Creating an effective, great-tasting cannabis-infused beverage is only half the battle. 

Manufacturers must also seek out or develop packaging solutions that draw customers’ eyes and protect the shelf life of the product within, according to Nicolas Rivollet, VP of marketing, Penn Color.

Rivollet recently spoke to Cannabis Products about the importance of on-shelf differentiation, the advantages of PET, and the company’s one-pellet masterbatch solution.

CP: Why should cannabis-infused beverage manufacturers focus on brand differentiation?

NR: CBD and THC beverages are a great way to introduce cannabis in today’s lifestyles, and they are a perfect fit with a mega trend in beverage consumption: consumers are moving away from the indulgent segments, including the not-so-healthy carbonated soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Consumers are moving toward healthy products with a purpose. This is fueling the growth of the functional, nutritious beverages segment, including healthy juices, functional drinks, dairy and non-dairy milk alternatives. CBD and THC beverages are also functional, but they are functional at a whole different level. They are functional with health and wellness benefits — there is really no better fit with the definition of a healthy product with a purpose. That fit drives the success of CBD and THC beverages, with growth expected to be between 25 and 50% over the next five years.

However, with success come challenges. The beverage segment has never been so crowded. The decline of carbonated soft drinks has opened huge white spaces, and in those white spaces, there are hundreds of new products, constantly renewed, constantly refreshed. That’s the competition that CBD and THC beverages face as they enter the segment. There is also increasing competition between CBD and THC products themselves. For a brand launching a new CBD or THC beverage, a critical challenge is to differentiate on the shelves, in an increasingly crowded space.

CP: What role does packaging play in building brand differentiation?

NR: The CBD and THC segment is the fastest growing in the whole beverage world, and it is fueled by unlimited product creativity. CBD and THC beverages come in infinite combinations of exciting flavors and unique ratios, each creating a different experience, each having a different function. Rightly so, brands spend a lot of money, time, and energy creating great products. However, the success of a product can be jeopardized if the packaging isn’t as great as the product. Research on consumer behavior shows that 80% of consumers recognize their favorite brand and product by the shape and the colors of the packaging. Packaging is a critical contributor to brand equity.

CP: Why is PET an ideal material for packaging cannabis-infused beverages?

NR: In the vibrant world of CBD and THC beverages, success requires strong branding, and branding is about storytelling. Compared to other alternatives, PET offers freedom in packaging design, allowing each unique shape to tell a different story. In addition to shapes, there is a complete range of colors and textures in the PET toolbox, offering unlimited opportunities to make each packaging memorable and immediately recognizable.

Trust is another critical aspect of branding. When a consumer purchases a cannabis infused beverage, they want the right experience, all the time. Consumers want consistency and predictability, and that’s how they build their trust in a product and the brand. PET supports trust, by helping brands control potency and the pharmacokinetics that define shelf-life, considering the product, the process, the package and the delivery. 

CP: How does PET compare to glass and cans?

NR: From a brand differentiation standpoint, the power of design freedom with PET is unmatched. This is the opportunity to benefit from outstanding shelf appeal, while glass bottles and beverage cans, typically available in stock shapes, blend in. From a consumer experience standpoint, PET packages have the obvious advantage versus glass of being unbreakable and lightweight. PET can be fitted with a child resistant and resealable closure in a much more functional and cost-effective way than glass bottles and beverage cans. PET bottles are also commonly available in specific in-trend formats, such as 2-oz. shots.

PET also presents a better sustainability profile than glass bottles and beverage cans. In a recent study, McKinsey found that “among applications for which non-plastic alternatives are used at scale, the plastics examined (…) offer lower total GHG contribution compared with alternatives in 13 of 14 cases. GHG savings range from 10 to 90 percent, considering both product life cycle and impact of use.” Specifically, the contribution of PET to GHG is 435 kg CO2 eq per 100,000 oz. of soft drink, while aluminum is about two times higher (890 kg CO2 eq) and glass is about three times higher (1,170 kg CO2 eq).

CP: When did Penn Color begin working on its one-pellet masterbatch solution? What was the inspiration behind it?

NR: Penn Color started to work on a masterbatch solution specific to CBD and THC beverages about 18 months ago. The development is typical of the continuous R&D efforts that Penn Color invests in every year in enabling technologies to open new market segments. Penn Color saw the potential for PET to give brands a decisive advantage from a shelf appeal and consumer experience perspective, while identifying unmet needs for a more dependable and practical solution to enhance the performance of PET from a shelf-life perspective. Early in development, Penn Color partnered with key players eager to pave the way for PET in the CBD and THC beverages business, including emulsion specialists, equipment manufacturers for injection and blowing machines as well as co-packers.

CP: How does beverages’ cannabinoid potency change over time? How does the one-pellet solution protect cannabinoid potency?

NR: Poor control of shelf life can have a dramatic impact on consumer experience. Shelf-life analysis of commercial products have shown potency losses of up to 80% after just five weeks with some aluminum beverage cans. This was mainly due to the chemistry between the active ingredient and some types of liners in these cans — some liners performed well, but others were literally absorbing the active ingredients. Similarly, some PET packages showed 50% loss in six months. This is a slower but still very significant loss due to the degradation of the active ingredients.

Analytical work and trials show that shelf life is driven by a complex set of factors, with interactions that are specific to CBD and THC infused beverages and influenced by the emulsion technology, the resin, the colors and the functional additives used to make the bottle.  Oxidation is a key factor: active ingredients in CBD and THC beverages are sensitive to the intake of ambient oxygen, the diffusion of oxygen in the headspace, the oxygen dissolved in the beverage itself. Light is also a factor, as it accelerates oxidation.

However, when properly formulated together, the emulsion and the masterbatch (with the colors and functional additives) give the key to shelf-life management. There are interesting similarities between the emulsion and the masterbatch: the emulsion is used to disperse the active ingredient in the beverage, the masterbatch is used to disperse the colors and functional additives in the material of the package. Formulating the emulsion and the masterbatch together is the best way to control oxidation, while ensuring the compatibility between the different ingredients and the compatibility between the ingredients and the package itself.

The new one-pellet solution helps create an outstanding package on the shelf and a delightful consumer experience all the time. It provides both opacity and oxygen scavenging. It is very convenient, because there is only one pellet to handle instead of two. It is also more reliable to control shelf life, because the risk of dosage mistakes is virtually eliminated. Tests conducted with commercial emulsions in different package types suggest that with the one-pellet CBD/THC masterbatch, bottles made from 100% recycled PET and fitted with a barrier to oxygen can deliver a shelf life of nine months.

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