid to stand out in crowd

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - JEN­NIFER KAPLAN

One in five Amer­i­can adults can now legally eat, drink, smoke or vape cannabis. For the fledg­ling com­pa­nies fight­ing for cus­tomer at­ten­tion, the game of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing their prod­ucts through brand­ing has be­gun. And noth­ing con­veys th­ese emerg­ing mar­i­juana brands and stories so clearly as the pretty pack­ag­ing in which they’re in­creas­ingly wrapped.

Rolling a crinkly, crooked joint by hand, the pre­ferred pack­ag­ing of an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion of pot smok­ers, seems like a quaint rit­ual com­pared with the new prod­ucts. Ex-

hi­bit A is Toast’s mar­i­juana cig­a­rette packs, which are black with em­bossed art-deco de­signs. “Toast” is writ­ten in gold ital­ics. The cig­a­rettes, called “Slices,” come 10 to a pack.

The fil­ter tip is pur­ple with a gold but­ter­fly and gold text where the pur­ple ends. The brand­ing was in­spired by 1920s cig­a­rette cases, ac­cord­ing to Gabrielle Rein, Toast’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer.

“The pack­ag­ing had to be po­si­tioned as lux­ury,” said Rein. “It had to look very chic and up­scale, it had to be uni­sex.”

Pack­ag­ing is one way com­pa­nies are mak­ing money from mar­i­juana sales with­out the le­gal risk of ac­tu­ally touch­ing the plant. The mar­i­juana in­dus­try was worth $6.7 bil­lion in 2016 and is ex­pected to reach $50 bil­lion by 2025, ac­cord­ing to Cowen and Co.

Ed Kil­duff, the brand­ing guru who cre­ated the Rab­bit wine opener and an Oprah Win­frey-en­dorsed herb saver among many other prod­ucts, is now get­ting into cannabis with his com­pany Pollen Gear. Kil­duff saw an op­por­tu­nity

when he no­ticed how cannabis is typ­i­cally pack­aged: cylin­dri­cal tubes with pop-tops that largely lacked char­ac­ter.

Cannabis re­tail stores were sell­ing dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of weed — bot­tom shelf, mid­dle range and premium — all in the same bor­ing pack­ag­ing. So Kil­duff de­signed a stylish child-proof glass cylin­dri­cal con­tainer to dif­fer­en­ti­ate premium weed prod­ucts.

“There’s no way right now for them to dis­tin­guish their top-shelf flower that costs them more to make,” he said, re­fer­ring to pot re­tail­ers. “Now they fi­nally have a pack­age for it.”

The New York-based com­pany has cus­tom­ized pack­ages for com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Colorado-based Seed and Smith. It also joined forces with Mar­vel comic il­lus­tra­tor Adam Pol­lina to cre­ate la­bels for fa­mous mar­i­juana strains. The la­bel for Go­rilla Glue de­picts a jaded-look­ing go­rilla wear­ing a top hat smok­ing a joint with a burger, fries and a pet cat. The con­tainer for Girl Scout Cook­ies, an­other pop­u­lar strain, shows vest-wear­ing girls tag­ging a brick wall with a mar­i­juana leaf.

Pollen Gear makes child­proof bags, called exit bags,

for weed pack­ages that don’t meet state safety stan­dards. Th­ese bags are in­creas­ingly branded. It also makes rec­tan­gu­lar con­tain­ers with tops that pop off only if you squeeze on two spe­cific points. The field is wide open for in­no­va­tive pack­ag­ing, Kil­duff said.

“If you Google weed pack­ag­ing, the whole front page of Google is just all com­pa­nies im­port­ing the same ex­act prod­uct from China and they’re just com­pet­ing on pen­nies,” he said. “As a prod­uct de­signer, that’s the coolest op­por­tu­nity. It’s like a green field.”

Not that Kil­duff doesn’t have com­pe­ti­tion. Kush Bot­tles Inc. has been serv­ing the weed in­dus­try since it was founded in 2010, be­fore any state had le­gal­ized recre­ational cannabis use. As more states ended mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion, the Santa Ana, Calif.based com­pany ex­panded.

Kush, which is pub­licly traded, started out sup­ply­ing the util­i­tar­ian items in de­mand for the fledg­ling in­dus­try. It now sells pop-tops, exit bags, con­cen­trate con­tain­ers, gloves for dis­pen­sary work­ers, rolling pa­pers, lighters, glass bongs, pipes and more.

“We want to be more pro­fes­sional, we want to be push­ing the in­dus­try,” said Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Nick Ko­vace­vich. “There’s a cannabis cul­ture as well, so it’s about blend­ing.”

In­creas­ingly, though, Kush’s clien­tele is ask­ing for more cus­tom brand­ing. The com­pany re­cently cre­ated a wide­mouthed con­tainer with a push-in, lift-up tab to bet­ter ac­com­mo­date ed­i­bles and larger quan­ti­ties of cannabis flower.

“Peo­ple buy their booze based on the mar­ket­ing and the ad­ver­tis­ing and the shape of the bot­tle,” and cannabis’ time has now come, too, said Pollen Gear’s Kil­duff. “There’s so many things to make.”

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