Garden Society launched in Sonoma County, CA, in 2016 with the mission of delivering high-quality cannabis edibles and pre-rolls to women looking to relieve pain and stress and live life more fully. The company emphasizes the use of biodynamic farming methods, fair trade, and locally sourced ingredients, and conveys a natural, sophisticated feel through their botanical graphics and packaging.
California’s Proposition 65 requiring child-resistant packaging for cannabis products went into effect in July 2018. The startup sought a sustainable child-resistant box, but Karli Warner, Garden Society’s Co-Founder, says many were hard to use or didn’t have the desired materials.
“Cannabis packaging is really challenging. Right now, there aren’t great sustainable options,” says Warner. At the time, the only sustainable box option was too costly for a small startup. “We bootstrapped the company until September of 2018. We already use high-quality ingredients in the edibles, so we couldn’t price ourselves out of the market by using extremely expensive packaging.”
Adding to the complication, Warner and her co-founder, Erin Gore, wanted individual chocolates in a formed tray, meaning that the tray had to fit both the chocolates and the ASTM-approved box.
To stay on the market in 2018 as they worked toward more permanent packaging, Garden Society incorporated child-resistant mylar bags. “Mylar bags have gotten us through the gap while packaging companies have had time to form new box configurations. While the bag is not necessarily on point with our brand, it’s getting the product out to our consumers,” explains Warner.
Label and sticker challenges
Jan. 1, 2019 marked the release of the state’s final regulations, while testing requirements began six months prior—both dates signified changes for cannabis brands. Garden Society had been testing their products all along, but as the labs came onboard with the new regulations for content and contaminant testing, their preparation methods were in flux.
“Because of all of this change, we were having to regularly re-sticker cannabinoid content levels. You’d print an entire roll of stickers and end up having to throw them away because a piece of information was missing,” says Warner. They found ways to repurpose some of the materials as case stickers to avoid waste. “It was definitely an adventure,” she adds.
Another challenge the team faced is that each dispensary or retail partner has their own interpretation of the regulations. “Some retailers accept the labels as we have them printed. We had to make a decision internally about what we were going to print, and we make small adjustments for certain retailers as needed,” notes Warner.
Now that operations and testing methods have stabilized—their Certificates of Analysis (CoA) return as expected—the company is not re-stickering much anymore. But that’s one reason why Warner and Gore opted to use stickers instead of custom-printed bags, which can take at least six weeks to print and require large-quantity orders to make them cost-effective. The company is now moving toward custom-printed packaging.
Finding the right tamper-evident (TE) stickers for paper carton pre-roll boxes took time. “We were advised to use a TE wafer sticker. We didn’t want a metallic sticker as that’s not really on brand for us,” Warner says.
But the clear wafer stickers they ordered ended up opening on the perforation as they were applied to the boxes. “Then we had custom clear sticker samples made, but those didn’t stick strongly enough. Now we’re moving to a custom paper sticker that has our printing on it to keep the aesthetic. I can laugh about it now, but in the moment…it wasn’t quite as funny.”
Initially Garden Society began using AssurPACK’s slider box, but the pre-rolls weren’t fittingoptimally. In doing research, they found the AssurPACK MarBox-CR, a recyclable plastic box with a lid that flips open when a button is pressed. “It’s unique in the market for pre-rolls. It locks, and people like it because it’s so structured that it keeps everything intact.”
Once empty, MarBox is reusable by the consumer for candies, home-rolled flower, and more.
Warner notes that many of Garden Society’s customers use the products for relief of symptoms from conditions like arthritis, joint pain, and fibromyalgia. Explains Warner, “Some are using our products for medicinal purposes. They don’t have the strength to open some of these child-resistant packages. MarBox is not complicated for arthritic hands to open.”
Working with AssurPACK’s Nancy Warner (no relation) was a natural fit. “Not only did the MarBox feel like the perfect product for our brand—it was easy to open for tired hands—but I also really liked supporting this company and appreciated Nancy Warner’s customer service,” says Warner.
Product packaging for edibles
Duallok is a patented CR packaging system developed by Burgopak that consists of a tray and sleeve that lock, providing a reliable barrier to entry by children, but remaining easy to open for adults. The system recently won a 2019 PAC Global Leadership Award for its innovative design.
“It’s been fun because Hippo’s founders are two women who launched their company in 2016 out of the need for quality, sustainable packaging for cannabis products. Erin [Gore] and I founded our company in 2016 out of a need for quality, women-centric edible products,” Warner explains. “It’s been really fun to work with these women and their team who launched at the same time with the same reasoning, and the packaging is beautiful and priced competitively.”
Warner and Gore knew how they wanted the graphics to look, and they collaborated with Hippo on creating iterations for various products in different colors and patterns.
Most packaging is handled in-house by manual processes currently. “We do work with co-manufacturers, but by packaging in-house, we’re able to control what goes into the package,” says Warner. Pre-roll packaging has been handled by a third party, but operations are being brought in-house as of presstime.
Warner is also excited about MarBox and the soon-to-be-released Duallok packaging. “Working with Hippo and AssurPack has been a bright light in a sea of really difficult packaging situations.”