Packaging Tricks That Will Build Your Brand

Packaging Tricks That Will Build Your Brand

I have to admit that I don’t like the title of this blog. I’m not blaming anyone, I wrote it. It’s just that there really aren’t any tricks, there are just proven techniques – many of which are not well known in the cannabis community. 

Sorry, I should have said “Spoiler alert” before telling you that there aren’t any tricks. 

Read more >

Do Stoners Care About Cannabis Packaging, Part Deux

Do Stoners Care About Cannabis Packaging, Part Deux

Recently, an article by Bill McCool in The Dieline ran with the headline, “Do Stoners Care About Cannabis Packaging?”  We enjoyed reading the article and admire Bill’s writing style, but came away thinking that he missed the point entirely. It’s not a question of whether or not “stoners” care about cannabis packaging, it’s about whether or not consumers – of all types – care about packaging. And the answer to that is a resounding, yes – they do care.

To assume that all cannabis purchases are made by “stoners” is no different than saying that all alcohol purchases are made by drunks. Or that all fast food burgers are purchased by obese people. It is a rough, crude, and inaccurate statement.

So let’s set the record straight: Not all cannabis purchases are made by “stoners” and yes, packaging matters… Just like it matters in every other sector of consumer goods.

In fact, a study from the Cannabis Consumers Coalition and published in Civilized, found that cannabis consumers come from all walks of life and economic levels. The report revealed that 27 percent of cannabis consumers have combined incomes of over $75,000 and that “the couch potato slacker is only a small part of the cannabis community.”

Additionally, while the largest percentage of customers are young men, the study also noted that the average age for male shoppers is 37.6 years and women are 38.2 years old – hardly the age one would associate with a “stoner.”

Julie Weed, a frequent contributor to Forbes, recently wrote that whenever a state legalizes medical or adult-use cannabis, products flood the market hoping to gain an early foothold. 

“Companies in the fast-paced industry need to create compelling packaging that meets strict state regulations and can stand out in a crowded storefront,” she wrote. “The wrapping can be as important as what’s inside.”

And beautiful, well-designed, and compliant packaging is not only imperative for a company to generate sales today, but it is also vital to position the brand for tomorrow. “When national legalization comes, companies that have widespread brand recognition and a strong reputation will be acquired quickly and at higher valuation,” the Forbes article stated.

Furthermore, in addition to the branding benefits, it is also critical that any cannabis packaging meets each state’s complex myriad of regulations, including child resistance, labeling, and even font sizes. Navigating these rules can be very complex. So much so, that Hippo has recently developed an in-house compliance department headed by a licensed attorney that can assist customers through these critical steps.

To be clear, we love reading The Dieline, and appreciate the focus they bring to the importance of packaging. However, we couldn’t help but notice that another cannabis product highlighted in the publication was using a name that we believe was recently litigated for trademark infringement, and as a result, no cannabis company can legally use that name. This could be a costly error for the cannabis company, and it’s a shame that nobody caught this anywhere along the process.

The fact is, packaging matters. Compliance matters. Certified child resistance matters. Proper labeling matters. And creating a stellar brand matters.

It’s time to get real about cannabis.




 Our Views on the Sessions Statements

Our Views on the Sessions Statements

As you know, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended an Obama-era federal policy that provided legal shelter for marijuana sales in states that have allowed regulated cannabis, potentially placing at risk thousands of businesses operating legally under state laws.

The Justice Department move was met with bipartisan backlash from lawmakers throughout the nation.

Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to not to interfere with state marijuana laws, has been uncharacteristically silent on the Attorney General’s new policy.

"It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States,” Sessions said in a statement, which added that the Obama-era policy that directed federal prosecutors not to target state marijuana businesses “undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission."


The Sky is Not Falling

However, while it makes good headlines, this does not mean the end of the legal cannabis industry in America. In fact, some have said that this may force the issue in front of congress.

Virtually no one believes that cannabis is properly classified: currently as a Schedule 1 drug in the same category as LSD and Heroin, while cocaine is listed as a less dangerous schedule 2 narcotic. Sessions’ personal obsession with marijuana is out of touch with reality and with the will of the American people.

If we want lasting real change, that means the law has to change. And that’s the end game. There has to be a change in the Controlled Substance Act that removes marijuana from the schedule of prohibited substances.

Today, the majority of Americans reside in a state where the medical use of cannabis is legal, and one in five Americans lives in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute.

 It is time for congressional representatives in these districts to step up and defend the rights of their constituents – many of whom rely on these policies for their health and welfare, and who have repeatedly demanded federal legislators to once and for all amend federal law in a manner that reflects cannabis’ rapidly changing legal and cultural status.

Despite this last gasp attempt by the Justice Department to revert to the failed policies of the past, marijuana is here to stay and ought to be regulated and controlled accordingly.

So, pick up the phone and call your senators and congressmen. Do it now.

In the meantime, it should be comforting to know that many US Attorneys have already stated that their position on cannabis has not changed.

Notably, Annette L. Hayes, United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, issued a statement that said their office is focused on cases involving organized crime, violent and gun threats, and financial crimes related to marijuana.

Similar statements were made by U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer in Colorado, and Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia.

However, not all U.S. Attorneys have a like-minded outlook. McGregor Scott, the new U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, prosecuted a number of people in California’s medical marijuana industry during the Bush administration. And Southern District of California U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman ominously said Sessions’ memo outlining the changes “returns trust and local control to federal prosecutors.” Furthermore, the U.S. attorney in Northern California suddenly announced his intention to leave his position, which allows Sessions to appoint an interim U.S. attorney. No doubt he will appoint someone that shares his political viewpoints.

The picture is even more complicated in many areas because Trump has not yet nominated U.S. attorneys in many districts. So far, 46 U.S. attorneys have been nominated and confirmed, meaning that about half the offices nationwide are led by interim appointees.

One leading Republican senator threatened that confirmation of future nominees will be at risk if Sessions persists in his anti-marijuana effort.

“What happened today was a trampling of Colorado’s rights, its voters,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said in a Senate floor speech in which he angrily accused Sessions of going back on commitments to respect the will of voters in states that have chosen to legalize.

“I will be putting today a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me,” declared Gardner, who is a member of the Senate’s Republican leadership.

That being said, it would be hard for any Justice Department crackdown in the short-term future. A provision called the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment protects medical-marijuana programs in states from federal interference. But that provision expires January 19, unless the new federal spending bill renews it. It’s not clear whether it will be included in the next congressional spending bill. Moreover, the amendment does not apply to the recreational market.

For now, it’s business as usual for everyone in the legal cannabis industry, and the most likely practical consequence of this decision is to drive more voters to the polls this November.


Encourage our Senator’s support of the Leahy amendment to the appropriations bill. This amendment protects medical cannabis businesses and patients in states where it’s legal.

In California, please call or email one of our two Senators:


Feinstein, Dianne 

331 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-3841



Harris, Kamala D. 

112 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-3553



Talking Points

  • I’m calling today to ask for your Senator’s support of the Leahy amendment to the appropriations bill. This amendment protects medical cannabis businesses and patients in states where it’s legal. It does this by barring the Department of Justice from using its funds to interfere with state legal medical cannabis programs.

  • 46 states have legalized some form of cannabis. Additionally, over 90% of individuals believe medical cannabis should be legalized and 73% do not support federal law enforcement actions that undermine state marijuana laws.

  • The cannabis industry supports tens of thousands of jobs, tens of millions in tax revenue, and billions in economic activity in the United States.

  • Thanks for taking my call, I appreciate you listening to my concerns.

Thanks for reading, and remember to make those calls.

Kary and the Hippo Team

NCIA - "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful!" (Part 2 of 2)

Celebrating excellence in branding, packaging and marketing within the cannabis industry

In part 1, we explored the development of the Canndescent brand and the steps they took to launch that gorgeous canna-business. Today, we turn our eyes to hmbldt, one of the most stunning brands to recently burst upon our burgeoning industry.

Last November, while walking through the MJ Business Expo in Vegas, one exhibit caught my eye. hmbldt. Actually, I couldn’t take my eyes off their logo. It was stunning in its simplicity. The one thing I can say about these guys is they don’t like vowels. Just kidding. They fricken’ nailed it!

I loved the contemporary clean lines, the white space and the naming-by-effect convention. The packaging itself was a very well executed combination of color-coded rigid boxes with inserts, and folding carton sleeves.  

When I see great work, I get excited! I know, I know… I’m just a branding and packaging geek, I can’t help myself!

Recently, I got a chance to talk to Derek McCarty, CMO of hmbldt, regarding their brand development. He credits their creative partners, Anomoly (2017 Agency of the year – Ad Age) with not only their brand and packaging development, but also the product development. “They are true strategic partners in every sense of the word,” he said. In fact, the agency has a stake in the company, as well as its founding member sitting on hmbldt’s board.

The first employee hired by hmbldt was Derek McCarty, a seasoned brand strategist. Hmmm… with priorities like that, no wonder hmbldt launched at the top of the heap. And it didn’t hurt that Time Magazine named their innovative vaping device one of the Top 25 Inventions of 2017.

“We launched in September and received the award in November. Of course, the award added credibility to the product and propelled sales throughout the state quickly. While we were extremely pleased with the award, we were elated that mainstream media led with the health benefits of cannabis in this instance,” Derek told me.

When asked how long it took to develop the brand, McCarty replied, “Our brand is a living, breathing, dynamic thing… the development will never stop. The hmbldt brand is the sum of all parts.”

And those are very nice parts, indeed.

Discussing his favorite cannabis brands, Derek cited Lord Jones and DeFonce as his favorites for product positioning, and Jetty and Bloom Farms as his choice for best benefit positioning. Adrian from Canndescent also touted Bloom Farms for strong messaging and PAX for overall brand and product positioning.  

When I look at amazing brands like these, I like to believe there is something we can learn from them. I asked Derek what advice he would give to a fellow canna-prenuer on building a great brand. “Be creative in how you find strategic partners,” he said. “Look for a mutually beneficial, great value exchange. As with any great partnership, it must be a win-win for both sides.”

Adrian offered this advice. “Hold yourself to a simple standard that begins with compliance. Build a solid platform and write a good business plan. With that in place, the money and great people will follow, allowing you to create your own unique brand that solves a problem,” he said.

A world-class brand doesn’t just happen… let alone two. I’ve learned from these brands that they have succeeded by paying close attention to the details and focusing on quality in everything they do, in everything they touch. They chose their partners carefully and began with a compliant platform.

I am grateful to each of them for creating beauty in a rather barren landscape. For giving us greatness to aspire to and for helping to elevate the image of our industry just by entering it.  

Thank you!

NCIA - "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful!" (Part 1 of 2)


Celebrating excellence in branding, packaging,
and marketing within the cannabis industry

There is so much talk about the lack of sophisticated branding in the cannabis space. And while it is true that there are many look-alike logos and a plethora of cannabis leaves in way too many brands, there is some great work being produced that deserves to be recognized. This inaugural blog will highlight two brands that recently exploded on the scene that bring a sophistication that is often lacking in the cannabis sector. They are: hmbldt and Canndescent. We will look at Canndescent in Part 1 of this blog.

I was recently meeting with a client, Adam, a successful dispensary owner in San Diego, when in walks this beautifully branded, big glossy white, litho-wrapped, corrugated box with the word Canndescent on it.

I was awestruck. Adam opened it and said, “Wait until you look inside!” I was like a kid on Christmas morning as Adam unveiled a simple and tastefully branded 1 lb. flexible bag containing beautiful flowers.

“Wow… Just wow,” was about all I could say.

About a month later back in his office, Adam whipped out a pretty little orange box and asked, “Why aren’t we doing something like this?” I grabbed the package from him and exclaimed, “Holy cow! This is amazing!”

I like to remember my initial exposure to a company – it’s the moment I first fall in love with the brand.

Canndescent, co-founded by Adrian Sedlin and his brother-in-law, was officially launched in September 2016 when the team secured a $6.5MM investment deal and opened the first municipally permitted cultivation facility in the state of California. I was recently fortunate enough to visit that facility and talk to Adrian at length.

I found out that this wasn’t Adrian’s first rodeo. Armed with an MBA from Harvard and four other successful businesses ventures under his belt, he turned his eye to the cannabis industry. “My partner heads up our grow team, who have a combined 200 years of cannabis growing experience. Our goal was to build an iconic brand that changes the way the industry is perceived,” he said.

By the time the money came in, the management team had already reviewed over 500 logos from an online search process (and no, the Canndescent logo you see was not among them). In addition, they had already decided on Sterling Brands, an award-winning, international brand development agency, to assist in their brand development.

“Sterling did an incredible job helping to build the brand DNA – the effects-based architecture to simplify the cannabis experience and cut through the noise,” Adrian commented. “This is an archaic industry, and the thousands of cannabis strains are confusing to the general consumer,” he added. “Great brands are created to solve a problem. Canndescent makes a brand promise to help our customers curate their own cannabis-induced experience, while simplifying the process.”

With effect names like Calm, Cruise, Create, Connect and Charge, the consumer can easily choose the appropriate product based on how they wish to feel at any given time. It takes the guessing game out of the equation.

Adrian admitted that the logo was derived from all the “C’s.”

“When those C’s were placed together in the winning pattern, they created the look we were going for. We wanted an icon that could stand alone as well as work as a pattern, like Louis Vuitton and Gucci,” he said. “Plus, the logo even looks a bit like a flower, which is the product we are selling!”

The Canndescent marketing team took their cues from great fashion houses: the color system was inspired by Tory Burch and Hermes, while the numbering system by Chanel. “Plagiarism is stealing from one, creativity is stealing from all,” Adrian laughed.

Their cannabis kits (folding cartons with magnetic closures) are fully versioned by effect name and a corresponding color-coding system. The outer labels contain tasting notes to further describe the experience. For example, Calm 101 reads: “Sedates the mind and body allowing the world to melt blissfully away.” Nice, right?

I bought it… literally. There is extensive detail put into the packaging of the kits’ various pieces (flower jar, matches, rolling papers and hemp wick). On the rolling papers, you’ll find a quotation relevant to the category containing the effect name. It’s like a little surprise… that Ah Ha! moment that makes you smile and makes you fall in love with the brand just a little bit more.

“Your brand is a point of view that is reflected in every choice that a company makes: every touch, every time.” Adrian said. The word Can(n)descent means to project light. I asked him where he’d like to see the company in five years and he replied, ”I’d like to think that the logo would be a recognizable icon and become a beacon to society for living in love and gratitude.”

In looking at the Canndescent brand development process, we see what’s possible when you combine vision, expertise and execution – when extraordinary attention to detail and quality production is a top company focus. For all their hard work, we get to see excellence in branding and a big step forward towards elevating the image of the cannabis industry.

Thank you, Canndescent team! May your light forever shine brightly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author chose her subject as an example of best practices in branding and design. The subject is not a client of her firm.

​​​​​​​Have a Happy Hippo 4.20!

The Hippo is hitting the road!

It’s so cool that our industry has its own holidays and 4.20 is the one of the biggest! Canna-businesses have been busily preparing for the various festivals and events taking place across the country over the next several days.

The Hippo’s no different! NorCal team (Julia and Bill), will be attending Cannacon in Santa Rosa and our SoCal team (Kary, Stewart, Mitch, and Tina) will be at the High Times event in San Bernardino.

The significance of these events, as well as attendance, is expected to sharply increase as legalization and interest in our industry continues to spread across the US. Have a booth? Check out Hippo’s latest Tip Tuesday for event and trade show tips to help you make the most of your investment.

Reach out to connect if you’ll be attending either event. We would love the chance to see you and say High!

Wishing you the Hippest & Happiest 4.20 Ever!
Team Hippo

Hippo 1 Year Anniversary

Baby Hippo turns 1 year old!

I can’t believe it’s been a year already! And, what an exciting, exhausting, stressful, euphoric, nail-biting year it’s been! My baby has grown faster than I could have ever imagined…I feel like I’ve been running just to keep up! On this momentous occasion, we take a look at the evolution of Hippo Premium Packaging, the highlights and milestones over the past year.

We officially launched on March 1st, 2016, once I successfully resigned from corporate America after serving it for over 20 years. It was just me in the beginning—wearing all hats; sales, production, billing, marketing, the whole shebang. It was a super cool time. I started attending festivals and Industry tradeshows to develop relationships. I met many of my most important connections at the High Times Cups. It was there I met the founders of Utopia Farms, Speakeasy 710, Chong’s Choice and many other clients.

It was at the 4/20 High Times event that I was fortunate enough to meet their editorial staff and in particular the Edibles Editor, Elise McDonough. She asked me to review the top cannabis packaging in the nation for an on-line feature article in August - High Hopes, 21 Cannabis Brands to watch. That was such a fun project for me to collaborate on, as I totally geek out on good packaging and branding. As a follow-up to that article, she then asked me to lead a branding break-out session for the High Times Business Summit in LA this past January, where 300 attendees enjoyed learning what it takes to build a winning brand.

The Hippo’s growth has been driven by client demand. I’m so grateful for our team and in particular my business partner and Hippo’s COO, Julia Gosnell, who jumped in on July 1st. In September, we hired a few part-time folks for print production and digital marketing. Still hardly able to keep up, in December we hired a full-time print production expert as well as three CA-based Senior Account Executives. On February 1st, we offered Stewart Huey the Creative Director position and are now moving to increase our LA sales presence.

I’m also very proud of the creative work we’re doing (can’t wait to show you what’s in development!). From Brand Development & Strategy for Pt. Loma Co-op to a Brand refresh for Utopia Farms, plus website builds, pewter medallions for glass jars, elevating the packaging for Speakeasy 710, Chong’s Choice, Herbalizer, Gem and of course, Pt. Loma/Golden State Greens.

I am grateful for the loving support of my friends and family, who’ve kept encouraging me to ‘grow a pair’ and get on with it! I’m grateful for my team who are working just as many nights and weekends and who are just as committed as I am to successfully kicking this rock down the road. I am grateful to our clients who have honored us by entrusting us with their brands.

It’s hard to look back without looking forward. As we kick-off year two, we are in brand and packaging development with many additional growers, cultivators, and cannabusinesses. So excited to see what we create together. We’re looking to expand our national footprint by adding regional sales support in the Western US. But mostly, we are going to focus on doing what it takes to make our clients successful as we navigate a new recreational market in the sunshine state.

Happy Birthday, Baby Hippo…
Happy Birthday to you!

Grateful in Green

A colleague and I were talking the other day, ruminating over the differences between mainstream and cannabis communities. She said, “The cannabis industry as a whole…they’re just so grateful, as opposed to the entitlement we encounter when working with clients in the mainstream world.” Yep, I totally agree, grateful.

Last year, I quit my job of 20 years to start Hippo and officially entered the cannabis industry –  and with it a whole new world. A world where people are happy, connected, optimistic and thriving. Never seen anything like it—and now I am a part of it. I continually want to pinch myself!

Some have asked, “To what do you attribute this happiness? Is it because everyone smokes weed?” I laugh and say “No, I think it’s more than that. I think people are happy because they finally have a chance to reach for and achieve their dream of building a successful business by combining their particular skill set and their love of cannabis.”

2016 was an epic year for our industry. We were already set on a path of tremendous growth, but with the passage of Prop 64 (and the other six bills that legalized cannabis in one form or another) we are now set to, well…explode! It was an epic year for me personally, as well. My baby Hippo was born and has grown faster than I could have imagined. I’ve had to keep running (and hiring folks) just in order to keep up.

So, here we are welcoming in a New Year. From many I’ve talked to, 2017 is met with equal parts of trepidation and optimism. In recreational markets, we are sure to see a sharp increase of well-funded conglomerates entering the industry. These companies will be going head-to-head with our community of canna-businesses. Our businesses must be prepared if they are going to survive. I’ve seen a shift in priorities with more focus on brand development and positioning, which is vital. Lackluster packaging and an Instagram account will no longer be enough to sustain a successful canna-business. It’s time to get serious…so that in a year from now you’re ready to ring in 2018 and be prepared for all that will come with that.

2017 will be another big year for Hippo. We’ll be working on securing funding in order to build our technology tool and grow our agency to span across the Western States. Our primary focus will be on our clients’ successes by developing and refreshing brands, elevating packaging and the retail experience and guiding them with marketing strategy to put them in a position to realize their dreams. We will also focus our energies on educating our community – brand development, printing terms and techniques and packaging best practices.

But first, I look back on last year with gratitude. I’m grateful for Hippo’s clients, vendors and employees. Grateful for the opportunity to make a difference. Grateful to be in the green industry in which all of you are part of my community.

Wishing you and yours a very happy, connected, prosperous and joyful New Year!

Kary Radestock, CEO

Hippo Premium Packaging

Hippo & High Times

When HighTimes wanted input on the state of packaging in the Cannabis sector nationwide, they turned to our CEO, Kary Radestock, to review the legal cannabis market and critique her top 21 favorite packaging and design solutions. Kary has over 20 years experience in the print/packaging industry and has won major awards for her work. Looks like both High Times Magazine and The Hippo think she is the bomb!

View the article here.

Thank you Torrey Holistic's for inviting us to Taco Tuesday!

The Leaf & The Logo

I was just saying to a colleague this morning that as an industry, "We must get away from the Green, Black & Purple color pallet, cartoon type illustrations and for God's sake, no more Marijuana leaves!". And then, I had to sorta think about my own black and green color palette. My 'Happy Hippo' eating a MJ leaf. I thought back to when I created my logo (6 months ago) and the thoughts that prompted me to add the leaf to my logo at the very end of the design process. It was a conscious decision - I felt I needed that leaf. I had to send a strong message to my client base that I am un-apologetically a cannabis for them specifically, specializing in their industry, bringing solutions that address their specific needs. I also had to differentiate myself from other firms like me who may not be comfortable with their mainstream client base knowing that they also support the cannabis industry. I was going all in...with no shame.

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the leaf…to use, or to not use.

When creating or refreshing your brand, the most important thing you can do is to be authentically you (as a brand). If the leaf helps to you to define or illustrate that authenticity, then use it!

Your logo is the single most powerful and iconic representation of your company…or at least, it should be. I believe there are times when using the leaf is appropriate and on point - but, as an industry, let's just not be too lazy about it and show some restraint.

Check out this Blog...