In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cannabis market is poised to grow by $22.33 billion, with a CAGR of over 24 percent by 2024, according to the Global Medical Marijuana Market 2020-2024 report by Technavio. Given this outlook, it’s safe to say that within the next decade, the everyday routine of millions of American consumers will integrate some type of cannabis, whether as a functional food and beverage ingredient, a beauty product or as a health or mood aid.

That said, today’s cannabis industry remains small, fragmented and somewhat complicated, riddled by legal and regulatory concerns. But change is coming.

Throughout the pandemic, cannabis businesses remained open and received essential status, giving a positive characterization to the emerging industry. Even before COVID-19, according to PMMI’s report Cannabis Market Update: Unique Challenges for THC and CBD Products, public support for the cannabis industry, particularly CBD use, continues to increase. While the cannabis industry has not grown as quickly as investors had originally hoped and no industry is immune to the economic impact of COVID-19, it is still experiencing double-digit expansion. And more players are getting into the action.

A move to automation is fueling this expansion. Cannabis processing is labor-intensive, and the industry suffers considerably from workforce challenges. There is a great need for automation, and this longtime controversial industry is on the cusp of enormous scale-up. According to the PMMI Cannabis report, cannabis companies are looking for OEMs to provide flexible, reliable machines that will adapt to a number of different product types and packaging formats.

Still, the continuing legal restrictions on cannabis have made investment in full-scale automation difficult, especially for a cash-only industry of small manufacturers with limited lines of credit. PMMI’s report also states that for cannabis producers, the lack of ready-made solutions presents a hurdle when trying to automate. As a result, companies have ramped up slowly, preferring low-speed, semi-automatic equipment, mostly for primary and secondary package labeling, as well as form/fill/seal (FFS) equipment for handling powders and tube-filled products.

Packaging automation can offer many small and artisan cannabis manufacturers an opportunity to differentiate their brands through premium packaging, such as glass formats over plastic containers. Companies have also learned some lessons from the recent setbacks in the vaping industry. Legal challenges already burden cannabis manufacturers, and they want to avoid colorful and eye-popping packaging that appeals to underage consumers. Instead, there is a preference for packaging that conveys security and premium appeal.

Contract packagers have stepped in to help small companies with their packaging needs. As the industry grows, there is tremendous opportunity for OEMs and suppliers to help educate and service this uniquely complex market. To be successful, it will be critical to offer expertise on automating procedures and lean manufacturing practices and to design cost-effective equipment for small operations.

As manufacturers and end-users navigate the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the resulting impact on the cannabis industry, the brand new live, web-based PACK EXPO Connects 2020 (Nov. 9-13), produced by PMMI Media Group, will provide the same opportunities and insights the industry has relied on through the PACK EXPO portfolio of trade shows for more than 60 years. The event will serve as North America’s resource for the most advanced packaging and processing technologies across a wide range of industries and will facilitate exhibitor and attendee interaction through live chats, product and equipment demos, as well as engaging educational sessions. More information and updates on the event are available at packexpoconnects.com.

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