Cannabis Comes of Age — Video Report and Interview

We have followed cannabis companies and OEMs supplying cannabis operations, but here is our first look at a material supplier’s journey.


Quick hits:

  • Cannabis industry has grown and become more sophisticated.
  • OEMs are offering machinery delivering lower speeds and manual/automated hybrid lines.
  • Many materials suppliers are not yet embracing sustainable packaging as mainstream CPGs have.
  • One materials supplier is targeting cannabis sustainability and has learned there is a broader market.

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Listen to the story here:

   Read the transcript below:

Jim Chrzan: Hi, this is Jim Chrzan, vice president of content for Packaging World Magazine, and welcome to Take Five. Three or four weeks ago I got back from a MJ Biz in Las Vegas, and I was stunned to see how much that industry has grown and become more professional. There was a little bit of loss of some of the personalities that I saw five years ago. Everybody seems to be a little bit more buttoned up appealing to the investment community. So I sort of mourned the loss of the hippies and personalities walking around.

But I was so excited to see that the OEMs, the PMMI members have met the call from this industry to build machines that are a little smaller, little slower, and a little more affordable. I did lament though that there was not a lot of sustainable packaging solutions. A couple of the booths mentioned sustainability, but real examples were hard to come by.

We have a special guest today and it's Michael Markarian and he is the founder of Contempo Specialty Packaging. But Michael, you come out of a whole packaging tradition with your family, correct?

Michael Markarian: Absolutely. Yeah. We come from a wide background. Packaging's really in my blood as I say. Our company came from 40 years in the fashion industry. My mom and dad started in the fashion and jewelry business when that was very popular in Rhode Island. And then we've gone into other industries since then, but yeah, I've always been in packaging or it's definitely deep in my family roots.

Jim Chrzan: That's fascinating. And then what drew you to cannabis specifically because we met at MJ Biz in Las Vegas?

Michael Markarian: Absolutely. It was great to meet you and meet someone that shares the passion for sustainable packaging. We'll get to that in a minute. But we had companies that worked with us in the fashion industry, people that were moving into the cannabis industry and they didn't want to settle for the generic options, the plastic pop tops and things. So they said, "Hey, Contempo you guys have made beautiful packaging for 40 years. I enjoyed working with you. Can we do some work together in the cannabis industry?" And that was MJ Biz Con 2017 was our first entrance officially into the cannabis industry. So you saw our work four years later. We've done a lot in the cannabis industry.

Jim Chrzan: Yes. And you had some lovely cartons, I believe it was from hemp paper board. Is that what the material was? But you've got other things too.

Michael Markarian: Yeah. So our vision was beautiful, child-resistant packaging for every cannabis product, which we have arrived on and we have a great line. And then we learned the cannabis industry, everyone, but the cannabis industry especially is really interested in sustainability. So we said, what better option can we figure out how to make boxes out of 100% hemp fiber, literally a future where you're not cutting down trees to make board packaging. And we've gotten interest not just in the cannabis industry, but also outside of the cannabis industry.

Jim Chrzan: So you definitely have this passion for sustainability. And in fact, you have a sustainable packaging podcast, if I'm not mistaken, right?

Michael Markarian: You are not mistaken. The Sustainable Packaging Show on Apple Podcasts is one of my passions. And it's just my way of sharing these ideas, not just on creating sustainable packaging that's actually good for the planet, that's what Contempo is working on, but then other ways that we can solve these problems. They're problems that need to be solved urgently, that I think just about everyone's on board with solving. I don't think anyone wants to see plastics in the oceans or they're looking for more environmentally-friendly ways of doing things. And we have a number of cool new initiatives to solve the problem from 360 degrees, which I'll share with you in due time. You'll be maybe the first to hear about them, Jim.

Jim Chrzan: Excellent. What's really interesting to me is watching your journey. You came out of a different area of packaging, went into cannabis, but then you brought some of your sustainable solutions to Pack Expo Las Vegas, and you had some success there outside of cannabis completely.

Michael Markarian: It was very exciting to see. We brought the hemp packaging and everyone's looking for sustainable options. I had literally somebody who was, I'm not exaggerating, on the verge of tears saying, "I've seen so much greenwash packaging lately. This hemp has a great beginning of life story and end of life story." And people get that we're serious about creating packaging that's actually good for the planet. And we say the time for greenwashing is over. The cannabis industry positioned us to serve all industries because you have flower and you have edibles and you have topicals, and because the products are diverse, we're now positioned to service all markets with sustainable packaging that is beautiful and actually good for the planet.

Jim Chrzan: It's just a remarkable journey and fun for me to meet you and watch it as it happens. And I'm sure we'll be talking again. Is there anything you like to leave us with? We're finding that not only are the brands searching for sustainable solutions, their consumers are now demanding it. That's one of the big changes we've seen with COVID and people receiving so many products at home and seeing all the packaging. Any final thoughts for our viewers?

Michael Markarian: Yeah. The final thought would be number one, thank you for the opportunity to share with you and I'll welcome the opportunity to give you updates at any time. And one of the big initiatives that we want to make happen to make sustainable packaging the norm, is where it's not just an ethical obligation why someone should go sustainable, but where we can make a case that it's really good for business. That by choosing sustainable, doing the right thing, market share grows, sales grow, the brand's built, but even sales directly growing. We have some exciting ideas that we're going to share through the podcast and we can share them with you directly, but I think that's the moment that sustainable packaging will become the norm, where businesses can justify spending more because their sales and market share will increase.

Jim Chrzan: We feel like we're right on the brink after writing about it for years and years and years.

Michael Markarian: It's happening.

Jim Chrzan: Very good. Well, listen. I'm sure we will talk again. Thank you so much for joining us and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Michael Markarian: Likewise. Same to you, Jim. Thank you very much.

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