It’s been a rocky summer for cannabis brands, from warning letters from the FDA to CBD companies for inaccurate claims to the unfortunate vape crisis that has led to vape bans in some areas. All said, it’s left the cannabis consumer more confused and skeptical than ever.
Two clear issues have emerged from this chaos. First is that the illicit market is still thriving, and legal companies operating in regulated markets need to ward off counterfeits and help consumers recognize that they are holding a real, legal, authentic product. This applies primarily to cannabis brands in the regulated market, but CBD brands—especially ones that are gaining brand awareness—should be concerned.
The second issue revolves around reassuring consumers that they are buying safe and effective products and the best way to show this is to have transparent test results. A number of independent studies have tested a number of CBD brands and found a large percentage of brands with no actual CBD in them. A booming market is going to obviously attract bad actors, so what can the good companies do? This can be done by being transparent and educating the consumer on why test results matter then showing the potency, purity and safety of the product that they are about to purchase.
While there are many ways to tackle counterfeits and build trust, from PR to education, the most important tactics address these issues right at that moment of purchase. Or as CPG brands would say at the first moment of truth (FMOT).
Cannabis is still a new industry, so best practices, standards and protocols are still developing. In the midst of the current vape crisis, it became clear that some of the biggest culprits were illegal pens that weren’t tested and vapes manufactured with oils that were often cut with harmful ingredients. Scary stuff, for sure, but this scenario happens all of the time in other markets. For instance, in the beauty industry, 15% of the products are counterfeits, and globally one in 10 medicinal products are thought to be fake.
QR and RFID smart tags are tech options that help consumers track the goods from soil to shelf. These codes are required by many states with regulated legal cannabis markets, however, states like Arizona currently require no testing of pesticides or other contaminants at all. While smart tags and codes are a good start, they only work when consumers know that they should be verifying and checking their products for authenticity.
Only 53% of Americans stated that they use QR codes, so just placing a code on the packaging doesn’t mean that the consumer knows how to take action. This means including clear calls to action. Use language like “Scan here to verify authenticity.” It’s a small touch, but helps consumers know to scan.
In-store signage and training
Retailers can help educate consumers on their own vetting philosophy around which brands they carry and then play a part in educating the consumer. This should involve both signage and also training by retail staff to demonstrate this behavior to consumers.
Many of the current solutions require users to down a brand-specific app in order to validate authenticity. A mobile webpage would suffice. Downloading separate apps is a major friction point for many consumers.
Proving that a product is legal is just step one. The second step is showing that your brand is safe, clean, reliable and effective, which is done by showing your test results. Added bonus if you include any certifications your product may qualify for.
Many brands do this, especially those familiar with the regulated cannabis market. Somewhere on the product page of their website is a PDF of a lab result with language that is not exactly user-friendly. Not only that, but lab reports are often not about the finished goods that the consumer is holding, but could be test results from the CBD only. While clean CBD is a great start, it’s not helpful if the final formulation has been contaminated.
Purity shows that there are no remnant pesticides, heavy metals or mold in the product. Identity verification will ensure that the ingredients on the label are indeed the same ingredients inside the bottle. It also indicates where the ingredients came from and their intended benefit. And lastly, potency shows how much of the active ingredients are actually in the product and if the potency matches the label.
The cannabis brands of the future will be the ones that embrace transparency fully, not as an afterthought. Not only because it is what’s best for the customer, but because of the industry’s shaky legal ground, these marketers will need to go above and beyond to make people feel safe.