When Cheeba Chews began moving into new cannabis markets, the company discovered it had a sticky situation on its hands.
Cheeba Chews, which has manufactured taffies and other edible products in Colorado since 2009, found its fruit taffies stuck to its blister packaging in states with more humid climates, particularly California, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts.
To make it easier to get its taffies out of the packaging, Cheeba Chews developed a proprietary “swabbing station” that coats each blister with a food-grade glazing agent. The company has launched the technology in Colorado and Oklahoma, with California, Massachusetts, and Nevada to follow.
Cannabis Products recently spoke to Eric Leslie, co-owner and chief marketing officer of Cheeba Chews, about moving into new markets, solving the stickiness issue, and customer feedback.
CP: How long has Cheeba Chews used blister packaging? How does the company source materials for its blister packaging?
EL: In 2014, our COO and co-owner, Dave Maggio, worked to reinvent our manufacturing process. At the time, we were hand-cutting and wrapping our chews in foil with a sticker label. Changes in Colorado regulations required us to individually dose edibles at 10 mg THC, add a state label, and be in a child-resistant package, so we had to develop a new solution. We began by sourcing our packaging material directly from pre-existing solutions for the pharmaceuticals industry.
CP: How would you describe the sticking issue and when did Cheeba Chews become aware of it?
EL: We noticed challenges initially with the fruit taffy in certain regional climates. With our operations based in Colorado — a very dry climate — we didn’t see any drastic issues. However, when we entered markets in California, Oklahoma and Massachusetts, we saw that humidity drastically impacted the tackiness of our taffy.
CP: Can you describe what a “swabbing station” is?
EL: To combat the sticking issue, we developed an automated, in-line swabbing system that contains 12 sponges, hooked up to a pressurized canister filled with a food grade glazing agent. The sponges are attached to a motorized arm that swabs the inside of each tray with the non-stick coating.
CP: Was there equipment available on the market to solve the sticking issue, or did Cheeba Chews have to develop its own equipment?
EL: There were a variety of non-stick materials on the market, but our challenge was sealing the child-resistant lidding material to the tray edges, so we went about building out a custom solution for our problem.
CP: If Cheeba Chews developed its own equipment, can you describe the development process and how long it took?
EL: We worked with a machine manufacturing partner to build the system. Through R&D, we tested sponge shapes, glazing agents, and motorized parts to find a combination that consistently coated the inside of each tray cavity. The overall process from concept to first build was about five months.
CP: When did Cheeba Chews begin rolling out the swabbing stations in its operating markets?
EL: Our first swabbing station was installed in July 2021 in Colorado. Our second station shipped in November, to Oklahoma. The remaining markets (California, Massachusetts and Nevada) are in the process of being outfitted. Supply chain delays have slowed down the additional build-outs.
CP: Have customers provided feedback since implementing the swabbing station? If so, how has the response been?
EL: Customers have shared overwhelmingly positive feedback. The biggest difference is in our fruit taffy line. Sales have been consistently positive month-over-month with strong pull-through — a key indicator to the success of the new process.