by Gary Paulin, Lightning Labels
Budding cannabis companies: Pay attention to labels from the get-go
Cannabis companies starting up in states where recreational and medicinal marijuana are just being legalized need to pay close attention to their label branding from the get-go. Too often, this critical part of a successful cannabis business becomes an afterthought — which can lead to major problems in compliance, competitive positioning and credibility in the marketplace.
As the cannabis industry expands in the U.S. and now Canada, it’s also maturing. Gone are the days when a purveyor could hang out a shingle and open their doors to teeming masses of buyers without any substantive concern about packaging and labeling beyond early-day regulatory compliance.
With the industry maturing, so is the sophistication of entities charged with compliance. As more is learned about all aspects of the industry — from edibles to raw cannabis — requirements being placed on purveyors are getting more complex. Plus, there are municipal and state regulations that may cross over one another.
It’s never too soon to get into the branding game, and distinctive labels that grab attention and share important information accurately are key to making a name for yourself.
A Forbes article earlier this year made the case: “Tim Calkins, Clinical Professor of Marketing at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, foresees a highly competitive environment… an outburst of marketing and branding innovation… ‘We will see very creative brand-building activities in the years to come. I anticipate that marketing investment will grow exponentially as companies work to carve out a leading position and capture value in an emerging market…It isn’t often that you see an entirely new market emerge on the scene, especially one where brands will play a key role. Many people first experienced cannabis as a[n] unbranded plastic bag. This is not likely to be the future state. Cannabis will become a market dominated by strong, vibrant brands.’”
In their startup enthusiasm, purveyors may miss something on the label compliance scene. It’s easy to do, but can be very hard to fix. Products have had to be recalled, companies have been fined or even shut down for running afoul of regulations. Labels, as a product’s “front door,” are especially susceptible.
A Manufacturing.net report reinforces the point: “Often, cannabis products require specialized labels for traceability and stating suggested medical applications. State laws still vary greatly, and companies should be careful to know and have tools to track their compliance in all states and countries that they do business.”
Bottom line, newcomers to the industry need to be as diligent about their labeling and packaging as they had to be to get license approval. Anything less may result in more headaches than they can imagine.
Credibility in the Marketplace
In Colorado’s early days of cannabis legalization, some labeling and packaging looked — to put it mildly — homespun. The look and feel of that early-day branding pales in comparison to the much more sophisticated label and packaging branding typically seen today.
But for industry newbies, there can still be a temptation to move ahead on operations at lightning speed, with branding, packaging and labeling lagging behind.
Ultimately, that may stifle credibility, giving competitors an opportunity to get a leg up. Ontario, Canada’s experience so far showcases how label problems can hamper credibility. Their online marketplace is the only “game in town” so far; there are no brick-and-mortar establishments. But, in a competitive marketplace, purveyor missteps can cause reputation damage as well as regulatory repercussions.
Notes a Civilized.life article, “Ontario Cannabis Store Faces Backlash Over Improperly Labeled Products… When Peter Lyon logged on to the OCS website on October 17, he did so with the intention of buying a strain high in THC — the compound in marijuana that gets you high. However, that is not what he got… Not only is the error in the product labeling upsetting for customers who won’t be getting what they paid for, cannabis retailers have a legal obligation to ensure that their labelling is accurate. Otherwise someone looking to unwind with a low-THC strain could wind up having a panic attack because the product they bought is way too potent.”
The first blush of entering a new marketplace deserves branding, labeling and packaging that measure up.
Gary Paulin is Director of Sales and Client Services for Lightning Labels, a Denver-based label printer that has been offering state-of-the-art affordable, full-color custom labels and custom stickers of all shapes and sizes to cannabis purveyors for more than a decade. They offer many options for materials and laminates and special effects to achieve digital short-run requirements (50 minimum) on up to 15 million labels, plus Lightning fast delivery. For more information and to place orders online, visit LightningLabels.com. For the latest in packaging news and labeling promotional offers, find Lightning Labels on, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (@LightningLabels), Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.