The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved cannabidiol (CBD)-infused nutraceuticals, but that hasn’t stopped the $2 billion CBD market from growing, so much so, that the 2019 Nutraceuticals Market Assessment from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, projects explosive growth to over $16 billion by 2025.

A lot of the projections lie with a willingness by retailers and consumers to embrace the evidence supporting the positive impact of CBD tinctures, lotions and oils on some users’ health. According to Healthcare Packaging magazine, grocer Kroger added CBD topical lotion to stores in 17 states earlier this summer, joining CVS, Rite-Aid, Sheetz and Walgreens as national retailers carrying CBD products. Previously in 2019, the Vitamin Shoppe became one of the first national retailers to sell edible CBD soft gels and liquid drops nationally.

This news is relevant to the packaging industry for several reasons. CBD contains no (or a negligible amount of) tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and yet many consumers are still confused and lump news about the potential healing effects of CBD with recreational and medicinal cannabis. While the FDA continues to drag its heels, progress, albeit glacial, is occurring. In the summer of 2019, CBD manufacturers joined with academics, consumer packaged goods manufacturers and agriculture officials to ask a panel of FDA regulators to give the cannabis industry a uniform set of guidelines for producing, packaging and labeling cannabis extracts.

With major retailers standardizing on brands and offerings, CBD will now enjoy wide-spread exposure and convenient availability beyond the myriad of unknown CBD products offered on the internet. Shoppers trust their local drug stores for their prescriptions and feel good about CBD brands offered on their neighborhood shelves. Well-known branding makes consumers feel safe in the knowledge a responsible source has vetted these products.

With Kroger and others serving large regions of the country, CBD producers will have to step up to the next level of processing and packaging, benefitting the materials and machinery manufacturers tabbed to fill these needs. Contract packagers are currently carrying a large portion of the CBD-packaging load, but as retailers expand offerings, contract packagers may find themselves with more business than they can handle.

Two emerging trends for CBD products are the use of white label products and new delivery methods. Both place more emphasis on the packaging to distinguish products in a retail setting and also require packaging innovations to accommodate the variety of delivery methods while following regulations.

Packaging for CBD products is highly regulated, with requirements for child-resistant and resealable lids, tamper-proofing and opacity. While not yet a legal obligation, a majority of CBD products have a QR code that consumers can scan with their smartphones to download product information. The information includes the ingredients found in the product, the level of THC (verified by an independent laboratory), batch numbers, expiration dates and more. The strict regulations and labeling requirements of the CBD industry are giving rise to specialized manufacturing. CBD manufacturers are embracing sustainability, premium packaging and QR code technology to download product information.

For the most part, manufacturers have incorporated packaging innovations like custom tins, slide boxes, tubes in various colors, little jars that look like contact lens cases and tamper-resistant dropper bottles. Sustainable packagers with a focus exclusively on the CBD industry are now popping up. Sana Packaging in Denver, for example, only creates packages made from 100 percent hemp plastic and 100 percent reclaimed ocean plastic.

Companies looking to enter the CBD market or learn more about the technologies and legalities can find the latest technological solutions and guidance on best practices at PACK EXPO East (March 3-5, 2020, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia). The show will also offer educational programming during its Innovation Stage and Forum sessions, including ones specifically targeting the Cannabis market. Owned and produced by PMMI, PACK EXPO East offers attendees the opportunity to obtain insights from more than 400 exhibiting companies and opportunities as well as networking opportunities with 7,000 industry peers.

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