The Brand Marketing Byte showcases highlights from Pioneer Intelligence’s Cannabis Brand Marketing Snapshots, featuring data-led case studies covering marketing and business development activities of U.S. licensed cannabis companies.
In this week’s Byte, we’re taking a look at the top edibles companies in the country. Using a scoring methodology that factors in a wide variety of data sets, Pioneer’s algorithm tracks brand awareness, audience growth and engagement. Using more than 80,000 relevant data points per week, they analyze business activity across social media, earned media and web-related activities.
For April 2020, here are the top 25 hottest U.S. edibles brands:
To ask this author to identify the top five trends in 2020 for cannabis is akin to asking her to name only five of her favorite Coldplay songs. With so much energy for both topics, a selection of the absolute most favored components of either passion presents quite a challenge. But like the cannabis industry has done for 20 years under its state-legal regime and entirely illegal federal one, this author will endure under the confines of such limitations.
In any new industry this is bound to happen. Particularly one with such massive government oversight and equally massive consumer demand. Original license holders are cashing out. And they should. They were the risk-takers. The originals. They raced to government buildings across the country with boxes of background checks accompanied by teams of forensic accountants, lawyers and lobbyists to walk down a path only recently paved with legalization to seek a license to directly violate federal law. They drew a line in the sand and said, “I’m in.” And the stars have aligned for them to move on in many states due to changes in ownership structures, particularly ones that now provide for out-of-state interests. They deserve to sell that to the next highest bidder for all of the pressure, investment, stress and risk that permeates the foundation of this industry. With state law changes have come multistate operators, many of whom do not necessarily understand cannabis and have probably never used it, but they know an opportunity when they see it. These companies are buying up licenses across the country and creating brand awareness among consumers with an eye toward changes in federal law that would allow for the transportation of cannabis across state lines. Once that happens, the cannabis industry will be treated like every other American producer with massive distribution centers across the country that will mimic the likes of alcohol and tobacco overnight.
The report further found that the edibles category could be worth more than $4.1 billion in Canada and the United States by 2022.No one wants to go to work and smell like cannabis, unless, of course, you work in a grow facility. And even then, maybe you don’t. And employers aren’t exactly excited when employees are present with the distinct aroma when it’s time to clock in. So, what’s a cannabis consumer to do? Eat or drink the product instead. In a world full of energy drinks, dietary supplements, bubbly water infused with fruit (which still doesn’t taste like anything, let’s be honest), it should surprise no one that cannabis is making its debut in a myriad of consumption applications. While most states prevent the mixing of cannabis-infused beverages and alcohol for sale by retailers (consumers can—and do—mix the products on their own), there are no limits on other targets for cannabis products. Most popular: food and drinks.
ArcView Research and BDS Analytics recently identified that consumer spending on cannabis-based food and drink reached an estimated $1 billion in 2017 in the United States and Canada, representing about 11.4% of the total $9.1 billion in consumer spending on consumable cannabis in those two markets. The report further found that the edibles category could be worth more than $4.1 billion in Canada and the United States by 2022.
There are countless food products and infused beverages on the market in America and anticipated this year, which dovetails perfectly with the American predilection for happy hours, brunch, and after-work drinks; minus the hangover, some might suggest. Any cannabis company owner will tell you the future is infused products, whether consumers are buying the oil themselves to infuse at home or asking a company to infuse something for them. The future of cannabis is, indeed, on a menu.
Movement in Washington, D.C.
When the SAFE Banking Act passed off the House floor with 324 yes votes, 91 of which were from Republicans, a collective cheer and wave akin to an invigorated football stadium engulfed the industry. A huge moment. One long-awaited and most needed. Momentum. Movement. Finally, a sigh of relief. One would be naïve to assume such a success in the House will be mirrored in the Senate. It will not. But that sort of statement from one chamber is a message to the other: this issue is not going away. It matters. It’s bipartisan. And employees/owners in the cannabis industry need relief from the heavy hand of the federal government when they go to work every day in full compliance with state law. With every passing day, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are being educated by the cannabis industry about how to responsibly regulate the products and what true regulation looks like. It’s only a matter of time until these state-level practices are adopted by federal policymakers. Because let’s be honest, elections matter. And 33 states have said yes to cannabis. It’s only a matter of time until the members of Congress from those states take up the issue in a real way. And many already have.
In the last 10 years, 20 states legalized cannabis for medical purposes and 13 legalized it for adult use. Several national polls suggest this trend will only continue in 2020. And unlike the polling in most recent national elections, the predilections on cannabis seem to be accurate. In 2020, adult-use cannabis measures will definitely appear on the New Jersey and South Dakota ballots. Adult-use measures could also appear in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota are likely to vote on medical cannabis as well.
Of note, the South Dakota measure would also legalize hemp, which has yet to get the blessing of the Mount Rushmore state. In Mississippi, voters will likely be asked their opinions on legalizing medical cannabis. This is interesting since the University of Mississippi has had the only DEA license to grow their own cannabis for research purposes since 1968, but the rest of the state has been squarely in prohibition with zero allowances for cultivation or possession.
The future is bright for the cannabis industry and its players. For a final ounce of perspective on state legalization, only three states have no legal cannabis of any kind: Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota. And if Idaho and South Dakota’s polling is any indication, they won’t be on this short list for much longer.
Once upon a time, drug dealers applied for legitimate cannabis licenses. They were denied. And some tried to dodge the regulated marked to continue selling on street corners and out of back doors. Some still do. But now we have a cannabis industry with true regulation and what this author likes to call “adult supervision in the room” on the cannabis conversation and those leading it. A week doesn’t go by without a Wall Street investor or Silicon Valley tycoon asking for advice on where to invest in the cannabis industry. Huge retailers are calling to ask if they can sell it. Alcohol and tobacco interests are hugely, well, interested. And the industry is being led by the likes of former baby car seat manufacturers, former food and beverage lobbyists, young entrepreneurs, and tech geniuses. Now that these individuals are invested and committed, they will continue to professionalize the industry by leading on public-facing initiatives teaching consumers how to use cannabis responsibility, how to determine a much-needed standard for impairment, and to overall improve the reputation of a product once fully illegal, and now partially legal, and soon on its way to fully legal.
The future is bright for the cannabis industry and its players. Only daylight ahead and the billows of bureaucratic smoke are parting hopefully—eventually—with regard to the incongruity between state and federal law on the issue. That’s a lot of ink to say that the next few years will be monumental for the cannabis industry. And if you’re a Coldplay fan, you just caught the reference to my favorite song from the legendary Brit ensemble.
The Food Safety Consortium, taking place November 13-15 in Schaumburg, Illinois, will host a series of talks geared towards the cannabis industry this year. The newly launched Cannabis Quality Track features a number of panels and presentations designed to highlight the many intersections between food safety and cannabis.
The track will have presentations discussing food safety planning in cannabis manufacturing, HACCP, GMPs, regulatory compliance and supply chain issues among other areas.
Ben Gelt, board chair of the Cannabis Certification Council, is moderating a panel titled What’s In My Weed? that will delve into issues like supply chain, production and other difficulties in creating cannabis products and the challenges inherent in teaching consumers to be more discerning.
Ben Gelt and the Cannabis Certification Council orchestrated the development of this panel to help promote their #WhatsInMyWeed consumer awareness and education campaign. “The Cannabis Certification Council believes consumer education campaigns like #Whatsinmyweed are critical to drive standards and transparency like we see in food,” says Gelt. “What better place to discuss the food safety challenges the cannabis industry faces than the Food Safety Consortium”
Before Kim Stuck founded Allay Compliance Consulting, she was the first Marijuana Specialist for a public health authority in the nation, where she was working with regulators in Denver, Colorado. She is currently a cannabis food safety expert and a Certified Professional of Food Safety (CP-FS) through NEHA. She has helped Colorado and California develop cannabis food safety requirements. “I will discuss pitfalls we have experienced in the regulation of cannabis in Denver and what mistakes not to make,” says Stuck. “I’d also like to talk about how to be prepared for when those regulators start to come in to facilities.”
Kristen Hill is the MIP Director at Native Roots, arguably one of the largest dispensary chains in the world. She oversees 30 employees in Native Roots’ MIP facility where product testing and quality assurance of products are all led under her guidance. Her background includes managing quality assurance and regulatory compliance with FDA regulations, among other areas. She said she’s particularly excited to talk about implementing manufacturing best practices in the cannabis space. “Cannabis is maturing and is beginning to shape operations around long standing best practices in other industries,” says Hill.
Leslie Siu brings to the panel 17 years of liquor, tobacco and pharma marketing and operational oversight plus global digital and experiential campaigns. Her company, Mother & Clone, produces infused, sublingual cannabis sprays. Based in Colorado, Mother & Clone’s team of biochemists are Merck alumni, currently working towards GMP standards in preparation for Canada, slated to be on shelf in the spring of 2019. Her main consideration for cannabis product development comes from what she has learned from the FDA in traditional industries- what they will and will not tolerate.
To sell more cannabis products, you must build trust with your customers. Design Shack Magazine explains: “Trust is a key component of user loyalty, and a reason why people come to your company or brand.”
If you don’t get your package design right, people might simply ignore your cannabis products.But building trust is a big challenge for new medical cannabis businesses. That’s where good design can help:“While a lot of trust comes from past performance and a brand’s track-record, it also comes from the design. How a website, poster or package looks can impact how users feel about it and whether they take the leap from casual looker to brand loyalist.”
For a cannabis health supplement business, the product packaging design is one of the most important ways to reassure consumers and build trust.
When a prospective customer first sees your product, they see the packaging before they can touch or see the product. Good product packaging can raise concerns or instill comfort and confidence in a potential buyer.
If you don’t get your package design right, people might simply ignore your cannabis products.
So, let’s take a look at what your business can do to create great product packaging designs that will win over the skeptics and gain customers.
Include the Right Content On Product Packaging
Designing packaging that inspires trust starts with including the right content.
Start by telling people exactly what’s inside your packaging. For example, specify what your product is (CBD Extract Oil vs. Full-Spectrum Hemp Oil Caplets), how much of it there is, a production lot number and a potency level.
Include any qualifiers that may reassure your customers – such as “Organic,” “Non-GMO” or “CO2-Extracted.”
Communicate this information in clean, concise language that shows you have nothing to hide. And, speaking of not hiding – include contact information for your business. Many businesses bury their contact info on their websites and packaging. Don’t do that.
People trust businesses that are transparent and easy to reach. Customers want to know that if they have a question or something goes awry with an order that they can get help.
Including your web address, support email and phone number is a powerful way to reassure clients that your business is legitimate and trustworthy.
And, no packaging is complete without branding elements to help customers identify who your business is and what you’re about. This should include your company’s logo, identifying brand colors and any other small visual elements your brand may use.
Finally, make sure to follow the FDA guidelines for dietary supplement labels.
Your content checklist for product packaging
Include the essential details
What’s the potency and dosage?
When does it expire?
What’s the lot number?
Include reassuring qualifiers that your audience will value
Organic, CO2-Extracted, Full Spectrum, Contains Less Than 0.3% THC, etc.
Include your company’s contact info
Customer Support Email
Customer Support Phone number
Include your visual branding elements
Small branded graphic elements
Keep the Packaging Design Simple
Clean, simple design is reassuring and inspires trust.
That’s because simple design makes it easy for customers to find what they need or want to know.
It’s easy to miss information in a cluttered design – and people know this.
People naturally mistrust the dense chunks of text at the bottom of many advertisements and product packages. On the other hand, clean, easy-to-read fonts and plenty of white space ensure that your audience can read your product packaging and find the information they want quickly without too much trouble.
With fewer words and graphics competing for attention, the important stuff naturally stands out. And, a simple design also sends the message that there are no hidden loopholes or secrets that may work against your customers.
Keep the Design Of Your Product Packaging Professional
It doesn’t matter how great your product is if your business comes across as unprofessional. And, for medical cannabis businesses, the bar for establishing professionalism is even higher than for most companies.
Keep these tips in mind to communicate professionalism and reliability.
Make sure your packaging is error-free
Mistakes don’t look professional. How many times have you wondered how an error could have passed through so many hands unnoticed that it made it onto the final version?
Consumers notice errors in your packaging design. They see typos and often, discover incorrect or misleading information. Errors make customers think that your business is incompetent. Or worse – they might think that your business is deliberately misleading them. Make sure you proof-read everything before your packaging goes to production.
Showcase Your Cannabis Products Well Against Competitors
People buying your cannabis products will have other options. Don’t ignore your competition and be sure to understand how other dietary supplements and medicine is packaged.
Want to build trust by encouraging consumers to group your CBD products with other trusted medical brands? Follow these tips:
Provide a list of ingredients and instructions for safe dosing and usage. People expect this from reputable medicinal brands. Your product packaging should dothis too. And, remember to follow the FDA’s labeling requirements for dietary supplements.
Incorporate a safety seal into your packaging design. You’ll notice that most medicines, vitamins, and supplements have a safety seal to protect the contents. Whether you opt for a shrink-wrapped seal over the lid or a foil seal under the cap, adding a safety seal shows that your product has not been tampered with and implies that it’s safe to use.
Incorporating these elements will create a mental link between your product and other trusted medicinal products.
Be authentic to your cannabis brand
Last, but not least, your packaging design must align with your brand. When consumers sense a disconnect between the brand identity they’ve come to identify with your business and the packaging design for your products, it creates discomfort.
But packaging that is in line with (or expands upon) the brand identity consumers have come to know will create comfort and trust.
Your brand’s packaging design must reflect your company’s story, product, and values. If your packaging claims a “simple” snack product with dozens of ingredients, consumers are going to be left with a disingenuous feeling about your products and company. By ensuring that your messaging, design, and visual impact is in line with your company and your consumer’s preferences, you can build instant trust.
A united and cohesive visual brand presence looks professional and helps to build familiarity – which is key to developing trust. Ultimately, many people judge products based solely on the product packaging. That’s why it’s essential to make sure your product packaging sends the right message.
The 6thAnnual Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo will feature an entire track dedicated to cannabis. As announced in May of this year, the Cannabis Quality series will feature presentations by subject matter experts in the areas of regulations, edibles manufacturing, cannabis safety & quality as well as laboratory testing.
The Food Safety Consortium is hosted by our sister publication, Food Safety Tech, and the Cannabis Quality series will be co-hosted by Cannabis Industry Journal. A number of cannabis-focused organizations will participate in the series of talks, which are designed to help attendees better understand the cannabis edibles market, regulations surrounding the industry and standards for manufacturers. Some highlights include the following:
Ben Gelt, board chairman at the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), will moderate a panel where leaders in the edibles market discuss supply chain, production and other difficulties in manufacturing infused products. Panelists include Leslie Siu, Founder/CEO Mother & Clone, Jenna Rice, Director of Operations at Gron and Kristen Hill, MIP Director, Native Roots Dispensary, among others. “The Cannabis Certification Council believes consumer education campaigns like #Whatsinmyweed are critical to drive standards and transparency like we see in food,” says Gelt. “What better place to discuss the food safety challenges the cannabis industry faces than the Food Safety Consortium”
Radojka Barycki, CEO of Nova Compliance, will discuss the role of food safety in the cannabis industry and identify some biological and chemical hazards in cannabis product testing in her talk, “Cannabis: A Compliance Revolution.”
Cameron Prince, vice president of regulatory affairs at The Acheson Group, will help attendees better understand key market indicators and current trends in edibles manufacturing during his talk on November 15. “With the current trend of legalizing cannabis edibles, medicinal and recreational suppliers alike are looking to quickly enter the edibles market,” says Prince. “Understanding the nuances of moving to food production relative to food safety, along with navigating the food industry’s regulatory environment will be critical to the success of these companies.”
Tim Lombardo and Marielle Weintraub, both from Covance Food Solutions, will identify common pathogens and areas where cross contamination can occur for edibles manufacturers.
The Food Safety Consortium will be held November 13–15 in Schaumburg, Illinois (just outside of Chicago). To see the full list of presenters and register for the conference, go the Food Safety Consortium’s website.
Complications with dosing inaccuracies in the cannabis industry has always been a hot topic. In 2014, The Cannabist tested several Colorado infused products only to find that the results were different from what was indicated on the label. While the industry has come a long way at the state level since then, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association this past November found that 26 percent of CBD products sold online contained less CBD than the label. Similar to when you buy a bottle of wine or ibuprofen, people should be able to trust product labels.
There are processes that cannabis-infused product manufacturers can adopt to solve this issue. Incorporating process validation establishes reproducible customer experiences while in-process controls create product consistency and potency reliability. These operational and compliance techniques originated in the pharmaceutical industry and will undoubtedly become the future gold standard for best practices with cannabis manufacturers.
Product testing alone cannot assess quality for an entire lot or batch of product; therefore, each step of the manufacturing process must be controlled through Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). Process validation is an aspect of GMPs used by the pharmaceutical industry to create consistency in a product’s quality, safety and efficacy. There are three main stages to process validation: process design, process qualification and continued process verification. Implementing these stages ensures that quality, including dosing accuracy, is maintained for each manufactured batch of product.
Validation: Step 1
Process design, the first phase of process validation, defines the manufacturing process based on previous product development and process research. The appropriate equipment, instruments and materials are selected as part of process design. Both standard operating procedures for equipment and operations as well as batch records for manufacturing steps are also finalized during this phase. The batch record must include critical process parameters (CPP), the parameters that must be maintained in order to produce product that consistently meets specified criteria. Mixing speed and time, temperature, pressure and flow rate are examples of common CPP. Training production personnel is also defined and performed as part of process design. Operators are trained on operating procedures and batch records in order to learn how to make the product successfully.
Validation: Step 2
Process qualification, the next stage of process validation, is performed to evaluate the capability of a process for reproducible and robust manufacturing. Because reproducibility of a process cannot be fully assessed with a single batch, evaluation is typically performed on a minimum of three separate batches. For each batch included in the process qualification, the frequency and number of samples are increased over normal sampling to provide a more thorough assessment of each batch. The testing includes visual inspection for defects as well as quantitative tests such as weight or volume and potency. In addition to composite sampling, which is performed by combining samples from multiple time points throughout a batch (e.g. beginning, middle and end) to assess a batch as a whole, stratified sampling is performed. Stratified samples are taken from specified points throughout a batch, and rather than being combined, the samples are tested separately to indicate consistency throughout a given batch.
In addition to evaluating the reproducibility of a process, tests for robustness are performed during process qualification to demonstrate how changes in a process may impact the product. It is important to use different operators for performing manufacturing steps to ensure changes in personnel do not affect product quality. Switching out equipment and instruments will also reveal any sensitivities in a process. For example, when a different oven, mixer or tablet press is used, are the appearance, texture and potency impacted? If the product remains the same, that points toward the process being robust. Challenging the CPP will also provide important feedback regarding a process. If a step requires a temperature range of 50° – 70°C, it is recommended that the process be tested at the low end and high end of the range, to ensure the final product meets all required specifications. If the range assigned to a unit’s gross weight is 500 g ± 5%, then testing at 475 g and 525 g will offer more insight into how much variance the process truly can withstand.
Validation: Step 3
Once the process has been assessed for reproducibility and robustness, it transitions to continued process verification, which is the third and final stage of Process Validation. Performance of quality checks during each batch for the life of a product is part of this final stage. For infused products such as tablets, these checks include appearance – the tablets are the color and shape indicated by the batch record and they include the required imprint(s); weight – the tablets are within the specified weight range, which indicates correct tablet size and consistency of ingredients; hardness – tablets will dissolve/disintegrate for proper dosing; and friability – tablets will withstand stress of routine handling.
As your company grows in manufacturing volume, each of these three steps will become critical to safeguard against any inconsistencies. As we know in this industry, our most valuable asset is our license and success can be negatively impacted based on meeting compliance. Dedicating an internal role within quality and compliance will serve to future-proof your business against additional rules and regulations that are likely to come.
In Part 3 of this series on HACCP, Critical Control Points (CCPs), validation of CCPs and monitoring of CCPs were defined. When a HACCP plan identifies the correct CCP, validates the CCP as controlling the hazard and monitors the CCP, a potential hazard is controlled in the manufacturing and packaging of cannabis-infused edibles. The food industry is big on documentation. If it’s not documented, it did not happen. The written hazard analysis, validation study and monitoring of CCPs create necessary records. It is these records that will prove to a customer, auditor or inspector that the edible is safe. Here in Part 4, more recordkeeping is added on for deviation from a CCP, verification and a recall plan.
Take Corrective Action When There Is a Deviation from a Critical Control Point
Your food safety team conducts a hazard analysis, identifies CCPs and decides on monitoring devices, frequency and who is responsible for monitoring. You create an electronic or paper record of the monitoring for every batch of edible to document critical limits were met. Despite all your good efforts, something goes wrong. Maybe you lose power. Maybe the equipment jams. Nothing is perfect when dealing with ingredients, equipment and personnel. Poop happens. Because you are prepared before the deviation, your employees know what to do. With proper training, the line worker knows what to do with the equipment, the in-process product and who to inform. In most cases the product is put on hold for evaluation, and the equipment is fixed to keep running. The choices for the product include release, rework or destroy. Every action taken needs to be recorded on a corrective action form and documents attached to demonstrate the fate of the product on hold. All the product from the batch must be accounted for through documentation. If the batch size is 100 lb, then the fate of 100 lb must be documented.
Verify Critical Control Points Are Monitored and Effective
First, verification and validation are frequently confused by the best of food safety managers. Validation was discussed as part of determining CCPs in Part 3. Validation proves that following a CCP is the right method for safety. I call validation, “one and done.” Validation is done once for a CCP; while verification is ongoing at a CCP. For example, the time and temperature for effective milk pasteurization is very well known and dairies refer to the FDA Pasteurized Milk Ordinance. Dairies do not have to prove over and over that a combination of time and temperature is effective (validation), because that has been proven.
I encourage you to do as much as you can to prepare for a recall.A CCP is monitored to prove the safety parameters are met. Pasteurization is an example of the most commonly monitored parameters of time and temperature. At a kill step like pasteurization, the employee at that station is responsible for accurate monitoring of time and temperature. The company managers and owners should feel confident that CCPs have been identified and data are being recorded to prove safety. Verification is not done by the employee at the station but by a supervisor or manager. The employee at the station is probably not a member of the food safety team that wrote the HACCP plan, but the supervisor or manager that performs verification may be. Verification is proving that what was decided by the food safety team is actually implemented and consistently done.
Verification is abundant and can be very simple. First, every record associated with a CCP is reviewed by a supervisor or manager, i.e. someone who did not create the record. This can be a simple initial and date at the bottom of the record. Every corrective action form with its associated evaluation is verified in the same way. When HACCP plans are reviewed, that is verification. Verification activities include 1) testing the concentration of a sanitizer, 2) reviewing Certificates of Analysis from suppliers, 3) a review of the packaging label and 4) all chemical and microbiological testing of ingredients and product. The HACCP plan identifies CCPs. Verification confirms that implementation is running according to the plan.
Verification is like a parent who tells their child to clean their room. The child walks to their room and later emerges to state that the room is clean. The parent can believe the word of the child, if the child has been properly trained and has a history of successfully cleaning their room. At some frequency determined by the parent, the room will get a parental visual check. This is verification. In the food industry, CCP monitoring records and corrective action must be reviewed within seven days after the record is created and preferably before the food leaves the facility. Other verification activities are done in a timely manner as determined by the company.
Write a Recall Plan
In the food industry, auditors and FDA inspectors require a written recall plan. Mock recalls are recommended and always provide learning and improvement to systems. Imagine your edible product contains sugar, and your sugar supplier notifies you that the sugar is recalled due to glass pieces. Since you are starting with the supplier, that is one step back. Your documentation of ingredients includes lot numbers, dates and quantity of sugar.You keep good records and they show you exactly how much of the recalled lot was received. Next you gather your batch records. Batches with the recalled sugar are identified, and the total amount of recalled sugar is reconciled. You label every batch of your edible with a lot code, and you identify the amount of each affected lot and the customer. You have a press release template in which you add the specific information about the recall and affected lots. You notify every customer where the affected edible was shipped with a plan to return or destroy the edible. When you notify your customers, you go one step forward.
How would your company do in this situation? I have witnessed the difficulties a company faces in a recall when I was brought in to investigate the source of a pathogen. Food safety people in my workshops who have worked through a recall tell me that it was the worst time of their life. I encourage you to do as much as you can to prepare for a recall. Here are two good resources:
Automation of processes can provide great benefits including improved quality, improved throughput, more consistency, more available production data, notifications of significant events and reduced costs. However, automation can also be expensive, overwhelm your workforce, cause future integration problems and magnify issues that you are currently experiencing. After all, if a machine can do work 100 times faster than a human, it can also produce problems 100 times faster than a human. Whether it is a benefit or a scourge depends largely on the implementation process.
There are thousands of possible technology solutions for just about any production problem. The trick to getting results that will work for your company is to use good engineering practices starting from the beginning. Good engineering practices are documented in various publications including ISPE Baseline Guides, but there are common threads among all such guides. What will the system be used for and what problem is it intended to solve?
The key is implementing a system that is fit for your intended use. As obvious as it sounds, this is often the most overlooked challenge of the process. In the grand scheme of things, it is a MUCH better proposition to spend more time planning and have a smooth operation than implement a system quickly and fight it because it isn’t a good fit for the intended use. The industry is littered with systems that were prematurely implemented and complicate rather than simplify operations. Planning is cheap, but fixing is expensive.
The most important step to getting an automated system that will work for you is also the first:
Defining “what” you need the system to do: User Requirements
With decades of experience in the automation industry, I have seen systems in many industries and applications and it is universally true that the definition of requirements is key to the success of the automation adventure. To clarify, the user requirements are intended to define “what” the system is required to do, rather than “how” it will do it. This means that persons that may not be familiar with the automation technologies can still be (and usually are) among the most important contributors to the user requirements document. Often, the people most familiar with the task that you wish to automate can contribute the most to the User Requirements document.
Some of the components of a User Requirements document typically include:
Purpose: What will the system be used for and what problem is it intended to solve?
Users: Who will be the users of the system and what is their relevant experience?
Integration: Is the system required to integrate into any existing or anticipated systems?
Regulatory Requirements: Is the system required to meet any regulatory requirements?
Functions: What is the system required to do? This may include operating ranges, operator interface information, records generation and storage, security, etc.
Performance: How many units per hour are required to process? What percent non-conforming product is acceptable?
Environment: What environment is the system required to operate in? Indoor, outdoor, flammable, etc.
Documentation: What documentation is required with the system to support ongoing maintenance, calibration, etc.?
Warranties/Support: Will you perform work in-house, or will the manufacturer support the system?
The level of detail in the User Requirements should be scaled to the intended use. More critical operations may require more detailed and formal User Requirements. At a minimum, the User Requirements could be a punch list of items, but a detailed User Requirements may fill binders. The important thing is that you have one, and that the stakeholders in the operation have been involved in its production and approval.Once completed, the User Requirements can be a very good document to have for prospective providers of solutions to focus their attention on what is important to you, the customer.
Equally important to the process is the idea of not over-constraining the potential solutions by including “how” the system will meet the requirements within the User Requirements. If it is required to use specific technologies for integration with other existing systems, it is appropriate to include that information in the User Requirements. However, if use of a particular technology (e.g. “wireless”) is not required, the inclusion may unnecessarily eliminate viable design options for systems that may address the requirements.
Once completed, the User Requirements can be a very good document to have for prospective providers of solutions to focus their attention on what is important to you, the customer. This helps to ensure that they focus their efforts in the areas that match your needs and they don’t waste resources (which translate to your costs) in areas that don’t have tangible benefits to you, the customer. It also gives you a great tool to “value engineer”, meaning that you can consider cutting design options that do not support the User Requirements, which can reduce project costs and timelines, keeping things lean and on track.
Further steps in the project are built around the User Requirements including system specifications provided by vendors, testing documentation and the overall turnover package. An appropriately scaled User Requirements document is a low cost, easy way to ensure that your automated system will serve you well for years to come. Alternatively, the lack of a User Requirements document is an all-too-common indicator that there may be challenges ahead including scope creep, missed deadlines and unacceptable long term performance.
HACCP is a food safety program developed in the 1960s for the food manufacturing industry, mandated for meat, seafood and juice and adopted by foodservice for the safe serving of meals at restaurants. With state requirements for the safe production of cannabis-infused products, namely edibles, facilities may be inspected against HACCP principles. The cannabis industry and state inspectors recognize the need for safe edible manufacture. Lessons can be learned from the food industry, which has advanced beyond HACCP plans to food safety plans, starting with procurement and including the shipment of finished product to customers.
In my work with the food industry, I write HACCP and food safety plans and deliver training on food safety. In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about the identification of hazards, which is the first step in HACCP plan development. Before we continue with the next HACCP step, I will discuss Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). GMPs are the foundation on which HACCP is built. In other words, without GMPs in place, the facility will not have a successful HACCP program. GMPs are required in the food, dietary supplement and pharmaceutical industries, all under the enforcement of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Without federal regulation for cannabis edible manufacture, there may not be state-mandated requirements for GMPs. Let me warn you that any food safety program will not succeed without proper control of GMPs.
GMPs cover all of your programs and procedures to support food safety without having a direct, instant control. For example, when brownies are baked as edibles, food safety is controlled by the time and temperature of baking. A written recipe and baking procedure are followed for the edible. The time and temperature can be recorded to provide documentation of proper baking. In the food industry, this is called a process preventative control, which is critical to food safety and is part of a HACCP plan. Failure of proper time and temperature of baking not only leads to an unacceptable product in terms of quality, but results in an unsafe product that should not be sold.
Back to GMPs. Now think of everything that was done up to the steps of mixing and baking. Let’s start with personnel. Facilities for edibles have hiring practices. Once an employee is hired, the employee is trained, and training will include food safety procedures. When working at the job after training, the employee measuring ingredients will demonstrate proper grooming and hand washing. Clean aprons, hairnets, beard nets and gloves will be provided by the facility and worn by the employee. The same goes for the employee that bakes and the employee that packages the edible. One category of GMPs is Personnel.
Edibles facilities are not foodservice; they are manufacturing. A second GMP category is cleaning and sanitizing. Food safety is controlled through proper cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces (FCS). The edible facility will have in place the frequency and methods for cleaning all parts of the facility- outside, offices, restrooms, break room and others. GMPs cover the general cleaning procedures and procedures for cleaning receiving, storage; what we would consider processing to include weighing, process steps and packaging; finished product storage and shipping. Management of the facility decides the methods and frequency of cleaning and sanitizing with greater care given to processing. Without proper cleaning and sanitizing, a facility cannot achieve food safety.
I could go on and on about GMPs. Other GMPs include water safety, integrity of the buildings, pest control program, procurement, sewage disposal and waste disposal. Let’s transition back to HACCP. In Part 1 of this series, I explained identification of hazards. Hazards are one of three types: biological, chemical and physical.
At this point, I am not surprised if you are overwhelmed. After reading Part 1 of this series, did you form a food safety team? At each edibles facility, there should be at least one employee who is trained externally in food safety to the standard that foodservice meets. Classes are offered locally and frequently. When the facility is ready, the next step of training is a HACCP workshop for the food industry, not foodservice. Edibles facilities are not foodservice; they are manufacturing. Many colleges and associations provide HACCP training. Finally, at the least, one employee should attend a workshop for Preventive Controls Qualified Individual.
To institute proper GMPs, go to ConnectFood.com for a GMP checklist. Did you draw up a flow diagram after reading Part 1? With a flow diagram that starts at Receiving and ends at Shipping, the software at ConnectFood.com takes you through the writing steps of a HACCP or food safety plan. There are many resources out there for GMPs, so it can get overwhelming. ConnectFood.com is my favorite resource.
The next step in HACCP development after identification of hazards is to identify the exact step where the hazard will be controlled. Strictly speaking, HACCP only covers process preventive controls, which typically start with a weigh step and end with a packaging step. A facility may also have a step where temperature must be controlled for food safety, e.g. cooling. In HACCP, there are commonly two process preventive controls:
Biological hazard of Salmonella and Escherichia coli: the heat step
Physical hazard of metal: metal detector
Strictly speaking, HACCP does not include cleaning, sanitizing and supplier approval for procurement of ingredients and packaging. I hope you see that HACCP is not enough. There have been hundreds of recalls and outbreaks due to problems in non-processing steps. The FDA requires food manufactures to go beyond HACCP and follow a written food safety plan, which includes hazards controlled at these steps:
Biological hazard of Listeria monocytogenes: cleaning and sanitizing of the processing environment and equipment
Physical hazards coming in with ingredients: supplier approval
Physical hazard of glass and hard plastic: Here I am thinking of glass breaking or plastic pieces flying off buckets. This is an internal hazard and is controlled by following written procedures. The written document is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).
Chemical hazard of pesticides: supplier approval
Chemical hazard of mycotoxins: supplier approval
Chemical hazard of allergens: supplier approval, label check at Receiving and product labeling step
Does a cannabis edible facility honestly not care or not control for pesticides in ingredients because this is not part of HACCP? No. There are two ways for procurement of ingredients in which pesticides are controlled. Either the cannabis cultivation is controlled as part of the samebusiness or the facility works with a supplier to confirm the ingredient meets pesticide tolerances. Strictly speaking, this control is not part of HACCP. For this and many other reasons, HACCP is a good place to start the control of food safety when built on a solid foundation of GMPs. In the same way the food industry is required to go beyond HACCP with a food safety plan, the cannabis industry must go beyond HACCP.
My thoughts will be shared in a webinar on May 2nd hosted by CIJ and NEHA. I encourage you to listen in to continue this discussion.Please comment on this blog post below. I love feedback!
The outside environment can vary widely depending on where your facility is located. However, the internal environment around any activity can have an effect on that activity and any personnel performing the activity, whether that’s storage, manufacturing, testing, office work, etc. These effects can, in turn, affect the product of such activities. Environmental control strategies aim to ensure that the environment supports efforts to keep product quality high in a manner that is economical and sensible, regardless of the outside weather conditions.
For this article, let us define the “environment” as characteristics related to the room air in which an activity is performed, setting aside construction and procedural conditions that may also affect the activity. Also, let us leave the issue of managing toxins or potent compounds for another time (as well as lighting, noise, vibration, air flow, differential pressures, etc). The intent here is to focus on the basics: temperature, humidity and a little bit on particulate counts.
Temperature and humidity are key because a non-suitable environment can result in the following problems:
Increased operator error
Difficulty in managing products (e.g. powders, capsules, etc)
Degradation of raw materials
Microbial and mold growth
USP <659> “Packaging and Storage Requirements” identifies room temperature as 20-25°C (68-77 °F) and is often used as a guideline for operations. If gowning is required, the temperature may be reduced to improve operator comfort. This is a good guide for human working areas. For areas that require other specific temperatures (e.g. refrigerated storage for raw materials), the temperature of the area should be set to those requirements.
Humidity can affect activities at the high end by allowing mold growth and at the low end by increasing static. Some products (or packaging materials) are hydroscopic, and will take on water from a humid environment. Working with particular products (e.g. powders) can also drive the requirement for better humidity control, since some powders become difficult to manage in either high or low humidity environments. For human operations without other constraints, a typical range for desirable humidity is in the range of 20 to 70% RH in manufacturing areas, allowing for occasional excursions above. As in the case of temperature, other requirements may dictate a different range.
In a typical work environment, it is often sufficient to control the temperature, while allowing the relative humidity to vary. If the humidity does not exceed the limits for the activity, then this approach is preferred, because controlling humidity adds a level of complexity (and cost) to the air handling. If humidity control is required, it can be managed by adding moisture via various humidification systems, or cooling/reheating air to remove moisture. When very low humidity is required, special equipment such as a desiccant system may be required. It should be noted that although you can save money by not implementing humidity control at the beginning, retrofitting your system for humidity control at a later time can be expensive and require a shutdown of the facility.
Good engineering practice can help prevent issues that may be caused by activities performed in inappropriately controlled environments. The following steps can help manage the process:
Plan your operations throughout your facility, taking into account the requirements for the temperature and humidity in each area and know what activities are most sensitive to the environment. Plans can change, so plan for contingencies whenever possible.
Write down your requirements in a User Requirement Specification (URS) to a level of detail that is sufficient for you to test against once the system is built. This should include specific temperature and RH ranges. You may have additional requirements. Don’t forget to include requirements for instrumentation that will allow you to monitor the temperature and RH of critical areas. This instrumentation should be calibrated.
Solicit and select proposals for work based on the URS that you have generated. The contractor will understand the weather in the area and can ensure that the system can meet your requirements. A good contractor can also further assist with other topics that are not within the scope of this article (particulates, differential pressures, managing heating or humidity generating equipment effects, etc).
Once work is completed, verify correct operation using the calibrated instrumentation provided, and make sure you add periodic calibration of critical equipment, as well as maintenance of your mechanical system(s), to your calibration and maintenance schedules, to keep everything running smoothly.
The main point is if you plan your facility and know your requirements, then you can avoid significant problems down the road as your company grows and activity in various areas increases. Chances are that a typical facility may not meet your particular requirements, and finding that out after you are operational can take away from your vacation time and peace of mind. Consider the environment, its good business!
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