Brand owners and manufacturers put considerable effort into the development of their cannabis-infused food and beverage products, but without proper packaging, their planning, production, and investment could go to waste.
In addition to meeting labeling requirements and protecting young consumers, packaging helps preserve the quality, freshness, and integrity of cannabis-infused products. Nancy Gruskin Warner, founder and CEO of AssurPack, Greenwood Village, CO, noted there are many factors to consider when selecting packaging that will preserve product shelf life.
“Food products need to be protected from moisture, oxygen, and light,” she said. “Each product is different and has to be tested in the package being considered. Companies need to ask their packaging suppliers if they have conducted any shelf life/stability studies on their empty packages. This information will give them a good starting point.”
Gruskin Warner emphasized the importance of testing packaging for its air tightness, ensuring brand owners and manufacturers that it will protect their food and beverage products. She said AssurPack has several packages, including its AssurSeal line, that have passed the USP671 container/closure test at the highest level of “tight.”
“Packaging suppliers to the cannabis industry have to do more than make a claim that their package is air tight,” Gruskin Warner said. “They have to start doing the testing to back up these claims. The cannabis industry is demanding more from their packaging and as suppliers, we have to support their growth as well as our own.”
Additionally, it’s important to consider the product format. Gruskin Warner says baked goods generally have a shorter shelf life, while confectionery products can have a longer shelf life. She noted a barrier film overwrap can help with product preservation.
Julie Saltzman, director of cannabis business development, Berlin Packaging, Chicago, also cited the effects packaging can have on the food and beverage products, and vice versa.
“No matter which food or beverage product is being packaged, a multitude of factors determine compatibility, preservation of product, and shelf stability,” she said. “You will always need to protect against migration, which is the physical and/or chemical transfer of odors, flavors, and components from packaging materials into the products they contain, and scalping, the absorption of volatile flavors or compounds being absorbed by the package. Scalping has been an issue for cannabis beverages with cannabinoid potency loss in aluminum cans and PET bottles, however, advances in emulsion technology have rectified this problem.”
The packaging materials play an important role as well. Saltzman said aluminum and tin have “excellent barrier properties” and monomaterial construction provides infinite recyclability. Plastic also offers strong protection and preservation, but has not been known to be the most environmentally friendly.
“However, the availability of post-consumer resin (PCR), bioplastics and other more sustainable alternatives make these great choices for edibles,” Saltzman said. “Berlin Packaging offers a food safe, certified USDA bio-based resin line that’s manufactured in North America for edibles with customizable inserts that can work for gummies, chocolates, or baked goods.”
When packaging beverages, Saltzman said manufacturers initially favored glass to avoid interactions between the packaging materials and the cannabinoid content.
“Since the emulsion droplets contain cannabinoids, which are hydrophobic, they will naturally repulse from the hydrophilic glass, maintaining the even dispersion of droplets throughout the beverage,” she said. “Glass bottles, therefore, generally yield strong results for potency shelf life. PET bottles and aluminum can liners, which are hydrophobic and can attract the emulsion droplets, are now being widely used in the market as emulsion technology and testing has improved to ensure stability.”
Despite improvements in emulsion technologies, Saltzman said it’s beneficial to collaborate with packaging suppliers that can take the nature of cannabis products and packaging materials into account.
“For all cannabis food and beverage products, the regulations are ever-changing and complex,” Saltzman said. “From testing protocols to the product interaction with different packaging materials, it is important to have a partner with dedicated expertise to support innovation and expedite launch. Berlin Packaging has a full team of technical experts including a dedicated quality team with multiple quality labs nationwide, custom tooling, engineering and regulatory.”