In today’s crowded cannabis marketplace, what does it take to stand out? These 21 brands boldly forge their identities with top-notch packaging and design.
As a graduate of the School of Visual Arts with a degree in graphic design, I’ve always appreciated how cultivating aesthetic appeal through branding makes an impact on consumer habits, and culture at large. People gravitate towards certain brands because they identify with their style and messaging as well as enjoying their products. As cannabis moves into a legal paradigm, the pressure is on to market flowers, concentrates and edibles much like any other consumer good—wrapped in plastic, advertised heavily and positioned to appeal to the most desirable demographics.
Many cannabis brands emerged from an underground black market where such niceties weren’t necessary because the products sold themselves. Entirely bootstrapped with funds saved from gray market sales or borrowed from friends and family, most pioneering cannabis companies focus first on developing a quality product and gaining distribution in dispensaries or retail outlets in legal states like Colorado; leaving branding and design as an afterthought. I remember receiving edibles loosely wrapped in plastic film secured only by a sticker circa 2011, a presentation that was less than appetizing.
A lot of goofy business names, awkward brand identities, poor design execution and amateur packaging solutions have been the norm up for cannabis companies up until recently, when increasing sophistication among those investing and working in this nascent industry resulted in more slick presentations, upscale appeal and mass market sales. After all, research suggests that 33 percent of all sales are influenced by branding and packaging.
Celebrity cannabis brands have driven a lot of the interest in better design and branding solutions, with the notable example of Snoop Dogg choosing to hire world-famous design firm Pentagram to create the packaging for Leafs by Snoop. For the average “ganjapreneur” however, there are more affordable resources available to help distinguish your cannabusiness from the competition.
A 20-year veteran of the packaging industry, Kary Radestock has extensive knowledge in the areas of packaging design and print production. Now the CEO at Hippo Premium Packaging, a marketing firm focused on the cannabis industry, Kary helps new businesses get their products to market in the most stylish way possible.
Kary believes that “with the end of prohibition coming, we are going to see major corporations coming into the market and consumers are used to seeing professional packaging with all of the products they buy, and now they are going to have the chance to buy some cannabis. If it’s not packaged professionally, the business isn’t going to be able to instill confidence and build a relationship with that consumer.”
Hippo offers help from the ground up with packaging, design, marketing strategy, brand identities and creative analysis for small cannabis businesses. “Our community is made up of small businesses,” Radestock explains, “and they are going to need professional packaging, branding and graphic design in order to compete and survive.”
Kary reviewed the legal cannabis market and critiqued her favorite packaging and design solutions to compile this list of 21 top cannabis brands to watch. Attention to every detail is important, with the typefaces, paper stock, size, shape, and weight of the packaging playing a role, along with the quality of the design, label information and print production.
“With 37 initiatives on the ballot in 2016 and several states poised to join the recreational movement, cannabusinesses are rushing to establish themselves before it’s safe enough for the mega-conglomerates to jump into the industry,” Kary says. “While the opportunities are great, these businesses know they will have to be ready to compete for shelf space at retail, compete for customers and to be one of the last brands standing once the dust of prohibition settles.”
Below is a look at Kary’s picks for the best cannabis branding in the country, representing the future face of the legal marijuana marketplace.
Seems every client I meet with wants to emulate Kiva with their clean, contemporary branding, natural kraft paper stock, beautifully integrated color coded tamper evident labels and those classic candy tins that inspire trust and confidence in the products and the brand. They are a standout at retail, as well, with their cleverly designed counter display. Production Note: The ink hold-out (vibrant colors) on uncoated stocks is bar-to-none and makes me suspect that they print their cartons on UV presses.
I love everything about Mirth Provisions, who brilliantly brings us Legal Drinks and their new product, Drift, a sublingual spray. The tamper evident seals on these sparkling tonics play beautifully with the colorization of the labels on their amber bottles. The use of silver foil visually elevates the brand while excellence in graphic design and copywriting make them an unbeatable brand, cannabis or not. Check out their newly released, quirky music video to see an example of cannabis advertising that could soon be ubiquitous post-legalization.
It’s been exciting to watch the design evolution of this brand, from stock stand-up pouches with labels and traditional flexible packaging to beautifully produced paperboard canisters. The pastel color palette pops off the stark, bold, black and white background resulting in a professional and playful refreshed image, while at the same time better protecting the edibles within. I’m not against flexible packaging, but this design move was a sensational way to elevate the brand and say loud-and-clear, “We’re Auntie Dolores and we’re here to stay!”
Smart design and branding by Potency makes this Oregon-based brand rise to the top, made possible by a strong partnership with the expert growers at TJ’s Organic Gardens. Their commercial debut featured strong messaging emphasizing an outdoorsy lifestyle and local, organic ingredients, sure to resonate with health-conscious Oregonians. The subdued design is subtle but sexy, and the slick packaging conveys all necessary and important information for consumers to have a positive experience with the product.
Leafs by Snoop
Big budget branding and graphic design has entered the cannabis-packaging arena with Snoop’s Leafs. The subtle design approach, pastel color palette and use of metallic gold ink in the logo is very understated and elegant while the use of the background patterns in differing applications across the product line creates visual interest. The tented-style shatter packaging may pose retail display challenges however the rigid box packaging for this flower line spells “ultra-premium.”
Willie’s is worth mentioning due to the name recognition and anticipation of the full product launch. From a packaging standpoint, his team has deployed a very simple approach of using stock tins and simple labels, illustrating that professional packaging doesn’t have to be expensive if it’s well designed and executed. I am excited to see the evolution of Willie’s packaging as he fully rolls it out!
Evoking royal imagery, the Lion in the logo reinforces that this is indeed a premium product line. I love the clean look of the flower jars with wooden lids as well as the straight-forward design approach using primary colors, which extend to his Hemp Body product line, nicely tying the two distinct product lines.
Whoopie & Maya
This much-anticipated brand has elegantly entered the market with a luxurious primary color palette of black and gold while utilizing industry standard accent colors. Although the pilot packaging is basic (labels on stock jars), the use of verbs for product naming is super fun and the restrained graphic design suggests, “You can trust me… I’m a pro!”
The Goodship Company
The contemporary but whimsical illustrations of different types of ships across the line along with the use of gold foil give this brand eye-catching visual appeal. The well-designed packaging includes pretty folding cartons to house the product, individually packed in flexible wrappers.
Lordy, Lordy, Lordy… these guys design to impress! With a beautifully illustrated logo and gorgeous color palette, this package is reminiscent of the Hermès brand, creating instant credibility and desire for their products. Attractive rigid boxes house their gumdrop and chocolate caramel products, protected by wax board inserts and confection cups. Using high-end production techniques including foils and embossing across the product line further elevates the brand, while the glass candy jar is a brilliant & clever retail solution for their Chews.
These amazing products look as good on the outside as they are on the inside! Housing artisan edibles, these custom printed and embossed tins protect items from damage by using cello wrap and wax board. Little “belly-bands” delightfully tackle tamper-evident requirements. Point of Purchase (POP) containing cartons, versioned by product line, support ease and professionalism at the retail level.
After undergoing a recent brand refresh, Apothecanna debuts a clean, modern, spa-like look and feel for their skin care line. The use of direct printing on recycled plastics adds to their professional appeal, making me feel like I might see them in an upscale department store such as Barney’s or Saks. Naming the products based on their effect along with color coding each distinct line helps the consumer easily identify which product is right for them at any given time.
Here’s another stellar example of a successful brand refresh. Hashman Infused has done an excellent job of evolving their brand with smart design and use of high-end materials. Their beautiful handmade round paper canisters protect the chocolates inside and while moving products from glass to plastic containers isn’t typically considered a step up, it works in this case due to strong branding and the use of black bottles. It looks as though their popular Medi-Roon line will be next up for a refresh in order to bring it in line with the rest of the brand.
Originators of the clever idea of sealing their buds in cans (like tuna) for optimal freshness! The plastic lids allow the consumer to keep their stash fresh in said canister and while each product line is branded wildly different from one another, there is no mistaking that these canisters are all from the THC Factory.
This industry giant is a well-oiled machine when it comes to executing professional packaging over a vast product line. Their upgrade of aluminum over glass jars originally set them apart from the pack, but while switching their Elixir packaging to plastic last year to deal with new dosing regulations, the shrink film covering these bottles has been beautifully designed to closely resemble the original packaging.
The cigarette-style, folding cartons house five pre-rolls, protected from the elements in individual flexible sleeves. This brand has extensive strain versioning with completely different graphic design applied to each version, which is a departure from the clean, color coded stickers that we commonly see. The finishing on the cartons employs a fairly straightforward overall UV coating, which helps the colors pop while embossing adds a bit of upscale sizzle. The use of 3D lenticulars to decorate their Hall of Fame line really wows us and pushes the cannabis packaging envelope.
Tommy Chong’s brand is well designed, and while a black and white primary color palette can make it tough to differentiate a specific brand on retail shelves amid a rainbow of bright colors, the use of tinted cold foil and spot gloss UV creates visual excitement. Upscale little flower jars are sure to be a consumer keepsake which continually reinforces the brand.
Bloom Farms have attained packaging nirvana with their Vape Pen and Cartridge folding cartons. The uncoated kraft stock with gloss black foil works beautifully with the contrasting textured stock, with the color changing for each version. Excellent design and execution are the hallmarks of quality production.
My jaw dropped when I first laid eyes on Lola! A year and a half in the making, this brand has secured a top spot among premiere cannabis companies. Whimsy and creativity collide to delight us, from the etched wooden lids that top their hand blown glass flower and concentrate jars to the beautiful way the look of tamper evident labels are carried across the line.
Big Pete’s Treats
I love watching companies mature and Big Pete’s Treats is doing just that. After five years in business, they decided it was time for a brand refresh. I like the way they paid homage to their past by integrating the playful Pete character into their new look. The custom printed flexible packaging is a big step up from baggies with labels and their Take & Bake lines works very well in fun, paper ice cream containers.
This coalition of farmers from the Emerald Triangle recognizes the importance of having a direct relationship with the consumer, so they put their weed into large professional, custom printed flexible packaging, using foil and spot gloss UV for visual pop. True Humboldt also provides dispensaries with branded eighths and quarter sized flexible bags to send their sungrown cannabis home with the happy consumer. You won’t forget where those tasty nugs came from, even after smoking or dabbing it! With potential cannabis appellations on the horizon, this is a smart move by True Humboldt that could positively influence the entire industry.