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Sustainability in Packaging: A Q&A with Dymapak CEO Ross Kirsh

By Aaron G. Biros
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Ross Kirsh launched Dymapak in New York City in 2010. Born into a family with a storied history in manufacturing, he founded the company after working for several years in Hong Kong where his interests, skills and passions for product development took shape.

Filling a niche for smell-proof bags in smoke shops, the business grew as he immersed himself in cannabis markets around the country. After designing and inventing a patented, first of its kind child-resistant pouch for Colorado’s first adult use sale in 2014, the business has continued to achieve global scale and today is recognized as the worldwide leader in cannabis packaging.

While the cannabis industry has long drawn the ire of environmentalists because of its energy problem when it comes to cultivation, the packaging side of the business faces very similar issues; the cannabis industry also has a plastic problem. In most states where cannabis is legal, state regulations require producers and dispensaries to package all cannabis products in opaque, child-resistant packaging, with several states requiring dispensaries to place entire orders inside large, child-resistant exit bags prior to customers leaving with their purchase.

Dymapak, led by Kirsh, is working on initiatives to help address environmental sustainability in cannabis packaging and turn interest into action industry wide. Ross will offer insights and the business’s action plan at the upcoming Cannabis Packaging Virtual Conference December 1. And ahead of that chat, we caught up with him to learn more.

Aaron G. Biros: Tell me a bit about yourself and how Dymapak came to be. What brought you to the cannabis space and where you are today?

Ross Kirsh, CEO of Dymapak

Ross Kirsh: My family has deep roots in manufacturing. Back in the mid 1970s, my uncle and his brothers all launched separate manufacturing businesses after one of the brothers moved to Hong Kong to open a handbag and luggage factory. The 70s happened to be a unique time to work abroad in Hong Kong given few US companies were operating there when China first announced its open-door policy around 1979. And as you can expect, he became a sourcing agent for many large companies in the US who needed trustworthy boots on the ground.

I went to college, pursued IT and in the back of my mind always knew product development and the manufacturing process was too interesting not to follow. I already knew Hong Kong was ripe for learning entrepreneurship so I went abroad to learn more, and fell in love with the culture, the opportunity and the people.  Immediately after graduation, I moved to Hong Kong. I began working with my family, who taught me the trade – end to end. I helped develop several product lines and lived next to one of our factories in southern China to immerse myself.

After 3.5 years abroad, I began running sales operations back in the US. Fast forward a year back in the states, I had unique customers that owned tobacco and smoke shops telling me that cannabis packaging existed in the market, but not really what everyone was looking for. In truth, the business was born the minute a customer said, “Can you make me a retail ready smell-proof bag?” I figured I could, and the rest – as they say – is history.

What began and was established in 2010 truly took shape at an accelerated pace in 2013, when my relationship with one of the first dispensary owner/operators in Denver – Ean Seeb of Denver Relief – came with a golden opportunity; Invent a child resistant package for cannabis, one did not exist but it was mandated under Colorado’s first-ever recreational cannabis regulations. I spent 7 out of the next 8 weeks in China developing a solution and am proud to say our bag was used in the first recreational sale when Colorado went legal in January 2014. From there, the business grew rapidly, and organically throughout the industry.

Biros: Environmental sustainability is a big issue for cannabis. Not just on the energy intensive side, but particularly when it comes to packaging and its plastic problem. How is your company approaching this issue and are you working on any initiatives to eliminate or reduce plastic waste?

Kirsh: We recognize firsthand the issues that plastic presents. While the material is full of advantages, the disadvantages are both imminent and critical to understand.

What many don’t realize is, for most cannabis packaging that’s recyclable to actually BE recycled, the customer must first find a drop off location, either at a dispensary or elsewhere that accepts the material. The process relies exclusively on the consumer to take action because the products cannot be recycled curbside. And unfortunately, the stats show that very few consumers take the time to bring the packaging back in order to recycle it.

So, yes, we produce recyclable bags in our portfolio, but we really want to get to the source of the problem here – pollution. We looked in a few different areas. And we developed a different bag made with 30% post-consumer resin, meaning 30% is made from reused plastics.

Even more, we recently partnered with a socially conscious, industry leader in the space, Plastic Bank, which builds regenerative, recycling ecosystems in under-developed communities. They work to  collect plastic waste from the ocean – extracting it to ensure its opportunity to enter the recycling ecosystem. Through our partnership with Plastic Bank, we’ll help prevent more than six million plastic bottles from entering the ocean this year alone. And I’m really proud of that.

Biros: Where do you see the cannabis packaging industry going in the next five years?

Kirsh: I think that’s a fascinating question. Sustainability will play a huge role in the future of this market. Just like we are seeing single use plastic bags being phased out across the country, we’ll see that happen to other areas too as part of this larger trend.

I predict more on-time and on-demand needs in the future; the ability to see traceability in real time, similar to the pharmaceutical industry. People will expect batch numbers and lot numbers, with data, in real time. It’ll become central to the business.

Gaining and cultivating trust will be another big hurdle for companies in this sector soon. With federal legalization comes a greater sense of professionalism and more sophistication for the market.

Yet, the continued pressure on environmental sustainability will be the biggest change in the next five years. When you look at sustainability in the packaging industry, paying attention to the format or choice of material should be top of mind. For example, if you’re shipping a glass jar, the amount of space that takes up in a shipping container has a huge impact on the environment, what’s called a hidden impact. One shipping container can hold millions of bags, but you need eight shipping containers for glass jars to get the same amount of storing capacity. That’s about efficiency, which is a bit more hidden, and I hope that consumers will become more and more knowledgeable about what companies are doing to stay environmentally sustainable.

Biros: Ross, thank you very much for your time today.

Kirsh: My pleasure, Aaron.

Accelerate Your Business Growth with Great Product Packaging

By Ashlee Brayfield
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The cannabis industry is booming. Just the medical segment of the industry is expected to generate $22 billion in the next four years.

Today, 36 of the 50 states allow patients to use medical cannabis with a prescription. But there’s a lot of competition in the cannabis industry. To succeed, you must stand out from the rest with custom branded packaging for your cannabis and CBD offerings.

In fact, some of the most successful companies in the industry have built multi-billion dollar businesses based on a strong brand identity, including compelling packaging design for their cannabis and CBD products.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when designing packaging for your cannabis or CBD products:

Cannabis packaging should attract your target customers

Compelling and high-quality product packaging plays a big role in a customer choosing one cannabis or CBD product over another.

But, before you can create packaging solutions for your cannabis and CBD products, you must understand your target market, your prospective customers and the experience you want to promote.

Here are a few customer profiles for you to consider:

Luxury cannabis and CBD customers

A product is considered a luxury when the brand status is elevated in the eyes of the customer.

Luxury clients expect top quality products and packaging. And, as far as most customers are concerned, if a product is perceived as better than others – it is.

To aid in this perception, packaging options for premium products should be high quality, clean and minimal or luxe, and over-the-top.

Just some of the many CBD products on the market today.

And, the packaging should always deliver on the implied promises defined by the manufacturer or dispensary. In fact, if you want to start a cannabis dispensary, you should be thinking about the overall experience for your customers and how the products and packaging offered in your dispensary will stand out from others.

When designing packaging options for customers looking for luxury cannabis and CBD products, be sure to consider:

  1. Quality: Luxury consumers expect high-value, designer packaging that functions impeccably.
  2. Sense: Luxury product packaging should provide a heightened, tactile user-experience.
  3. Taste: Luxury product packaging should forgo the typical stereotypes associated with cannabis.

Millennial cannabis and CBD customers

Millennials are drawn to authenticity. They’re burnt out on traditional advertising, coercive marketing and carefully cultivated facades.

But they’re open to trendy design, and unique product uses and experiences. And, they’re generally receptive to following celebrity and influencer endorsements from people they perceive to have values that align with their own.

When designing packaging for Millennials, be sure to consider:

  1. Simplicity: Minimal, unadorned custom branded packaging appears authentic and trustworthy. This type of packaging represents the product within, without frills or facades.
  2. Sustainability: Millennials tend to value environmental consciousness. They value sustainable packaging that offers alternatives to plastics. You’ll get extra points if the packaging is made from renewable or plant-based materials.
  3. Limited Edition: Millennials want something not everyone can have. This is why scarcity marketing via special edition products is wildly popular.

Customers looking for relief

All medical cannabis customers have a medical need for cannabis and CBD products. A recent study found that approximately two-thirds of medical cannabis patients define chronic pain as their chief reason for treatment.

Patients looking for pain relief for medical issues will be drawn to custom branded packaging that promises what they desire, without making unsubstantiated health claims. So, an emphasis on the efficacy of your product and the relief they will enjoy will be very persuasive for that audience.

When designing packaging for customers looking for relief, be sure to consider:

  1. Medical symbols: Packaging design should make it clear that your product delivers health benefits. Some brands choose to do this through logos pairing cannabis leaves with medical symbols. But, with so many medical cannabis brands hitting the market, that concept will be quickly played out and overdone; making it hard for your brand to stand out. So, think of other ways you can convey your product’s medical value to set your brand apart.
  2. Text: Use clear, concise copy describing your product and its benefits. Pain relief should be a focal point of the package messaging.
  3. Simple design: Clean package graphics and labels with ample white space will ensure that consumers can read the product packaging and find the necessary information with ease.

Cannabis packaging should inform

The best custom branded packaging design successfully balances design and information. Custom packaging for any product must include basic product information on a custom printed label – preferably in a design that makes your product look appealing.

Effective packaging design can be simple

The overall design is an important element in the success of your products. As we emphasized in our guide on how to start a business, a strong brand identity is more important today than it has ever been.

But, medical cannabis packaging carries a heavier informational burden. Guidelines, which vary state by state, require that your packaging must include dosing information and instructions for safe use, as well as batch numbers and expiration details.

For reference, here is our handy content checklist for cannabis packaging. It is also important to be sure your packaging solutions meet state laws. If you already have packaging for your cannabis and CBD products but are struggling to increase sales, perhaps it’s time to consider rebranding your company and your packaging.

Cannabis packaging should protect the product

When choosing cannabis packaging materials, consider both appearance and function.

The best marketing and package graphics in the world won’t hold much value if the product inside isn’t properly protected.

Child-resistant packaging can look aesthetically pleasing with the right design

Keep the following protection guidelines in mind when developing your custom packaging:

  1. Proper seal: Packaging for products that are not single-use must be resealable and generally should be smell proof. Containers with lids, adhesive closures, ziplock packaging and boxes with interlocking closures are all options – which is right for your product?
  2. Child safety: Packaging must be difficult for children to open – it must be child-resistant (such as pop-top bottles that require some dexterity to open). Packages must adhere to the Poison Prevention Packaging Act.
  3. Tamper evident: Much like over-the-counter drugs, medical cannabis packaging must be designed in such a way that it is evident if the package has been tampered with.
  4. Sturdy materials: Select packaging that is sturdy enough to protect the product inside. Different products will present differing packaging requirements based on the level of protection they require.
  5. Edibles and beverages: States laws involving medical cannabis and consumable products are not created equal. In the states that do allow edibles and infused beverages, the packaging must be opaque.

With all products, it’s important to remember that the package is the first thing people will see. Great packaging design elevates your product and tells a story about who you are as a company.

But medical cannabis packaging must also work to build trust and confidence in the efficacy of your product. Use these strategies to create the best packaging for your product and cannabis customers will buy over and over again.

Documentation: Are You Prepared?

By Radojka Barycki
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Documents play a key role in the world of regulations and global standards. Documents tell a story on programs development, implementation and verification during an inspection or audit. Documents are used as evidence to determine conformance to the law or standard. However, do you know what kind of documents may be reviewed during a regulatory inspection or a food safety audit? Are you prepared to show that the implementation of regulatory requirements or a standard is done efficiently at your facility?

Inspectors and auditors will look for compliance either to regulations or to a standard criterion. Regulations and standards require that documentation is controlled, secured and stored in an area where they cannot deteriorate. Therefore, writing a Document Management Program (DMP) will help a business owner ensure consistency in meeting this and other requirements.Radojka Barycki will host a a plenary session titled, “Cannabis: A Compliance Revolution” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn More

A well-developed and implemented DMP provides control over documents by providing a number sequence and revision status to the document. In addition, ownership for development, review and distribution of the documents are assigned to specific individuals within the company to ensure that there are no inconsistencies in the program. Documents must also have the name of the company in addition to a space to write the date when the record is generated. It is recommended to include the address if there are multiple operational sites within the same company.

There are different types of documents that serve as support to the operations:

  1. Program: A written document indicating how a business will execute its activities. When it comes to the food industry, this is a written document that indicates how quality, food safety and business activities are controlled.
  2. Procedures: General actions conducted in a certain order. Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs) allow the employee to know what to do in general. For example, a truck receiving procedure only tells the employee what the expected conditions are when receiving a truck (cleanliness, temperature, etc.) However, it doesn’t tell the employee how to look for the expected conditions at the time of the truck arrival.
  3. Work Instructions: Detailed actions conducted in a certain order. For example, truck inspection work instruction tells the employee what steps are to be followed to perform the inspection.
  4. Forms: Documents used to record activities being performed. 
  5. Work Aids: are documents that provide additional information that is important to perform the job and can be used as a quick reference when performing the required activities within the job. 
Are you prepared to face document requirements now and in the future?

The inspectors and auditors base their role on the following saying: “Say what you do. Do what you say. Prove it!” The programs say what the company do. The procedures, work instructions and work aids provide information on implementation (Do what you say) and the forms become records that are evidence (prove) that the company is following their own written processes.

Regulatory requirements for cannabis vary from state to state. In general, an inspector may ask a cannabis business to provide the following documentation during an inspection:

  1. Business License(s)
  2. Product Traceability Programs and Documents
  3. Product Testing (Certificate of Analysis – COAs)
  4. Certification Documents (applicable mainly to cannabis testing labs)
  5. Proof of Destruction (if product needs to be destroyed due to non-compliance)
  6. Training Documents (competency evidence)
  7. Security Programs

As different states legalize cannabis, new regulatory requirements are being developed and modeled after the pharma, agriculture and food industries. In addition, standards will be in place that will provide more consistency to industry practices at a global level. The pharma, agriculture and food industries base their operations and product safety in programs such as cGMPs, GAPs, HACCP-based Food Safety Management Systems and Quality Management Systems. Documents required during an inspection or audit are related to:

  1. Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
  2. Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)
  3. Food Safety Plan Documents
  4. Ingredient and Processing Aids Receiving
  5. Ingredient and Processing Aids Storage
  6. Operational Programs (Product Processing)
  7. Final Product Storage
  8. Final Product Transportation
  9. Defense Program
  10. Traceability Program
  11. Training Program
  12. Document Management Program

In the always evolving cannabis industry, are you prepared to face document requirements now and in the future?