newmaster.jpgConsumer packaged goods (CPG) brands have just seconds to capture the attention of potential buyers. 

But that doesn’t apply only to brands on grocery store shelves. Tom Newmaster, partner at FORCEpkg, knows how critical branding and packaging is for cannabis food and beverage brands.

Newmaster is set to speak at the inaugural Cannabis Products Exchange event, which will be presented virtually July 30-31. This interactive two-day conference is designed to inform and inspire the ideation, innovation, research and development, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and consumer safety of legal cannabis edibles and beverages.

Newmaster recently spoke to Cannabis Products about using packaging to create a successful CPG brand and how that applies to the cannabis industry.

CP: What is your experience with CPG branding and package design?

TN: I have 25-plus years of experience in CPG branding and package design. From 1998 to 2016 I was a principal and co-owner of WFM. During that time, I led creative and won awards for The Hershey Company, Pfizer, Stoner Car Care and Zippo. 

Over the past three years, I have overseen the launch of FORCEpkg and spent considerable time writing articles for leading trade publications and researching the cannabis industry. In addition, I serve as an adjunct instructor teaching packaging design at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design.

CP: What role does packaging play in creating a successful CPG brand?

TN: Many times packaging is the first and only interaction a brand has directly with a potential consumer. It’s a physical interaction and engages with consumers’ senses of sight and touch. As package designers, we have one main job: to get consumers to touch and/or pick up the package. When this engagement happens, 85 percent will purchase the product. Repeat purchase then falls directly in the hands of the actual product inside. 

Successful CPG brands know that every aspect of their consumer engagement is important, from the first time the consumers see the package, to the opening of the package, to the dispensing of the product — it all matters.

CP: Are there insights the cannabis industry can borrow from the CPG world? If so, can you offer a few?

TN: Cannabis is a regulated product like spirits or pharmaceutical brands. The rules of branding do not change, just the awareness around regulatory mandates. 

For instance, child-proof packaging is a must, particularly since edibles are so popular in this category — both for medical and recreational cannabis. Remember the NBA player who had a seizure on the team plane because he ate the entire TLC-laced chocolate bar? Cannabis brands have to show that they are responsible brokers. 

It also helps to be cause-related. Millennials and Gen Z consumers are the biggest demographic for cannabis, and they are particularly drawn to cause marketing. Brands like Marley Natural have made this the centerpiece of their brand. Like any other CPG brand, you need to know and understand your target market. Don’t assume anything, do your research and understand the consumer needs and wants.

CP: In terms of packaging and branding, what are some of the top challenges of supporting the cannabis industry?

TN: It’s getting more competitive all the time, and as regulations loosen (or tighten), brands will emerge and some will not make it. The question still remains whether or not legacy brands like Coca-Cola, Heineken and others will be players in the category. A lot depends on how they balance their existing portfolio with cannabis products. Will this “alternative category” impact the sales of their more traditional brands/products? A strong commitment to clearly defining the brand essence and personality will be key.

CP: How can collaborating / networking with other cannabis industry professionals help improve product development?

TN: The same way it does in all product categories. We all learn from each other. There has been some sorting out from the early days of cannabis, with stock crashes that took many by surprise. This is not an end-of-days event, especially when you think about the early dot coms. We learn from the innovators and build on the mistakes of others.

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