Austin, Texas — As cannabis use becomes more normalized in the United States, so does the plastics packaging industry's interest in serving that market.
Penn Color Inc. makes masterbatches and color concentrates and sees the opportunity to create a business opportunity in the nascent field.
Penn Color, specifically, has developed a product that provides both opacity and oxygen protection needed in CBD and THC beverage containers made from PET.
"The opportunity is clearly right now in a few states where it's been legalized. The biggest opportunity will come when we have this legalized at the federal level," said Nicolas Rivollet, vice president of marketing at Penn Color.
He likens the opportunity plastics have with CBD and THC beverages with another popular drink in the past. And he's hoping for different results.
"I go back to the beer market. We tried to look at beer in PET about 25 years ago and we've been absolutely unsuccessful," he said.
"The beer industry was already mature, very conservative, very protective of what they had, their assets, their established position with glass and with cans. There was very little organic appetite for disruptive technology. Here, with cannabis, it's almost quite the opposite. The industry is young. It is growing fast. So it's good timing," Rivollet said.
PET can be a great differentiator in CBD- and THC-based drink marketing, which essentially relies on cans at this point to deliver product, he said.
"We see a strong appetite for this industry to go from an industry, by default, which mainly leads them to cans, to a choice that is deliberate in a way that helps them differentiate."
CBD stands for cannabidiol, an active ingredient in cannabis that is not intoxicating. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, causes a high.
The masterbatch created by Penn Color took about a year to develop.
"The single most interesting part of this is this masterbatch provides both the opacity and the oxygen scavenging in one pellet," Rivollet said, to protect shelf life.
"Both for the cap and for the PET, poor control of shelf life means potential loss, and this completely changes the experience of the consumer over time. And that is a problem," Rivollet said. "Trials show that shelf life is driven by a complex set of factors.
"Oxygenation is one the key factors here. … Light also is a factor," he said.
Penn Color worked with Spacestation, which describes itself as the largest cannabis beverage co-packer in California, to develop its approach to cannabis packaging. As a co-packer, the company makes products that are then marketed by other firms.
Penn Color, based in Hatfield, Pa., believes CBD and THC beverages are only going to grow in popularity in the coming years and wanted to be out in front of a growing opportunity, he said. "It's just part of our initiatives to find growth. ... We are always exploring, trying to find new markets and areas that are promising."
Rivollet was at The Packaging Conference earlier this year in Austin to talk about the company's efforts in cannabis-based beverage packaging. He spoke with Plastics News in an interview and made a presentation during the conference.
"The CBD-THC segment is the fast-growing, most vibrant of the whole beverage industry. And it's fueled by an incredible creativity at product level," he said.
Despite the opportunities that CBD and THC beverages have in today's market, there are also challenges. The falling popularity of carbonated soft drinks over the years has opened the doors to competition from a wide variety of other drinks, Rivollet said. There also is a growing competition between CBD and THC beverages themselves.
"The CBD-THC segment is exploding, and momentum is building for PET," he said.