Packaging Options for Cannabis Infused Products

cannabis packaging assurpack

Interview with Nancy Warner the founder of Assurpack.com.

Nancy leveraged her background in pharmaceutical packaging to bring child-safe packaging and automation to the cannabis industry.

Learn More at, Assurpack.com

Key Takeaways:
[2:08] – What is Assurpack
[2:31] – Nancy talks about her background
[4:52] – High-level overview of where product packaging is in the cannabis space
[5:44] – Nancy talks about what can happen with poor packaging
[6:20] – Different packaging options for infused product companies
[8:18] – Nancy talks about where she fits in in a company’s lifecycle
[11:33] – Nancy talks about designing packaging
[13:38] – Price ranges for packaging
[15:32] – Timeframe for custom packaging
[17:39] – Process of packaging
[20:18] – Nancy talks about the evolution of the packaging industry
[21:53] – Transitioning from the pharmaceutical to cannabis industry
[25:10] – Most common questions Nancy gets from prospective clients
[27:39] – Nancy answers some personal development questions
[30:24] – Nancy’s contact information

Important Update:
What are the five trends that will disrupt the cannabis market in the next five years? Find out with your free guide at https://www.cannainsider.com/trends

Read Full Transcript

Packaging is a huge consideration for cannabis infused product companies both in terms of having a child-proof and safe product but also in terms of maintaining a visible brand identity that resonates with customers. Here to talk with us about packaging in the cannabis industry is Nancy Warner of Assurpack. Nancy, welcome to CannaInsider.

Nancy: Thanks Matt. Great to be here.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Nancy: I am in northern New Jersey. A few miles from New York City.

Matthew: Okay great, and I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland today.

Nancy: Cool.

Matthew: So Nancy what is Assurpack at a very high level? Tell us what it is.

Nancy: Assurpack is a packaging company that provides custom engineered child resistant packaging solution, both components and some equipment, for mostly infused and edible products.

Matthew: Okay. And what’s your background? How did you get started with Assurpack and then get into the cannabis industry?

Nancy: Okay well I’ve been in the packaging industry my whole career. I have a degree in package engineering so I’ve been doing this a long time.

Matthew: I didn’t even know that was a field of study. Where do you go for that?

Nancy: I went to Michigan State but there are probably about 10 different universities around the country that have this program.

Matthew: Oh that’s cool.

Nancy: And I started out on the corporate side and I was actually at a pharmaceutical company as the manager of package engineering and then switched on to the supplier side and worked in the pharmaceutical contract packaging industry and business development and sales for most of my career. So I pivoted out of that corporate sales environment to try and do some more entrepreneurial ventures and ended up starting Assurpack when I saw an opportunity in the cannabis space with my background in child resistant and pharmaceutical packaging.

Matthew: Good timing. Good timing there. Now I mean in the case of pharmaceutical companies they have such a huge margin on their product that it really does make sense to look at how to impact the perceived value of consumer’s choice. Did you take a lot of that away from your experience in the pharmaceutical industry and bring it over into the cannabis space?

Nancy: Well what I find is interesting Matt is in the pharmaceutical industry all the packaging is geared towards high speed automation. Okay, and the packaging is not that innovative when you look at it because of the required automation and speed at which these packages have to run on machines. So what I did was kind of look at how to reverse engineer some of these packages used in the pharmaceutical industry into simple components that don’t require high speed machinery to bring it to the cannabis industry. Also now it’s opened up a lot more opportunity for creativity because we don’t have the demands of running on high speed machines right now.

Matthew: Yes it’s too small for that. Give us a high level overview for people that just don’t understand or they’re just getting into the cannabis space or they’re in it but they don’t really understand where we are at a high level in terms of where is cannabis product packaging right now if you had to give someone a quick summary?

Nancy: Well I would say the quick summary from my perspective is that we’re moving beyond what I would call simple bottles and bags and I think the industry started out with simple Ziploc bags and pharmacy type bottles and now you see a lot more creative child resistant packaging that is really doing some beautiful branding with the packaging out in the industry. So I’m very excited about it.

Matthew: Now a lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about hey I want to get this much THC or terpenes or such and such into my product or I want to have the most tricomes per square inch or something like that and they’re not thinking about the packaging. What’s at stake if packaging is not executed or is poorly executed? What can happen? What do you see? What are the outcomes?

Nancy: Well I think one of the outcomes is that you’re limited in your choice of what type of packaging you can use. If you don’t start looking at the packaging options and how you plan to package and what you need for your package when you start thinking about your product development, then you’re going to leave the packaging options until the end and then you’re going to be scrambling and just take whatever is easily available and readily available to help you launch. So my suggestion to people is always start early.

Matthew: Okay. And walk us through the different kinds of packaging there is for infused product companies right now.

Nancy: Okay well one of the packages that we’ve been bringing to the cannabis industry is a unit dose or a single serving blister package, and in order to make that blister package child resistant we use a patented blister card that was developed for the pharmaceutical industry and I brought this to the cannabis space. That card provides what we call an F1 Certified Child Resistant feature meaning it’s the highest rated child resistant package. If you get into one blister cavity, one dose it’s considered a failure in the child resistant protocol test that we have to go through.

So this blister package has allowed a process in a manufacturing operation where people can have a machine. They’re using blisters, not little single blisters, but we try to give them a good manufacturing process to get some better output and a reliable speed at which they can package their products. Also the dosing becomes more reliable. We’re engraving the Colorado required symbol into the bottom of the blisters so people are actually using our blister as the mold for their candies. So they’re pouring the hot candy into the blister and the symbol is at the bottom so when the product sets up in the blister that symbol is on the candy itself, and then we use that for the blister inside the package as well. So you’re not having to pour candy into a mold, take it out of the mold, put it into a package.

Matthew: Okay. So it’s flush. The candy is flush in the blister pack if they make that mold or they thing ahead of time. That makes sense. Makes it kind of a perfect fit as possible.

Nancy: Right.

Matthew: Now do you work mostly with startups or mature companies? Where do you fit in with different sized companies in their life cycle?

Nancy: Well we’ve been working with a lot of startup companies, some of who have grown very large and some of whom have not. The type of packaging that we provide, especially in the blister packaging where you need some equipment and it’s manufactured on high speed machinery, you need some good volume in order to justify the investment to do that type of packaging because there’s custom molds and some small machines involved, but we’re also supporting some of the larger brands as well. What we do is very scalable. So we can start out with small, very semiautomatic type of systems and as we get bigger we can help support people into very high speed applications for these type of packages.

Matthew: So when you say you need some minimum size or quantity, in your mind, what is the kind of threshold where your services start to become more important?

Nancy: Well we have a threshold of about 25,000 units for our custom packaging, but this past year I’ve spent the year developing some new packages which are more stock items. They are injection molded, and these packages have been developed specifically for the concentrate products. So we have a little recloseable box with a silicone lining for wax and shatter and some of those type of product, and another size and shape of a similar package for prefilled oil cartridges. So those packages don’t require any machinery and also you can buy ver small quantities of those packages. So I’m trying to expand the product line to offer different types of packages to people.

Matthew: And it’s not required that a smaller or newer infused product company be able to do 25,000 units at once. They could do three months worth that could make up 25,000 or something like that, correct?

Nancy: Correct, correct. Yeah, and we also are working with companies to try to encourage them to look for customization in a simpler form such as a custom folding box to put a stock bottle into a very uniquely designed folding carton that can be printed and have a shape that’s very unique on their own. We give you the branding opportunity and it doesn’t necessarily require you to have a custom inner child resistant package.

Matthew: Okay. Now obviously everybody with an infused product really wants the product to stand out. Some people really have a knack for this where the design, there’s something really visceral about it where you have a connection that resonates with you and others just look like they were designed in a basement with low light with little thoughts or care at all and there’s such a huge spectrum there. Can you tell us anything about you or your customers where you look at the end product wow, this was properly done and maybe an example of when it’s not properly done. How to contrast those two things so listeners can stay on the right side and do things the correct way and have a product that looks great.

Nancy: Sure. Well what we do is mostly structural and what I would look at in terms of what you’re discussing as far as the branding is the graphic image and this comes from good graphic design. We don’t do graphic design, but we work with graphic designers who are using our packages and doing their graphics for these packages and I think the best branding comes from the best designers and that’s true in any industry. So I encourage people to seek out some good design help, either graphic or industrial design to give them input to create a brand because you can’t create a brand without some people who know how to do that. I think looking at getting the best help you can and the best services from people who you can look at their portfolios and see what they’ve done and select the right design agency or group that fits your needs.

Matthew: And do you refer out contacts in this way when people reach out to you for graphic designers?

Nancy: I do. I do if people ask me.

Matthew: Okay. I’ve also used 99Designs in the past and have been very happy. You create a design contest for packaging and you only have to pay if you like one of the designs. It’s a pretty clever system. So I encourage people to give that a try.

Nancy: Yes I’ve done that for a logo when I did that for one of my businesses.

Matthew: Yeah what did you think?

Nancy: It was a lot of fun. It worked.

Matthew: Yeah, can you walk us through one or two examples of what your service is and packaging might cost at a high level so we can digest how to budget for it because people have investors or they’re setting out budgets for the rest of the year and so forth and they just want to know how to properly think about this so they can say I’m going to sell this product at this price. I have to allot this much for packaging and so on and so forth. Do you have some real high level math there?

Nancy: Well it’s really hard to say Matt because packaging is really volume related especially when we’re doing custom packaging so something could cost 25 cents or it could cost up to a dollar. It really depends on what you’re doing and the size of the package and how many colors, but on the stock packaging we’ve created price lists for some of the items that are more standard and they range anywhere from 25 cents to 65 cents depending on what it is. So people want unique packages. I’m working really hard to find that solution.

One of the issues for me in development is that it’s so expensive to develop a child resistant package. You have mold cost, you have child resistant testing cost. I would say on average it costs me between $30,000 and $50,000 to develop a new child resistant package from scratch.

Matthew: Wow.

Nancy: It’s not inexpensive and it’s a long process.

Matthew: And you want to be sure you create a design that you can use for a while then if it cost that much.

Nancy: Yes, yes. I mean there are other less expensive versions of it. So maybe $20,000 to $50,000 but it’s a large investment. So companies like myself are taking that on so that smaller branded companies can have the advantage of having some of these unique packages.

Matthew: Okay. So let’s walk through typically, I know every case is a little different, but a client reaches out to you. They have some infused product and they want to work with you and they want to get some custom packaging done and want to automate it to some extent. How long does that back and forth take and what kind of information do you need from them and then finally when you have everything you need, if you do a run of 25,000, how long does that take?

Nancy: Oka we tell people that we can usually do a custom package in about eight weeks which is really not a long time for the blister packaging. For other packages that we do it could be less time than that. If we’re just talking about printing plates and dyes for a unique folding carton or if we’re talking about a pouch that we do that’s a single serving child resistant pouch with an opening feature. And as far as the stock items that we have we can do labeling application and decorating to customize those packages as well. So our timeframe doesn’t really go beyond eight weeks when we start working with people and they’re ready to commit and get going.

Matthew: Okay.

Nancy: We need information like the size of the product, what kind of tolerance is on your product. If we could recommend a size change slightly in the shape or the size, you might get a better layout and a more cost effective package. We need to know how many colors you’re going to print and what kind of graphics you want to utilize. So a lot of these questions come up in the beginning based on my experience and I have a colleague based in Colorado and she’s also from the pharmaceutical packaging industry. We know how to do this very quickly because we’ve been doing it a long time.

Matthew: Okay. Good. Now to what extent are humans involved. This is still somewhat pretty manual since the size is small. I look on one end of the spectrum you have Elon Musk in the Tesla factory that operates in the dark because it’s all robots and robots don’t even need light for eyes. This is a different thing. This is more elementary and you have a human involved.

Nancy: Correct.

Matthew: So if we were looking at a blister pack assembly for let’s say an infused gum, something like that, what does that look like?

Nancy: From the beginning, what does it look like?

Matthew: So you have the gum on one end and then how does it make its way through the gum getting into this packaging and sealed?

Nancy: Okay. We provide pre-form blisters and you would load your gum into each cavity and we help people how to do that in a process that’s not placing each particular piece of gum into a blister but there’s different ways to have a hand feed operation that’s a little better than one at a time. Then we would provide also the foil backing that matches the pre-form blister, and then there’s a heat seal machine that’s either a table top or larger versions that you would then seal that blister with the plastic and the foil with the gum inside into a sealed package.

Then the second step would be to put it into a child resistant package, either a blister card or a recloseable child resistant carton and that would maybe either require additional machinery or not. There’s recloseable cartons that you would then just attach the blister in that printed carton or our blister cards are a second heat sealing step where you would take the card, bottom card, place the seal blister with the gum inside of it with the foil and then the top card and that gets sealed together and when you take that out it’s a finished carded blister package ready to go.

Matthew: Okay. So we mentioned gum there, but can you just kind of rattle off the top packaging you do? Is it gum, gummies? What are they?

Nancy: We do gummies, packaging for gummies, for caramels, for chocolates, from mints, for chews. So many different types of products. For oil cartridges people want a blister card and also the blister card allows you to put it on a rack in a dispensary. So it gives you good display options in a dispensary.

Matthew: Do some people like to have a transparency window so you can see through?

Nancy: They do but then in Colorado the child resistant packaging is required to be opaque. So it depends on the state regulations of where you’re selling your product.

Matthew: Okay. And where are you helping provide packaging? Is it just in Colorado or are you in multiple states now?

Nancy: We’re in multiple states now so it’s pretty exciting.

Matthew: Okay so pretty much anybody can reach out to you if they’re interested if they’re in the United States.

Nancy: Absolutely.

Matthew: Okay. And how do you see the cannabis packaging market evolving? I mean you mentioned a little bit about the bags and how we’re moving away from bags somewhat. What do you think it will look like in three to five years from now?

Nancy: I think we’re going to have the most creative child resistant packaging in the cannabis industry that’s available in the market today. One funny thing that’s happening to me, a few of the packages that I’ve developed for the cannabis space I now have some pharmaceutical colleagues wanting these packages for pharma which is an opposite direction of where I was headed, but they don’t have these creative packages so I just find it really interesting what’s going on.

Matthew: There’s something about the cannabis industry that spawns creativity I think is what you’re saying Nancy. I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

Nancy: No it’s true and it’s very exciting to be a part of it.

Matthew: Yeah. You and I met in 2014 at the Marijuana Business Conference. I believe we were standing in line at the Starbucks there and at that time you were kind of doing your due diligence on the industry and wanted to bring your expertise to the industry. Can you tell us about your journey and transitioning from the pharmaceutical world. Because as I talk to you now, you’ve got both feet in this industry and you’re doing well with this and you have a strong foundation and it’s worked, but there’s a lot of people that are listening that are like wow, Nancy has this magical confidence but that’s not the case. I mean I try to paint a picture that it’s just people are building this brick by brick and there’s no magic wand. So could you just talk a little bit about your transition maybe from the pharmaceutical world, how you made that transition, how you went to shows and how you kind of made this happen step by step?

Nancy: Okay. So basically I had a small business in New Jersey, a pharmaceutical contract packaging in business that due to FDA regulations was not going to be able to grow because there was a huge fee that the FDA imposed on us. So I found myself in a position where I had a new business, relative young business that the business model was not going to succeed. So we were trying to look at different options of what we could do and my family from Colorado was at my house for a holiday in New Jersey. My sister-in-law and her twin sister own the oldest head shop in Boulder, Colorado. I’m going to shout out to the Fitter here.

And talked about what’s going on with legalization and some of the issues with some of the overdoses with edibles and it got me thinking about well they need child resistant packaging and after they left I started looking into it and there were regulations requiring child resistant packaging. This was in about April 2014. So I started thinking about what can I differently because bottles and bags were kind of boring, and I said there’s a different way to do this.

So in my mind I thought about the institutional pharmacy market and for those of you who are not aware of it, institutional pharmacy market is a big industry that is an industry that’s regionalized like the cannabis industry is and what people do there is they buy pharmaceutical products in bulk and then they have small machines that they’re buying preformed blisters and cards and they’re packaging patients’ doses for a 30 day one month dose with multiple products in servicing the prison industry, the nursing home industry, nursing homes, things like that. So that got me thinking because it was an interesting business model for this industry, and what I needed was a child resistant blister card because those cards are not child resistant.

So I knew the owner of a packaging company here in New Jersey who has the patented F1 Child Resistant Blister Card and I approached him and I said would you give me exclusivity to take your IP and your packaging that you would manufacture for me into the cannabis world. And because he’s known me a long time, and he trusts that I would take care of his IP and know what I’m doing, he said sure Nancy go ahead. So that gave me the basis to have something unique to go out and start selling, and I had to put the whole supply chain together of how to do this, create it, and then I had to go find customers.

Matthew: Sure. Yeah and that’s a good point. How do you go find customers? How do you do that?

Nancy: How do you do that? Well you just go to trade shows. You go out, you start talking to people. I’m constantly reading and listening to your podcast and other avenues so that I can learn about people and I just reach out and cold call, just put yourself out there.

Matthew: Yeah. What are the most common questions you get from prospects when they approach you at a trade show or they want to know what you do and how you can help them?

Nancy: Well I guess the questions that we get most are how do these packages work, like you were asking. And it’s not a simple story to tell and I wish I had it down in one sentence that would describe what we do and how we do it, but because it’s custom and a lot of it is custom engineered and there’s a lot of parts to it, we’re having to teach people what we do and what the packaging process is and how to do this.

Matthew: Okay. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing over the last few years since you’ve been in the cannabis industry about your approach or your technique or how you got into it, would you have done anything differently with that one wave of the magic wand? I like to stump here on CannaInsider Nancy.

Nancy: You know I’ve had few mistakes. I think one of the big issues has been getting the right professional support to help me from a business perspective. Not necessarily the packaging. I know the packaging part very well, but getting the right lawyers, getting the right accountants, financial support, getting people to help me with my supply chain. All those types of professional support has been challenging.

Matthew: Okay. You know I have people reach out all the time saying they want to get into the cannabis industry. It sounds like there’s a very specific need in your type of operation. If you were to hire somebody, what type of background do they need to have? What’s ideal?

Nancy: Well I think a packaging background is very helpful but not necessarily required because I can support people on the ground who aren’t technical with the technical support they need. So I think you have to be good with people. You have to be good with details. Follow through. I consider myself very professional and like to present myself and my company that way and want people on the ground who also do that.

Matthew: That’s good. So you’re saying as long as they’re professional and have some competency, you might be able to mold them into the right fit into your business.

Nancy: I think so.

Matthew: Okay. A few personal development questions to help listeners get a sense of who you are personally. So with that is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you would like to share?

Nancy: Well there’s a series of books that were written by a childhood friend of mine Iris Krasnow and her books are kind of a coming of age series and she started in the 90s until the 2000s and her first book was Surrendering to Motherhood and then she had a book about Surrendering to Marriage and then Surrendering to the Self, and she was a journalist and has interviewed people, women and have their stories and her stories. It’s just really a wonderful support system. When you’re by yourself it’s something to read and feel not alone and to listen to other women’s journeys and experiences who are similar to yourself and maybe give you insight and maybe how to think about something differently.

Matthew: Well that’s pretty cool to have such a meaningful book be written by a friend. Did you boomerang back around to your friend Iris and say hey, ask questions and talk about it a little bit?

Nancy: When we get a chance. She’s very busy as I am, we like to connect.

Matthew: Is there a tool web based or otherwise you consider indispensible to your productivity you would like to share?

Nancy: I think Google and all my Apple products. I think about this a lot because I’ve been in packaging and sales and business development for many years. Started out way before we had these tools and I’m so appreciative. I could not have this business today without these tools. There would be no way that I could pull everything together that I need to do on a daily basis without this. Finding resources, finding information, finding people. It’s just amazing to me.

Matthew: Yeah you’re not kidding. There’s one tool that I use called Jing and it’s this little thing that sits on my desktop. I press a button, a square pops up and then I can start recording something on my desktop and then I press finish and it gives me a url and I can share it with people. That tool has saved me probably hundreds of hours because I can show people what I mean instead of typing it out and hoping they comprehend what I mean and then can translate that into something. So it’s such a big deal. I don’t know how I got by without it. Now it’s just part of my day-to-day life. Every day I use it. It’s crazy.

Nancy: Sounds great.

Matthew: Yeah. It is. I asked you to share one and then I shared one too.

Nancy: Okay thank you.

Matthew: Nancy in closing how can listeners find out more about Assurpack and connect with you and find out about your services and so forth?

Nancy: Well they can go to www.assurpack.com. You can send an email through info@assurpack.com and we can get back to you with information and we would love to hear from people.

Matthew: Now are you going to be at the next Marijuana Business Conference and Expo?

Nancy: I am. I’ll also be at the next NCIA Trade Show in Oakland.

Matthew: Okay great. So look for you there then.

Nancy: I’ll be in D.C. in May with Marijuana Business Expo and then Oakland in June.

Matthew: Perfect. Well Nancy thanks for coming on and educating us about packaging. I wish you all the best.

Nancy: Thank you so much Matt. I do appreciate your connecting me with your audience.