With legalization for medical and recreational use occurring just five years ago in Colorado, cannabis sales exceeded $1 billion in 2016 alone which is a 30% increase. According to the Arcview Group, this industry is estimated to reach nearly $22 billion in total annual sales in the US by 2020. An industry in its infancy with an accelerated growth rate and a whole lot of regulation is one that Dixie Elixirs has been able to continue to successfully evolve with since day one. Colorado became the first state in the nation to open recreational dispensaries and the first place in the world where marijuana is regulated from seed to sale.
Changes are frequent and so are the bills that are introduced. An article in Colorado Politics explains, just two weeks into the 2017 Colorado legislative session, lawmakers introduced six bills concerning the state's legal weed. Regulations are not unfamiliar to Dixie Elixirs, a leader in the industry since 2010, with regard to research, education and advocacy.
In 2014, they were required to move their packaging from glass to brushed aluminum and in 2015 from aluminum to plastic. According to Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer, Dixie Elixirs, "When various regulations arose in both 2015 and 2016, we were already working with legislators. We actively participate in open forums and debates within the public health sector where it is important that dialogue remains open and ongoing so that all can express their concerns. We have the best interest of the state in mind." Over the years, they are proud to say, that they have become a trusted source for innovative, safe, effective and delicious cannabis products.
Hodas goes on "And we were a top selling THC-infused carbonated beverage when the new regulations came about that required a complex combination of requirements including tamper evidency, child-resistant closure (CRC) that was re-sealable, and a dosing cup that was integrated as part of the package. For us, the product also had to retain carbonation. The total solution didn't exist as an off-the-shelf option."
Dixie Elixirs had worked with TrcorBraun for stock packaging but this was the first time they would engage with them for an innovative, custom packaging solution.
"We consider the Dixie Elixir bottle to be the hallmark or flagship of our brand and without meeting these regulations, our product could have been pulled from the shelf" explains Hodas.
Targeting 4/20, a cannabis holiday, for the relaunch meant that there was no time to waste in exploring, developing and sourcing:
- a CRC feature was built into the dosing cap to seal the bottle
- an opaque PET plastic so that you could not see the product
- a shrink sleeve for tamper evidency
- a solution that was still aligned with the established brand image
According to TricorBraun packaging consultant, Mike Gordon "Every day we didn't deliver, we risked being off the shelf so with a slight change in bottle shape and a squeeze and turn/jigger style closure similar to that found on mouthwash, we knew we were on the path to success quickly, engaging in meetings on the fly to continue to tweak and perfect the design as quickly as possible." Gordon managed the Gantt Chart, decision trees and timelines.
According to Gerald Christian, TricorBraun design engineer, "The look needed to be as consistent with the current angle of the bottle's shoulder and the overall diameter as possible. Perhaps the biggest challenge was in retaining the pressurized seal for carbonation". Gregg Aukeman, TricorBraun package qualification manager, remarks, "Testing included internal pressure decay, elevated temperature, freeze/thaw and failure mode analysis. We had to learn the product, its limitations and process parameters before we could define the package." These critical factors have a direct impact on the packaging with regard to functionality.
"We worked closely with Dixie Elixirs to define the parameters of the project that had to be met from a regulatory standpoint and after we had a better understanding, we investigated the product and how it would perform to develop a feasible packaging solution," explains Christian. He goes on to explain, "Collaboratively, we learned the product life cycle and Dixie Elixirs gave us access to their process to better define the packaging. They utilized us as an extension of their team."
Hodas described the process this way, "They (TricorBraun) pivoted with us. It was unchartered territory for all of us. Without the depth of their resources, the partnership we have developed over time and the insight and flexibility they offered, that pivot point wouldn't have been there. They would take the information and run with it…always making sure it would work and pivoting as needed."
The dosing cup is a little below the legal dosing amount because Dixie is concerned about consumer safety. Optimizing the cap was key so that taste and carbonation were not sacrificed.
"We added a bead to the plug of the stock closure to create a more robust seal and to aid in the prevention of carbonation loss – this was a more cost effective solution," says Aukeman. Gordon adds, "Our team dove in to a fairly new, highly regulated industry head first and applied their learnings effectively along the way. Understanding the product under dynamic conditions and allowing us to modify the design to suit this helped us help them get back on the shelf in a timely manner."
Additional cost efficiencies were found in using an existing preform with custom blow cavities designed for the new bottle shape. A shape that remains true to the brand image.
TricorBraun developed, sources, warehouses and ships for Dixie Elixirs and has "Reinvented their supply chain process to meet the requirement to fill the bottles in each state: Colorado, Nevada, California and Arizona. All of this in six months' time" says Gordon.
Hodas remarked that as each state legalizes "We hope that they are cognizant of what we've done and how we've done it. Why reinvent the wheel? We've been diligent about addressing questions and meeting regulations. About four or five months ago, we rolled out some new flavors." Now with five SKUs, Dixie Elixirs flavors include: Berry Lemonade, Root Beer, Half & Half (Lemonade & Tea), Cherry Limeade and Fruit Punch.