Tag Archives: design

2023 Dispensary Design Trends

By Melanie Coddington
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This year we have seen some awesome evolution in the design industry. Retail cannabis design is leading the way. Here are some trends to keep an eye out for as we approach the new year and look at the artistic elements that are elevating the cannabis retail experience.

Bold Color

House of Jayne dispensary interior

Goodbye all white Apple store. Hello bright colors of the rainbow. Design pioneers are tired of the safety of neutrals. Pattern mixing, bold use of colors, lights and art that blur the lines between ‘wildly tacky and holy cow that’s amazing.’ We’re not talking about a few fun pops of color; we’re talking full walls of color, bold displays and fixtures. Cannabis isn’t for the meek and it’s so exciting to finally see it reflected in design.

Experiential Retail & Sensory Immersion

The new vision for cannabis dispensaries (specifically in adult use locations) is one that absolutely combines multiple sense-touching points within the space and flexes the space to include adjacent hybrid areas. This is mostly driven by the Gen Z consumer. A quick example would be if the dispensary has florals or greenery, the shopper will want to feel like they’ve been transported to the great outdoors. Feel the wind, smell the grass, hear the birds. You get the idea, a full immersion into whatever theme or vibe the brand is putting out there. Customers love being transported to a new place and interior retail design is absolutely the coolest way to do it. This ties into the recent social media trend, ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), where you can experience a tingly euphoric feeling triggered by a carefully created clip. We love the way our environment can sway the senses away from the everyday and into somewhere extraordinary.

Ounce of Hope dispensary interior

The goal here is to pull customers into the store and offer them something far more than a quick and dirty sale. Experiential spaces will also have those hybrid areas that merge the brand with something other than cannabis. This is tricky due to compliance, but we are loving the mixture of yoga, spa, lounge, arcades, art gallery and even bowling within a dispensary. If you’ve shopped at Sheels, you know all about this. A full ferris wheel, restaurant, aquarium and spa inside the sporting goods store. This is definitely a trend that reshapes the standard shopping model and is unique to cannabis.

Digital Forward

Are we being bombarded with digital, phygital and AI in our everyday lives? Maybe. And cannabis customers love every drop of it. More and more we are seeing interactive, digital, full-on wall displays that make you feel like you’re at a museum exhibit. The initial investment can be spendy, but the ultimate flexibility and control (and shopper ooh’s and aah’s) make it all worth it. Imagine an incredible wall showing farm footage, where you can touch the image of the plant and an info bubble pops up describing the terpene and showing it being distilled into a tincture. Bored? Flip it to footage of your latest social event. Whatever you want your customers to see and interact with is completely up to you. More and more we are seeing the digital arts incorporated into dispensary design.

Great Brand Design Can Grow Your Business

By Moira Stein
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As the cannabis industry grows and the category becomes increasingly crowded, package design is more important than ever. Impactful and meaningful branding is key to getting noticed, differentiating from the competition, connecting with consumers and ultimately making the sale. Today’s cannabis labels are more varied than ever before. They can be fun or luxurious, contemporary or retro, colorful or simplistic. Many brands are moving beyond traditional cannabis leaves to more unique, modern, and unexpected interpretations of cannabis plants. Others are forgoing leaf imagery altogether in favor of more evocative graphics, minimal design or mainstream motifs.

While there is no one-size-fits-all design for cannabis packaging, there are many regulatory requirements and branding best practices to consider. We’ve outlined some critical things to keep in mind before starting your cannabis package design.

Know Your Target Audience

Understanding who your target audience is essential for the appropriate design

There are a variety of cannabis users, each with unique needs, interests and attitudes. Understanding who you’re targeting is essential in determining the appropriate brand design strategy. Graphics for millennials will look different than those for baby boomers. But demographics aren’t the only thing to consider when identifying your target consumer. Euromonitor International has identified several lifestyle and personality-driven consumers segments:

  • Seasoned Consumer – consistent, daily consumer who defies stereotypes and often consider themselves connoisseurs.
  • Casual Social – regular but not daily consumer who uses cannabis as part of their broader lifestyle.
  • Dabbler – occasional user who is familiar and comfortable with cannabis but unlikely to use it regularly.
  • Cannacurious – consumer who is interested in cannabis and demonstrates an openness to using it.

Understanding the motivations of various consumer groups and looking beyond stereotypes or traditional age- and gender-driven demographics can help reach consumers in a more targeted, authentic, and compelling way.

Have a Unique Brand Personality

Concept shots by the Studio One Eleven design division

Design often provides the first impression for a brand, especially in the cannabis category. The first step in developing a winning package design is to determine the best design strategy to differentiate from the competition, communicate your brand story and connect with consumers. Start by thinking about what personality fits your brand, what kind of experience you want to create and what emotions you want to evoke. Do you want to feel healthy and medicinal?  Earthy and natural? Sophisticated? Whimsical? Each personality inspires different design solutions. The designers at Studio One Eleven, the Design & Innovation Division of Berlin Packaging, begin each branding project by developing design platform boards that showcase different ways to communicate the brand personality through design, including color, typography, imagery, and more. These platform boards are a great tool to gain alignment on the most effective and appropriate design strategy before digging into tactical design approaches. They can also help guide brand design across other touchpoints, including digital, social media, and advertising.

Understand Regulatory Requirements

Packaging in the cannabis and CBD industries is heavily regulated. In addition to attracting consumers, your package must comply with local, state and federal regulations. Some states mandate that cannabis packaging can’t appeal to children – so no cartoon images or graphics that resemble familiar candy brands. The FDA prohibits cannabis products from making health-related claims, so it is essential to carefully assess the language used on packaging. Vital information such as ingredients, warnings, health risks, impairment of abilities, proper dosage, batch number and more must be included on cannabis labels.

Label material, thickness and texture are tactile elements that can improve the design experience

These are just a few of the package design requirements to consider. Regulations can vary from state to state, so finding a packaging partner who understands the complex and constantly change rules is critical. Berlin Packaging has been a trusted resource for cannabis packaging since 2014. We are uniquely positioned to help cannabis and CBD companies of all sizes in the fast-paced, ever-changing cannabis industry.

Consider All Aspects of Your Package

Beyond graphics, tactile elements can be important to the overall brand design experience. Label material, thickness and texture, embossing and foil stamping, and die-cuts can create a premium impression and add visual interest. Structural design can also help differentiate from the competition and create an elevated user experience. How a package opens and closes, dispenses and doses, and protects and preserves the product inside are all essential considerations. Berlin Packaging has a vast network of manufacturers with hundreds of stock bottles, tins, jars, tubes and closures in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials to choose from, as well as custom solutions available through Studio One Eleven.

Understanding your target consumer, identifying and communicating a unique brand personality, complying with all regulatory requirements and taking a holistic approach will lead to impactful packaging that wins with consumers and grows your business.

ASTM Launches Standard for International Intoxicating Cannabinoid Symbol

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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A new ASTM International standard seeks to create an internationally recognized symbol that indicates a product contains intoxicating cannabinoids. The cannabis technical committee at ASTM, D37, developed the standard for the International Intoxicating Cannabinoid Product Symbol (IICPS).

The International Intoxicating Cannabinoid Product Symbol (IICPS)

The standard is labeled D8441/D8441M and is supposed to be used with all finished consumer use products, including topical use, ingestion and inhalation. ASTM International members David L. Nathan, M.D. and Eli Nathan designed the symbol with a group of volunteers from the D37 led by Martha Bajec, PhD of HCD Research. The symbol was concurrently developed by Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) and Subcommittee D37.04 on Cannabis Processing and Handling. The symbol is designed “to create a truly universal cannabinoid product symbol, mindful of its importance as a means to communicating to adults and children the need for caution with products containing cannabinoids,” says Dr. Nathan. “The symbol has the potential to facilitate a spirit of collaboration among experts, regulators, and all other stakeholders in the cannabis industry.”

Darwin Millard, subcommittee vicechair for ASTM D37.04 and subcommittee co-chair for ASTM D37.07, says this is perhaps one of the most important standards to come out of the committee. “It serves to establish a harmonized warning symbol that is truly international,” says Millard. “It is not intended to replace symbols that have already been established, rather it is intended to be used by marketplaces that have yet to establish a symbol.” As more and more marketplaces adopt the symbol, the hope is that markets with their own symbol will harmonize with the ASTM symbol over time.

Millard says the symbol uses the ISO standard warning triangle, the ANSI standard warning orange/yellow and defines a standardized icon for cannabinoids, the leaf. “There are a number of cannabinoids that are intoxicating, not just delta-9-THC, therefore the symbol is designed to be used to identify any cannabinoid that can be classified as intoxicating,” says Millard. “The symbol doesn’t care if the cannabinoid is naturally derived, isolated and purified, synthesized by yeast or created in a lab; if it is ‘intoxicating’ and a ‘cannabinoid’ the symbol can be used to identify a consumer product containing it. ‘Intoxicating’ was used over ‘inebriating’ or ‘psychoactive’ since neither term is correct. Impairing was recently used by Washington State and might be worth considering down the road.”

The IICPS became the official symbol for the state of Montana as of January 1st. New Jersey and Vermont have also incorporated the IICPS design into their state symbols, already making it the most widely adopted cannabis product symbol in fully legalized states. Alaska and other states are currently discussing use of the symbol as well.

If you are interested in contributing to the development of this and other D37 standards, you are encouraged to join the committee. In addition, they will be hosting a free webinar on June 1 to discuss the development of the international symbol, how to use it and how the marketplace and consumers will benefit from it.

Cannabis Dispensary Displays: What’s Trending in 2022

By Ray Ko
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As additional states around the country legalize cannabis – New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana, to name a few– more and more medical and adult use dispensaries are popping up. Business owners are looking for ways to stand out from their competition. Enter dispensary displays, cost-effective hot commodities and a trending topic in 2022. Cannabis displays have become the vehicle to not only house merchandise but can also be a customized branding tool unique to the company’s aesthetic and marketing messaging.

Before we delve into the dispensary display trends disrupting the cannabis industry, let’s start at the very beginning: the basics. The basics include retail space, dispensary layout, cannabis inventory, complementary accessories and of course, budget. Decorating a unique space with a signature aesthetic can be as easy as mixing-and-matching the displays and ideas discussed in this article.

A Well-Lighted, Clean and Simple Space is In

Whether your dispensary is for medical or adult use, a clean design aesthetic is always a good choice. This never-fail approach to decorating conveys a crisp, modern, hygienic feel and a neutral palette like clear, white and black cannabis display cases support this look.

Store lighting plays heavily in dispensary décor, too. According to the lighting experts at Stanpro Lighting Systems, there are three basic types of lighting: ambient, task, and accent and all play a unique role. In short, ambient lighting lights up an entire room or space – outdoor too – to safely facilitate traffic. Task lighting, as the name suggests, is used for a given task such as reading and the like. Directional recessed fixtures, pendant and desk lamps all fall into this category. Light is directed to a focal point and shouldn’t be too bright or harsh. Accent lighting directs attention to a point of interest. Think track lighting, undercabinet or recessed lighting – perfect for dispensaries. When mapping your lighting layout, consider pod holder placement. Place a multi-shelf locking cannabis cabinet under bright lights so customers can see and smell, if appropriate, the merchandise. Alternatively, if lighting is an issue, use a lighted display riser to showcase your pod assortment. A pop of color via custom color pod picks like these from shopPOPdisplays, placed inside a clear cannabis display pod holder on the lighted display riser grabs attention and can be easily switched out depending on the product promotion. It’s versatile, cost-efficient and eye catching.

Make It Marketable

Cannabis displays come in all shapes, sizes, styles and colors. Organize your cannabis, CBD, vape and other merchandise like nitro tins to keep clutter at bay, but make it work for your brand as well. Double-duty dispensary displays like tube holders provide the functionality of neatly presenting products with the bonus of brand recognition through a customization option. If decorating your dispensary business and building your brand on a budget – and who isn’t – customizing key pieces like locking displays and cabinets, may be the solution. Placing products in and on customized cannabis dispensary displays with your logo, brand and/or company color scheme brings instant recognition as well as consumer confidence that your dispensary is not a fly-by-night company. Strategic customization might be the savvy investment option in the long run.

Protecting Your Employees: Health and Otherwise

Security means different things to different people. Physical, financial – you name it – people want to feel safe and protection of others, oneself and properties is at the forefront. Like all business owners, dispensary entrepreneurs invest time, money and sweat equity to get their business up and running. According to cannabis software specialist TRYM, by the year 2025, the cannabis industry is estimated to reach $30 billion dollars. Ensuring the safety and security of staff and inventory investment is a top priority. Cameras, security personnel and alarm systems are all factors, plus practically shatter-resistant plexiglass counters and displays are the new must-have trend. Acrylic sheets don’t end at the counter either. The health of staff members, especially during these times mean plexiglass sheets, clear acrylic barriers and sneezeguards are being implemented in dispensaries across the country. In compact or limited retail space these protective panels ensure social distancing and help ease customer anxiety.

The cost of dispensary inventory is significant, protecting it doesn’t have to be. Many states require cannabis, CBD and vape merchandise be stored in locking display cases and locking cabinets, behind counters, and more depending on the state. Sidestep specific regulations and instead opt for securing all cannabis and high-ticket items in both countertop and locking wall mount displays as well as wall pedestals, lighted pedestals (with acrylic cover or without) with the lock option. These display cases promote waist- and eye-level optimization without taking up valuable retail space.

Color Me Green This Year and Next

As mentioned, in 2022 clean is in, but so is green. In The Psychology of Design: The Color Green, Christi Wharton says, “Green evokes a feeling of abundance and is associated with refreshment and peace, rest and security.” Therefore, it only makes sense to include green when decorating your dispensary. Add planters with greenery to odd corners, break up a white space with a verdant splash of color to bring attention to products. Consider custom green acrylic display risers with company name, brand or logo to literally elevate merchandise or use a LED cannabis display and a showcase is born!

With these current and classic display trends; a well-designed dispensary doesn’t need tricks and a large budget to succeed. Quality merchandise, great customer service as well as classic in-stock and custom dispensary displays never go out of style.

A Cannabis Brand’s Visual Identity: To Illustrate or Not

By Nate Azark
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In the cannabis industry, it’s vital for your brand to stand out and engage your target customer at every touchpoint. When it comes to your visual identity, choosing the right design style is more than just what looks good to you. It comes down to creating a brand ethos, understanding your customer, defining a brand personality, assessing your budget and time and choosing a designer. In order to harness the power of illustration to take your cannabis brand’s visual identity to new heights, you must consider all of these factors when crafting your strategy.

Creating a Brand Ethos
When you begin to build out your cannabis brand, developing your brand ethos is the perfect place to start. There are many factors to consider. First, remember to be true to who you are because people will see right through you if you try to be something you aren’t. Then, spend the time to write down what you’re passionate about and make sure all areas of your business and brand align with those values.

Next, understand what you do better than anyone else and scream it from the rooftops. That is your differentiator. That is what your customers will come to know you for. After defining what you do best, build up a reputation around it and continue to grow in a positive direction.

Lastly, make sure your design, packaging and messaging are all consistent and work together in a cohesive way. I’ve found that consistency is key in everything from the product quality and your look to your communications and interactions with customers.

Understanding Your Customer

Illustration work Nate did for happie infused beverages

Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone. So many people are under the impression that everyone is going to want their product, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With the cannabis industry evolving at lightning speed, there are more consumption options than ever before. You still have those true to smoking leaf; others are looking for concentrates, while some want the smoke/smell free route of edibles and beverages. Each of these cannabis products are going to target a different audience and demographics, and all of that needs to be taken into consideration when building your brand.

For instance, edibles are an easy way for someone to first try cannabis. By taking a more educational approach to the packaging, brands can help those customers feel more comfortable with their first cannabis purchase. At the end of the day, people want to know what they are getting into and how it is going to affect them. This should always be taken into consideration when deciding on the design style for these products.

Defining A Brand Personality

I always like to reference the craft beer world when talking about cannabis these days. As craft breweries popped up, the successful ones always had two things: a great product and a great personality that connected with their community. The same should be said for cannabis.

Start with a great product and build a community that appreciates your character and wants you to stay true to it. Are you punk? Are you a stoner brand? Are you taking more of a scientific approach? Whatever speaks loudest to YOU, make sure that approach is carried through to your customer. You will earn their trust and they will appreciate that you stay true and genuine to who you are.

A mural the author created for the Milwaukee Bucks

Once you identify what your brand personality is, then you can start to make decisions on your logo, packaging and verbal communication. Get with your trusted designer and/or illustrator (more on that below), and start to make decisions about what style fits your brand best. Will your look be clever, vibrant or all-natural? Will it be illustrative or photo-forward? There isn’t a one size fits all solution.

Remember to not slack on having your communication match the look, feel and personality of your brand. With a cohesive visual and verbal identity, you’ll be able to create magical moments where the consumer feels like they are uncovering something special when they make a genuine connection with your cannabis brand.

Assessing Your Budget & Time

Budget and time are two HUGE components of deciding what visual direction to take. This is where you’ll really start making decisions about whether you should go with an illustrative design style. While illustration can take your cannabis brand’s visual identity to the next level, there are pros and cons to going that route.

Overall, illustration can be time-intensive and expensive depending on the illustrator and complexity of the work. If you want to have a different illustration for every strain you cultivate it can get pricey, but it may also set you apart from the competition. You have to weigh if the upfront cost of having something created will help differentiate your brand long-term. It is a much easier decision when you only have a couple of SKUs to start with or you choose a simpler illustration style, as these have less potential to initially set you back.

Pros:

  • Most importantly, you get to work with people who are as passionate about their craft as you are in yours. Find an illustrator with a style that you like that fits your brand. I find it harder to find an illustrator and ask them to conform their approach to fit your look. It can be done as there is a lot of talent out there, but if you find someone that is already creating what you like, it will be much easier to get what you’re looking for.
  • You’ll be able to develop a look and feel that sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. Illustration evokes emotions and tells a story, which can be quickly identified by a potential customer.

Cons:

  • Timing is huge. Make sure you find an illustrator you trust that can turn things around when you need it. Give the illustrator plenty of time to execute your vision as well.
  • Budget comes into play as now you need to hire a designer and an illustrator. There are some designers that illustrate as well, but these are diamonds in the rough.
  • If you need a new illustration for every product, that will cost more than simply updating a name and colors in a design system.
  • As many cannabis products are small format, it can be tough to truly highlight the detail in a great illustration.

Choosing A Designer

Grass Fed Studio shirt designed by the author

Finding a designer that focuses on illustration and whose style reflects your brand’s look and feel is important because it’s critical to be on the same page. Sometimes finding a designer AND an illustrator is the way to go. Even if you love the designer’s work, if it doesn’t fit with your brand’s look/feel, you won’t be happy with the end result. A good designer will be able to work with a good illustrator and vice versa.

Questions to ask potential designers include:

  • Are they taking new clients?
  • What do turnaround times look like?
  • How much is the project going to cost?
  • Do you own the artwork when they are done?

It’s incredibly important that you get along with the designer and/or illustrator you choose to work with. There are a lot of choices and it always helps to work with people that share the same values that you do. To open up your options, you can choose illustrators that are at different levels in their careers. A college student may be less expensive, but not have the professional and business experience you need, while a seasoned illustrator has more expertise to bring to the table, but may be more expensive.

The goal is for the designer and/or illustrator you choose to successfully create a visual identity to capture your cannabis brand’s essence and character.

The bottom line is that your visual identity is a critical component of your brand. Make sure you build it in the right way, so you can attract customers who align with and appreciate your cannabis brand identity’s look and feel. Cheers!

Flower-Side Chats Part 10: What’s Next for Audacious

By Aaron Green
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Flower continues to be the dominant product category in US cannabis sales. In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles, Aaron Green interviews integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory, supply chain and consumer demand.

Audacious (OCTQB: AUSA) is an Aurora (TSX: ACB) spinoff formerly known as Australis Capital, Inc. They have focused on an asset-light expansion strategy whereby they leverage their expertise in designing cannabis facilities in exchange for favorable cost plus arrangements for a percentage of the facilities’ production.

We interviewed Marc Lakmaaker, SVP of Capital Markets at Audacious. Prior to joining Audacious, Marc worked with Terry Booth at Aurora. His background is in investor relations.

Aaron Green: Marc, how did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Marc Lakmaaker: I was working for an investor relations agency. and one of my colleagues left and she had a cannabis client that I took over, which was Bedrocan, Canada. I started working with them. They were then acquired by Tweed, which became Canopy. The guy I was working with at the time at Bedrocan was Cam Battley, who then went to Aurora. As soon as he joined Aurora, he said, “I need some help.” So, I came in house and worked there until July 2019. When I left, I set up my own agency, but by that time, I’d been working with Terry Booth for a few years. Then, this past December, Terry got in touch with me and said he needed my help. It was after the concerned shareholders had won the shareholder battle around Australis and the rest is history. So, I’ve now been working with Audacious, which was Australis, since December of last year, roughly.

Green: Just quickly on Australis: So, Audacious is basically a spin off of Aurora, correct?

Lakmaaker: Correct. So, at the time, Aurora had a couple of US assets on its balance sheet, a piece of land an annuity through a company Michigan. We were listed on the TSX. We were going to list or had just listed on the NYSE and were arranging for loan facility with a syndicate of banks. They said, “even though these assets are dormant, you can’t have any US assets on your balance sheet.” So, we spun Australis off – a little bit how Canopy had spun off Canopy Rivers. But it was really the idea that Australis is going to become the foothold for Aurora in the US cannabis market because Aurora has back-in rights.

The management team was put in place and started making some investments in the cannabis space, but kind of drifted away, sort of more into FinTech. First, it was FinTech related to cannabis and then FinTech, full stop. That’s when the shareholders were like, “we don’t agree with this.” Then the proxy battle started in which the dissident shareholders, or the concerned shareholders, won overwhelmingly. The Board left. The management team left. A new management team was put in place, a new Board in place, and it was kind of a restart.

So, we feel like we’re a bit of a startup. But a very rapidly moving startup. We’ve done an incredible amount of work in just the last seven to ten months. There was a lot of housekeeping to do. A lot of stuff related to restructuring the company, dealing with the departing management teams, dealing with bringing new management, etc. There were some deals that had to be unwound… Housekeeping if you will.

Green: Australis went down the FinTech route. What are the plans for Audacious now?

Lakmaaker: We’ve already started. We pivoted right away. In early January, we announced two acquisitions. One of ALPS, and the other one of Green Therapeutics. ALPS is really what is enabling us to execute on our strategy. It’s a very different strategy. It’s an asset light model, because we figured out that in order to grow quickly in this market without spending huge amounts of shareholder money, you need to be able to get into markets in a capital-light fashion. ALPS is the world’s preeminent greenhouse design company. Not just greenhouses, but also indoor facilities. They’ve got a 35-year track record in fruits and vegetables. They’ve got an eight-year-plus track record in cannabis – and built some of the best facilities in the world. They’ve got a lot of IP.

Marc Lakmaaker, SVP of Capital Markets at Audacious (formerly Australis)

The proof point of that is our relationship with Belle Fleur. It’s a social equity license holder in Massachusetts. We helped them build their facility. We’re not contractors, but we do the design and engineering. We help them with partner selection. We do the construction management. We bring in a general contractor. Then we do the commissioning, and optionally, post-commissioning services, making sure that the facilities are dialed in. In return for all that IP, because what people know that what they get at the end of it is high quality, consistent cannabis and very low operating costs, we ask our clients to dedicate a certain percentage of their canopies to grow with our cultivars. Those we will buy back on a cost plus arrangement and we use that to launch our brands into whatever jurisdiction.

So, in Massachusetts, we’re working with Belle Fleur. We’re getting 10% of their canopy. We’re buying it back at cost plus 5%. So, we don’t have to sink money into building the facility. We’re not carrying the cost of capital there. We’re also not paying wholesale prices. And these relationships are locked in for a long time. I can’t remember if it was five or 10 years. So, it’s a very, it’s a different strategy, but it’s not contrarian – it’s very de-risked, that allows us to launch into new countries.

Then for Green Therapeutics, we’ve got a number of award-winning brands like Provisions and Tsunami. We’re kind of phasing out GT Flowers and there will be something else in its place. We also acquired Loose, which caters to a younger demographic, with a high potency shot beverage line that is now for sale in California.

We also have a partnership with PBR, the Professional Bull Riders Association. There’s some statistics around that that just absolutely blew me away – 83 million permanent fans! That’s 25% of the US population. I think the average income is $70,000. That’s well above the national average and the general split is fairly even too; it’s 53/47, male/female. Proper American sport! They have hundreds of hours of exposure on CBS. They’ve got 2 billion imprints on social media. So, with PBR, we launched Wreck Relief, which has several recognized and approved pain products in the lineup.

Green: What markets are you in right now?

Lakmaaker: Right now we’re in Nevada with cannabis products. This is our home market where our head offices are in Las Vegas. We’re in California. We just bought a dispensary in San Jose that comes with a partnership with Eaze. On top of that, we’re operationalizing in Missouri and Oklahoma, and officially building in Massachusetts.

Then through ALPS because they does both cannabis and non-cannabis, we’re in a number of states. We’re looking to get more of the supply deals. We’re also doing a lot of vegetable facilities throughout the entire world. We’re in Europe, we’re in Asia, in the Middle and in North America, we build these facilities from the desert up to the Arctic.

There’s a big movement right now to produce food that is safe and has a smaller carbon footprint. So, our facilities are kind of inherently more sustainable. They use up to 95% less water, less labor, less energy, they are less prone to disease, crop failure, everything. And because you are local producing for local communities, you reduce the transport carbon footprint.

Green: What in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?

Lakmaaker: I really like the sciences. I’m a chemical engineer by training. I think what is going to take an incredible flight in the years to come is the application of medical scientific research that’s being done right now. To me, that’s fascinating because the cannabis plant is something special. It’s got such a broad utility that we know, anecdotally. I think we’re moving towards a world where we’re going to see a lot of breakthroughs on the medical side.

I’m very excited about the other end too – cultivation. I think tissue culture is going to play an incredible and important role.

Green: Thanks Marc, that concludes the interview.

Lakmaaker: Cheers, Aaron.

Controlled Environment Agriculture: An Interview with Sam Andras

By Aaron Green
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Food-focused controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a multidisciplinary production technique whereby plants and products are grown inside greenhouses, vertical farms and growth chambers where every aspect of the environment can be monitored and controlled. Using CEA, cultivators can produce high-value and traditional food crops with the goal of maximizing plant productivity in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.

As the industry’s first integrated building and cultivation systems design firm, urban-gro is ushering in a new era in the design of efficient indoor agriculture facilities, providing productivity and efficiency benefits to CEA operators when designing and operating facilities.

We interviewed Sam Andras, executive vice president of Professional Services at urban-gro, and principal of MJ12 Design Studio. Sam joined urban-gro after his company MJ12 Design Studio was acquired in July 2020. Prior to that, he was principal in charge of 2WR+ Partners, a 20-year Georgia-based architecture and interior design firm.

Aaron Green: Sam, tell me, how did you get started in the cannabis industry?

A facility that Andras designed in Massachusetts

Sam Andras: I started my architecture firm in 2001 in Georgia and later moved to Colorado in 2012. In 2013, I had the opportunity to do three cannabis facilities and really saw it as an emerging market that I thought would be really cool to dig into and pursue. Due to the marijuana stigma at the time, our company, 2WR, decided to create a cannabis-specific entity and developed MJ12 Design Studio. We built a website and it took off. Since 2013, I’ve personally designed about 130 cultivation facilities and vertically integrated facilities, from Hawaii all the way to New Zealand.

Green: When you say vertically integrated, what does that include?

Andras: The full building design of cultivation, product manufacturing, extraction, infusion and dispensaries.

Green: Is that something urban-gro currently does as well?

Andras: Now? Yes, with MJ12 under the facility design umbrella. After urban-gro acquired us in July, they were able to start offering full turnkey services. Everything from architecture, mechanical and plumbing engineering, electrical engineering, integrated cultivation, design of fertigation, benching, lighting, water treatment, environmental controls and other plant focused services– all of that is under our umbrella.

Green: Can you explain what controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is?

Andras: Absolutely. To me, CEA is crop agnostic, it can be anything from leafy greens to cannabis. Though we’re mainly focused on the cannabis industry and controlling that environment, we do also serve some leafy green companies. Environmental control includes things like temperature and humidity levels in the various stages of growth which is key to the economic success of organizations.

A California dispensary he designed

I’m a firm believer in legalization on the federal level down the road, which means that everything’s going to be under FDA for human consumption. If you look at the European models, when you look at the medicinal product development, it’s focused on consistency of the crop, from one crop to the next. And the way you achieve consistency is with CEA.

Green: From a resource perspective, can you describe how CEA differs from indoor to outdoor and greenhouse?

Andras: When you look at the market and the sale value of cannabis flower grown indoors versus outdoors or even greenhouse, greenhouse growing has huge variations by region. I believe greenhouses function better in more of a dry, arid climate. Indoor grows give you the ability to design and control your entire environment including temperatures, humidity levels, plant sizes, watering rates and other considerations. Growing indoors, in a controlled environment, gives you more flexibility to explore different alternatives in your cultivation.

A California cultivation facility he designed

Green: Final question: what in cannabis or in your personal life are you most interested in learning about?

Andras: That’s a great question. I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I would love to spend a couple of weeks working in extraction, as that’s the piece of the puzzle, as an architect, I know the least about. We’ve designed pretty much every type of cultivation from drip irrigation aeroponics to aquaponics, ebb & flow. You name it, we’ve done it, but the whole extraction process and the different equipment, and why companies choose ethanol, butane, hydrocarbon, CO2 and how to design for those extraction processes is something that as an architect, I’d love to learn more about.

Green: Okay, Great. That concludes the interview. Thanks Sam!

Andras: Thanks, Aaron.

Lean Management in a Cannabis Lab

By Rob Radke
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Lean management or Lean thinking is a process for continuous improvement that can be applied to any business. Most frequently Lean is attributed to the manufacturing sector due to its origins in Japan at the Toyota Motor Company. Lean originated in post-war Japan where resources were scarce as the country rebuilt itself after World War II. The scarcity of resources forced the Japanese to do more with less which manifested itself within the Toyota organization as the Toyota Production System from which Lean originated.

Today, Lean thinking is being applied to every industry and we believe that the cannabis industry, and in particular laboratories, can benefit tremendously from its principals.

What Is Lean and How Does it Apply to Cannabis?

Lean thinking is a set of powerful tools for any business or organization that wants to be the best in their industry and deliver superior value their customers. This is especially relevant to the fast-growing cannabis and hemp testing industry where customers demand fast turnaround times and error-free results.

The reason that Lean applies to all businesses and especially the cannabis industry is because of its focus is on eliminating waste. Waste comes in many forms including defects, waiting time, extra motion, excess inventory, transportation, over production, over processing and underutilized talent.

Companies that adopt Lean management eliminate waste using a wide variety of tools that help surface issues and eliminate the root causes. When companies eliminate waste, they simultaneously improve both their speed and quality, two attributes that customers really care about. Given the fast-changing nature of the cannabis industry and differences state by state, we believe that using Lean thinking to eliminate waste is critical to being a top performing business in the cannabis industry.

One important tool that many businesses begin with is known as 5S or 6S. At our laboratory we recently implemented 6S to organize both our office and laboratory spaces. 6S is a process improvement tool that stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain and Safety. The process involves each technician or analyst assessing their areas and asking critical questions such as: Can I easily reach everything I need for this test or process? Is there wasted motion due to the placement of items within the lab? Can I easily tell how much consumable inventory I have on hand at a glance?

This process also helps improve safety because the workspace is better organized, easier to navigate and designed with safety in mind. Each person is responsible for maintaining their workspace and regular audits by rotating teammates, helping drive continuous improvement to our 6S. It is a fundamental process for any business starting to adopt Lean thinking.

Another very helpful process that any cannabis business can implement is the Gemba walk. Gemba is the Japanese word for “actual place” and refers to the place in a business where value is created for the customer. Value in our cannabis business is created in our testing lab. By improving everything in our testing lab we improve our quality and speed for our customers. In our laboratory we begin the Gemba walk as a team reviewing our key performance indicators (KPIs). From there, the management team visits each station to review additional KPIs and discuss any issues that group may be having. We try to surface issues, however small they may be, so that they are solved and hopefully eliminated. This process is key to helping us keep a pulse on the lab, engaging employees and better understand the improvements that need to be made.

How to Implement Lean Processes

labsphoto
Without quality results, a testing laboratory does not really have a product or service to offer

Lean thinking is a very accessible set of tools. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to implement because of the dedication that it requires. Implementing Lean and changing the culture requires a significant amount of time, investment in training and management commitment. Time and capital for training can be scarce at some businesses in the cannabis industry. For the businesses with capital, it is extremely important that management commit to implementing Lean and changing their culture. Without the support of the executive team most businesses stop implementing new procedures and revert to how they are used to operating. It is also common for changes in management to result in lean becoming deprioritized in place of a new initiative.

If the executive team is inexperienced in Lean management, it will be important to find a Lean consultant that can guide the training and events. A Lean consultant should be able to provide you with thorough training on each tool and help your business implement them in real time to improve the business. The training and knowledge gained during these events are extremely valuable and practical tools that every employee can use.

Results From Implementing a Lean Organization

If a business is able to successfully implement Lean management the results for their customers can be dramatic. In the laboratory setting, turnaround times will be reduced, and more importantly, will remain consistent despite fluctuations in sample volume. Faster turnaround times for cannabis companies means that they can bring inventory to market faster which can be critical for supply constrained businesses.

Additionally, implementing Lean helps reduce the number of errors, rework and retests so the quality of the results for the customer is dramatically improved. Root cause issues are solved, processes are updated and then shared with the entire team so that everyone can learn and benefit from the improvement. Without quality results, a testing laboratory does not really have a product or service to offer so it is critical to get it right every time.

All areas of the cannabis industry are becoming more competitive, and it is important for every business to make sure they can stay competitive considering changing market dynamics. Lean management has helped businesses in other industries stand apart from the rest and we believe that the cannabis industry will be no different. Academic literature has studied and documented the positive impact that Lean has on businesses globally. Lean management has repeatedly shown that businesses that can truly implement Lean thinking in everything that they do will have an inherent advantage because they’ll be faster, more agile, higher quality, more efficient and focused entirely on creating value for their customer.

Cannabis Manufacturing Considerations: From Raw Materials to Finished Goods

By David Vaillencourt, Kathleen May
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Facility layout and design are important components of overall operations, both in terms of maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of the process(es) executed in a facility, and in meeting the needs of personnel. Prior to the purchase of an existing building or investing in new construction, the activities and processes that will be conducted in a facility must be mapped out and evaluated to determine the appropriate infrastructure and flow of processes and materials. In cannabis markets where vertical integration is the required business model, multiple product and process flows must be incorporated into the design and construction. Materials of construction and critical utilities are essential considerations if there is the desire to meet Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance or to process in an ISO certified cleanroom. Regardless of what type of facility is needed or desired, applicable local, federal and international regulations and standards must be reviewed to ensure proper design, construction and operation, as well as to guarantee safety of employees.

Materials of Construction

The materials of construction for interior work surfaces, walls, floors and ceilings should be fabricated of non-porous, smooth and corrosive resistant surfaces that are easily cleanable to prevent harboring of microorganisms and damage from chemical residues. Flooring should also provide wear resistance, stain and chemical resistance for high traffic applications. ISO 22196:2011, Measurement Of Antibacterial Activity On Plastics And Other Non-Porous Surfaces22 provides a method for evaluating the antibacterial activity of antibacterial-treated plastics, and other non-porous, surfaces of products (including intermediate products). Interior and exterior (including the roof) materials of construction should meet the requirements of ASTM E108 -11, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Covering7, UL 790, Standard for Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings 8, the International Building Code (IBC) 9, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 11, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other applicable building and safety standards, particularly when the use, storage, filling, and handling of hazardous materials occurs in the facility. 

Utilities

Critical and non-critical utilities need to be considered in the initial planning phase of a facility build out. Critical utilities are the utilities that when used have the potential to impact product quality. These utilities include water systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), compressed air and pure steam. Non-critical utilities may not present a direct risk to product quality, but are necessary to support the successful, compliant and safe operations of a facility. These utilities include electrical infrastructure, lighting, fire detection and suppression systems, gas detection and sewage.

  1. Water
Microbial monitoring methods can include frequent/consistent testing

Water quality, both chemical and microbial, is a fundamental and often overlooked critical parameter in the design phase of cannabis operations. Water is used to irrigate plants, for personnel handwashing, potentially as a component in compounding/formulation of finished goods and for cleaning activities. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter 1231, Water for Pharmaceutical Purposes 2, provides extensive guidance on the design, operation, and monitoring of water systems. Water quality should be tested and monitored to ensure compliance to microbiological and chemical specifications based on the chosen water type, the intended use of the water, and the environment in which the water is used. Microbial monitoring methods are described in USP Chapter 61, Testing: Microbial Enumeration Tests 3and Chapter 62, Testing: Tests for Specified Microorganisms 4, and chemical monitoring methods are described in USP Chapter 643, Total Organic Carbon 5, and Chapter 645, Water Conductivity 6.Overall water usage must be considered during the facility design phase. In addition to utilizing water for irrigation, cleaning, product processing, and personal hygiene, water is used for heating and cooling of the HVAC system, fogging in pest control procedures and in wastewater treatment procedures  A facility’s water system must be capable of managing the amount of water required for the entire operation. Water usage and drainage must meet environmental protection standards. State and local municipalities may have water usage limits, capture and reuse requirements and regulations regarding runoff and erosion control that must also be considered as part of the water system design.

  1. Lighting

Lighting considerations for a cultivation facility are a balance between energy efficiency and what is optimal for plant growth. The preferred lighting choice has typically been High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting, which includes metal halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs. However, as of late, light-emitting diodes (LED) systems are gaining popularity due to increased energy saving possibilities and innovative technologies. Adequate lighting is critical for ensuring employees can effectively and safely perform their job functions. Many tasks performed on the production floor or in the laboratory require great attention to detail. Therefore, proper lighting is a significant consideration when designing a facility.

  1. HVAC
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Proper lighting is a significant consideration when designing a facility.

Environmental factors, such as temperature, relative humidity (RH), airflow and air quality play a significant role in maintaining and controlling cannabis operations. A facility’s HVAC system has a direct impact on cultivation and manufacturing environments, and HVAC performance may make or break the success of an operation. Sensible heat ratios (SHRs) may be impacted by lighting usage and RH levels may be impacted by the water usage/irrigation schedule in a cultivation facility. Dehumidification considerations as described in the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Committee Blog: An Introduction to HVACD for Indoor Plant Environments – Why We Should Include a “D” for Dehumidification 26 are critical to support plant growth and vitality, minimize microbial proliferation in the work environment and to sustain product shelf-life/stability. All of these factors must be evaluated when commissioning an HVAC system. HVAC systems with monitoring sensors (temperature, RH and pressure) should be considered. Proper placement of sensors allows for real-time monitoring and a proactive approach to addressing excursions that could negatively impact the work environment.

  1. Compressed Air

Compressed air is another, often overlooked, critical component in cannabis operations. Compressed air may be used for a number of applications, including blowing off and drying work surfaces and bottles/containers prior to filling operations, and providing air for pneumatically controlled valves and cylinders. Common contaminants in compressed air are nonviable particles, water, oil, and viable microorganisms. Contaminants should be controlled with the use appropriate in-line filtration. Compressed air application that could impact final product quality and safety requires routine monitoring and testing. ISO 8573:2010, Compressed Air Specifications 21, separates air quality levels into classes to help differentiate air requirements based on facility type.

  1. Electrical Infrastructure

Facilities should be designed to meet the electrical demands of equipment operation, lighting, and accurate functionality of HVAC systems. Processes and procedures should be designed according to the requirements outlined in the National Electrical Code (NEC) 12, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 13, National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) 14, International Building Code (IBC) 9, International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 15 and any other relevant standards dictated by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

  1. Fire Detection and Suppression

“Facilities should be designed so that they can be easily expanded or adjusted to meet changing production and market needs.”Proper fire detection and suppression systems should be installed and maintained per the guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 11, International Building Code (IBC) 9, International Fire Code (IFC) 10, and any other relevant standards dictated by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Facilities should provide standard symbols to communicate fire safety, emergency and associated hazards information as defined in NFPA 170, Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols 27.

  1. Gas detection

Processes that utilize flammable gasses and solvents should have a continuous gas detection system as required per the IBC, Chapter 39, Section 3905 9. The gas detection should not be greater than 25 percent of the lower explosive limit/lower flammability limit (LEL/LFL) of the materials. Gas detection systems should be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 864, Standard for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems 16 and/or UL 2017, Standard for General-Purpose Signaling Devices and Systems 17 and UL 2075, Standard for Gas and Vapor Detectors and Sensors 18.

Product and Process Flow

Product and process flow considerations include flow of materials as well as personnel. The classic product and process flow of a facility is unidirectional where raw materials enter on one end and finished goods exit at the other. This design minimizes the risk of commingling unapproved and approved raw materials, components and finished goods. Facility space utilization is optimized by providing a more streamlined, efficient and effective process from batch production to final product release with minimal risk of errors. Additionally, efficient flow reduces safety risks to employees and an overall financial risk to the organization as a result of costly injuries. A continuous flow of raw materials and components ensures that supplies are available when needed and they are assessable with no obstructions that could present a potential safety hazard to employees. Proper training and education of personnel on general safety principles, defined work practices, equipment and controls can help reduce workplace accidents involving the moving, handling, and storing of materials. 

Facilities Management

Facilities management includes the processes and procedures required for the overall maintenance and security of a cannabis operation. Facilities management considerations during the design phase include pest control, preventative maintenance of critical utilities, and security.

Damage from whiteflies, thrips and powdery mildew could be prevented with an appropriate PCP

A Pest Control Program (PCP) ensures that pest and vermin control is carried out to eliminate health risks from pests and vermin, and to maintain the standards of hygiene necessary for the operation. Shipping and receiving areas are common entryways for pests. The type of dock and dock lever used could be a welcome mat or a blockade for rodents, birds, insects, and other vermin. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should define the procedure and responsibility for PCP planning, implementation and monitoring.

Routine preventative maintenance (PM) on critical utilities should be conducted to maintain optimal performance and prevent microbial and/or particulate ingress into the work environment. Scheduled PMs may include filter replacement, leak and velocity testing, cleaning and sanitization, adjustment of airflow, the inspection of the air intake, fans, bearings and belts and the calibration of monitoring sensors.

In most medical cannabis markets, an established Security Program is a requirement as part of the licensing process. ASTM International standards: D8205 Guide for Video Surveillance System 23, D8217 Guide for Access Control System[24], and D8218 Guide for Intrusion Detection System (IDS) 25 provide guidance on how to set up a suitable facility security system and program. Facilities should be equipped with security cameras. The number and location of the security cameras should be based on the size, design and layout of the facility. Additional cameras may be required for larger facilities to ensure all “blind spots” are addressed. The facility security system should be monitored by an alarm system with 24/7 tracking. Retention of surveillance data should be defined in an SOP per the AHJ. Motion detectors, if utilized, should be linked to the alarm system, automatic lighting, and automatic notification reporting. The roof area should be monitored by motion sensors to prevent cut-and-drop intrusion. Daily and annual checks should be conducted on the alarm system to ensure proper operation. Physical barriers such as fencing, locked gates, secure doors, window protection, automatic access systems should be used to prevent unauthorized access to the facility. Security barriers must comply with local security, fire safety and zoning regulations. High security locks should be installed on all doors and gates. Facility access should be controlled via Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) access cards, biometric entry systems, keys, locks or codes. All areas where cannabis raw material or cannabis-derived products are processed or stored should be controlled, locked and access restricted to authorized personnel. These areas should be properly designated “Restricted Area – Authorized Personnel Only”.

Future Expansion

The thought of expansion in the beginning stages of facility design is probably the last thing on the mind of the business owner(s) as they are trying to get the operation up and running, but it is likely the first thing on the mind of investors, if they happen to be involved in the business venture. Facilities should be designed so that they can be easily expanded or adjusted to meet changing production and market needs. Thought must be given to how critical systems and product and process flows may be impacted if future expansion is anticipated. The goal should be to minimize down time while maximizing space and production output. Therefore, proper up-front planning regarding future growth is imperative for the operation to be successful and maintain productivity while navigating through those changes.


References:

  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
  2. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <1231>, Water for Pharmaceutical Purposes.
  3. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <61>, Testing: Microbial Enumeration Tests.
  4. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <62>, Testing: Tests for Specified Microorganisms.
  5. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <643>, Total Organic Carbon.
  6. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <645>, Water Conductivity.
  7. ASTM E108 -11, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings.
  8. UL 790, Standard for Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings.
  9. International Building Code (IBC).
  10. International Fire Code (IFC).
  11. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
  12. National Electrical Code (NEC).
  13. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
  14. National Electrical Safety Code (NESC).
  15. International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
  16. UL 864, Standard for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems.
  17. UL 2017, Standard for General-Purpose Signaling Devices and Systems.
  18. UL 2075, Standard for Gas and Vapor Detectors and Sensors.
  19. International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE) Good Practice Guide.
  20. International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE) Guide Water and Steam Systems.
  21. ISO 8573:2010, Compressed Air Specifications.
  22. ISO 22196:2011, Measurement Of Antibacterial Activity On Plastics And Other Non-Porous Surfaces.
  23. D8205 Guide for Video Surveillance System.
  24. D8217 Guide for Access Control Syst
  25. D8218 Guide for Intrusion Detection System (IDS).
  26. National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA): Committee Blog: An Introduction to HVACD for Indoor Plant Environments – Why We Should Include a “D” for Dehumidification.
  27. NFPA 170, Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols.