Setting a Design “North Star” in a Fragmented, Emerging Market

Cristin Rudolph, VP of Consumer Products at Green Thumb Industries (GTI), discusses the intersection between classic packaging design and fast-changing cannabis industry packaging design.

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This Q&A is just a small portion of a longer cannabis packaging discussion with GTI, Green Thumb Industries, covering logistics, regulations, packaging equipment acquisition, and a lot more. Visit this link to watch.

PW: How do you approach a packaging design project?

Rudolph: We’re really thinking about three critical things as we kick off any packaging design project. First, what does the brand stand for, and how can we visually communicate that through the lens of packaging? Second, what does the consumer actually want? That can range from truly functional to aesthetic, but really we want to be putting that consumer mindset at the forefront. The last part, which is arguably the most important part, is what the business actually needs. Combining all of those things helps to really set the North Star for what we’re looking for, because there’s obviously lots of trade-offs that need to occur as we’re trying to think about the right balance.

PW: Do consumer interests vary, or can you lump them all into one consumer?

Rudolph: One of the interesting yet complex parts of cannabis is everything is state by state. The regulations in Pennsylvania are different from the regulations in Florida. So, while consumers may to some extent approach that category similarly, each state is in a different phase of development in terms of consumer acceptance, and each regulating body in the state thinks about cannabis differently. While we like to come to the table as a unified brand, we constantly have to push and pull to understand, how do we approach this state relative to where the state is? Is cannabis still nascent? Is it a little bit more mature, but then, also, what does the regulating body allow to make sure that we’re compliant with what’s going on in that particular state?

Audience Question: Are you talking state-by-state regulation as it pertains to CBD or THC, or are those two different things?

Rudolph: I was referring to THC, specifically. Certainly, CBD does play a role, and depending on where that CBD is derived, whether it’s from hemp or from the cannabis plant itself, the regulations do vary.

PW: Several Green Thumb brands like Dog Walkers (pwgo.to/5783) and incredibles (pwgo.to/5983) have undergone packaging changes over the past few years. What are some of the biggest learnings from those redesign initiatives?

Rudolph: Packaging is very iterative. Even with projects like that, where we’re happy with the results, and they have been met with a lot of success and even some awards, we always continue to assess, are the trade-offs right? Is the pendulum swinging in the right direction?

PW: Are you observing any color trends with regards to packaging?

Rudolph: I think what we are seeing is a little bit of a bolder take. If you looked at cannabis, even two years ago, a lot of what you would see was a very white, stark background, things that looked very medicinal in nature. What you’re starting to see happening is the introduction of color. There is more of a design-forward point of view on packaging that is a little bit closer to traditional CPG and not so much a pharmaceutical look, which I think is an interesting sort of evolution of the industry over the last 18 to 24 months.

PW: What trends tend to be the main driver for cannabis packaging? Price, functionality, aesthetics, or some combination of those?

Rudolph: I think it’s a combination. You’re going to have a subset of consumers that are always going to choose based on costs. You’re going to have others who are looking for more of a holistic lifestyle experience where the aesthetics of that packaging are going to help drive their choice. And so, at the end of the day, it’s the job of my team to understand all of the various consumer segments, to think about our brands, to identify white spaces and to make sure that the packaging is really designed to reflect the needs of that consumer.

It’s very similar to other CPGs where whether you’re in beer or crackers, there’s a spectrum of products relative to the varying consumer needs. And we think about it very similarly and use packaging as a way to reflect that.

PW: Is sustainability in packaging a cannabis market trend?

Rudolph: Yes, we have started to get questions about whether our packaging is sustainable. One of the challenges in cannabis is that the child resistant mechanism can be in conflict as you sometimes need plastic elements to execute that. It continues to be a point of tension with us to make sure that we’re executing on that mechanism, but also thinking through suppliers and different materials that can help us reduce the overall footprint of the packaging, but make sure that we’re doing that in a compliant way.


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