Marijuana edibles manufacturers are becoming more sophisticated by simplifying their labeling in a bid to woo customers and boost sales.
Instead of labeling their products as sativa, indica or a hybrid of the two, companies increasingly are using labels to tell consumers the effects their products are intended to deliver – “energy,” “sleep” or “chill,” for example.
Edibles manufacturers are betting that newer consumers will better identify with a product that is marketed using simple, easy-to-understand terms versus strain names that newbies might not grasp.
The new approach taken by edibles operations is similar to what coffee and olive oil companies do when labeling their products – using terms such as “balanced and sweet” to describe a particular coffee or “bold and peppery” to characterize an oil.
Cannabis edibles manufacturers, however, are walking a tightrope: They must avoid making bold health claims that could draw a rebuke from regulators.
Walk into a cannabis store a few years ago and you might have seen only packages of edibles labeled sativa, indica or hybrid, no matter if they were made with distillate, isolate or a full-spectrum extract.
A few of them might have had added terpenes that actually represented the characteristics of a sativa or indica marijuana strain.
Many wouldn’t, meaning the only component of the cannabis plant the product contained was THC, or possibly CBD.
At Plus Products in San Francisco, Chief Product Officer Ari Mackler said the company began using sativa and indica several years ago but has moved to words such as “uplift” and “unwind” to explain its products’ effects.
“We felt that the words indica, sativa, hybrid were descriptive of the plant but didn’t necessary allow us to go into specifics (about what the product does),” he said.
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At Boulder, Colorado-based Wana Brands, the company takes two approaches to attract different types of customers:
- The company is using THC distillate along with a custom blend of more than 30 terpenes to create a sativa-based cannabis gummy.
- Alternatively, Wana offers another product called Fast Asleep.
According to Wana’s chief marketing officer, Joe Hodas, one difficulty in communicating to a consumer comes from how small the labels are.
“It becomes really challenging to find enough real estate to tell a brand story,” he said. “So there’s some short hand that’s come about.”
Austin Stevenson, chief innovation officer at cannabis ingredient manufacturer Vertosa, in Oakland, California, said he’s seen the use of sativa and indica erode over time.
Newer consumers might not know what those words mean and instead are looking for sleep or relaxation.
But, Stevenson added, the industry needs to be smart about how it labels edibles because it’s under intense scrutiny.
For example, his advice is that a product intended for sleep say it “helps manage or helps promote” sleep.
What can a label say?
Cannabis companies walk a fine line when communicating to consumers via product labels because they cannot make health claims about their products.
A company can’t say a product cures insomnia, for example. But it can play it safe with abstract and creative branding and word choice.
That’s according to Tyler Williams, a consumer product safety and quality guru who founded St. Louis-based CSQ, an accredited certification program for cannabis safety and quality.
“If someone is saying this cures COVID, the FDA is going to recall your product,” he said of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“An FDA recall is not only the last thing a cannabis company wants, it’s the last thing the industry wants.”
Hemp-derived cannabinoid company Green Roads, in Deerfield Beach, Florida, lets other ingredients aside from cannabinoids do the talking.
Chief Marketing Officer Lee Sosin, for example, said the the company’s CBD gummy product Sleepy Zs relies on the melatonin listed on the box to communicate that the product is intended to help with sleep.
“We do not say that the CBD is what is adding the benefit,” he added.
Same for the CBN products it sells.
“We focus heavily on function,” Sosin said. “The label provides the mechanism for someone to say this is how it will fit into my life.”
The company also includes a QR code on its packaging that will provide a full certificate of analysis for each batch.
A matter of taste
One reason cannabis edibles makers shy away from using whole-plant extracts or including cannabis-derived terpenes is many consumers don’t want their infused gummies or chocolates to taste like marijuana.
“The full-strain edibles are going to taste a little weedy because there’s a lot of stuff in there,” said Ron Silver, founder and chief creative officer of cannabis edibles brand Azuca, based in New York.
THC distillate can be made to taste neutral.
“What is delivered in edibles is 90%-95% cannabis distillate, which only has THC in it,” said Silver. “The strain specificity of cannabis comes from a panoply of other attributes.”
But if an edibles company wants to make a product with an extract like crude cannabis oil, not only do they have to contend with the taste of the oil, but the color can be difficult to work with.
Jon Marshall, chief operating officer of Deep Roots Harvest in Mesquite, Nevada, has a contract to make the popular cannabis edibles brand Cheeba Chews.
Marshall said some of the edibles he makes with crude oil can accurately be marketed as sativa or indica since the oil contains more than just THC, but he added that consumers seem to prefer the ones made with distillate based on flavor.
Back in 2015, Matthew Mograbi, sales manager for terpene technology company Eybna, was making solventless, rosin-infused edibles, and consumers said they preferred distillate-made products because they didn’t like the hash taste.
Now, the experienced cannabis connoisseurs are paying top dollar for live resin and hash-made edibles.
“The idea is to get the more true-to-flower experience,” Mograbi said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.