The heated presidential race isn’t the only big-ticket item on the ballot this year – six states will also be voting on the legalization of cannabis, both for recreational or “adult-use” and medical use.
(Quick catch-up on where we’re at with legalization: currently, medical cannabis is legal in 35 states and adult-use cannabis is legal in 11 states, plus the District of Columbia. Votes could bring those numbers up to 37 and 15, if all measures are approved in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota and medical use is approved in Mississippi and in South Dakota, where voters will decide both. Other states such as Pennsylvania are voting to decriminalize possession – increasing momentum for future legislation. As governments face enormous budget deficits due to COVID-19, we expect them to increasingly turn to cannabis as a solution for increasing revenue.)
In addition to the legislative environment, COVID-19 has changed the adult-use landscape of cannabis, with demand continuing to climb. Net net, it’s a critical time for manufacturers and retailers to build brand awareness in these potential new markets and develop a strategy to stand out in the industry’s fragmented retail landscape.
First, it’s important to not only understand the state regulations around legalized cannabis but also the nuances of your state and surrounding states to ensure the product/retail experience resonates with customers.
When looking at the customer base for the industry, there are three core segments: 1) adult-use consumers 2) medical patients and 3) those who consume for both – each with different attitudes and behaviors toward usage. Even further segmentation is required to zero in on what attracts customers to your product in order to develop brand positioning and messaging, create appropriate sales material, and inform packaging.
From a packaging perspective, my colleague Lauren McCluskey (Magid’s resident packaging expert and VP of Qualitative Research) outlines three key areas to consider first:
- Opacity – need to protect the product from oxygen and light.
- Safety – need to ensure the packaging is secure (and has not been tampered with), childproof and unappealing to children (and pets!). This will grow increasingly important as the market for edibles and HABA products grow.
- Authenticity – need to communicate to customers they’re getting the quality cannabis at verified THC levels.
For packaging design, looking at what’s in the market today, it’s all very high end, subdued, and sophisticated. And in adjacent spaces that are more established like CBD or infused edibles, you’ll see a parallel retail look and feel (KIVA, made by expert chocolatiers, is a great example).
Cannabis is an optimal target for the “intelligent packaging” market. We strongly believe we will see the emergence of advanced packaging technologies to ensure safety and enhance communication with consumers. Digitally enabling sales materials and packaging to be an intelligent link between the consumer and brand can provide significant support in the education process and also foster repeat sales.
The industry is still centered on consultative sales and referrals matter, but packaging is an integral part of the consumer experience. Pairing robust digital tools and engaging content with an informed salesforce will be key to succeeding and scaling in the cannabis marketplace.
Finally, this wouldn’t be an article published in 2020 without considering the implications of COVID-19 on the industry. In the State of the Cannabis Industry 2020 report from Vangst, Leaflink and Flowhub, experts note that the initial impact was consumer purchasing spiked, dropped, then started to stabilize, and more ordering ahead options and other e-commerce solutions emerged. Curbside pickup and delivery enabled by digital and e-commerce tools was key to this growth.
As more brands and distribution/retail systems enter this space (following presumed legalization in additional states) and as we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, the landscape will only become more fragmented. By establishing a credible brand in new markets early, manufacturers/retailers will be in a powerful position to stand out in the space and own a bigger segment of the market as it grows.