Beauty Packaging (BP): Let’s start with your background. What factors brought you to the forefront of cannabis-based beauty and wellness?
Letourneau: My background was in luxury retail and politics. I want to offer solutions and create beautiful experiences that better our lives. Cannabis was a passion project. My mom was diagnosed with cancer and I desperately wanted to get her off pharmaceuticals and onto cannabis. From there, I met so many caregivers, primarily moms, and I knew they needed a better delivery system for canna therapies. From there, it was about creating an industry that knew to be better—from carbon footprint, to ingredient story and, ultimately, to how we ran our business.
BP: Tell us about your CBD brand successes. Where are these products carried, what was the developmental timeframe from ideation to market? What made these products truly special to you?
Letourneau: I’m currently Cannuka’s chief brand officer and helped reformulate, repackage and rebrand Cannuka, which is a skin care product range featuring a unique combination of cannabis and Manuka honey. It has since become the second brand ever to launch in all doors at Ulta, which represents a game-changing moment for how we discuss what the future can be for these types of products. We’re also carried in a mix of luxury retailers from Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Macy’s to beauty retailers like Space NK and specialty boutiques like Free People, Anthropology and launching soon in Express. In the world of cannabis, the pace is GO, so it took a few years to get everything right, but I am thrilled to see how quickly we are developing new additions to complete the collection. At this point, we can have newness ready to go in under six months, and in our world, this is lightning fast! For me, we were looking to solve problems and this specific combination was really about calming and hydrating the skin mantle. It wasn’t about perfection, it was about being the best we could be, that’s what makes it special.
BP: Generally speaking, what trials and tribulations have you experienced during the process of bringing CBD brands to market? Is sustainable packaging a key tenet?
Letourneau: In 2017, we couldn’t find a primary packaging company willing to direct deco “CBD” onto a component. This was a huge issue for us. Retailers were afraid to say the word “cannabis,” e-commerce was a constant fight and finding third-party testing was a scavenger hunt. That said, we met the team at FusionPKG who really helped shepherd us through the beauty world. They gave us the confidence to demand sustainability, understanding that working with an ethical partner was paramount, and showed us you can demand and work with people that lived your ideals. Other than Green Light Acquisitions (our main investor) they believed that we could successfully run the kind of company that made us proud.
BP: What are some of the key packaging and/or branding elements that help CBD packages effectively stand out on shelf?
Letourneau: Cannuka was going to be a skin care brand that had CBD as an ingredient. We knew our clients would demand amazing formula in packaging that could sit comfortably in premium while still being approachable. A clean modern take on what the future of beauty would be, with clean lines and subtle hints of design that felt both aspirational and approachable. Choosing to not have a cannabis leaf on the packaging, we instead focused on the Manuka honey and our very special bee. Not focusing on traditional gender-based packaging allows Cannuka to appeal to a wider audience, and the reaction has been wonderful.
BP: What advice would you offer to those eager to start a CBD beauty brand? What should they keep in mind when sourcing the packaging?
Letourneau: Start off by asking yourself why you’re doing this. Is there something specific that you simply aren’t finding? Our best products have arisen from our desire to fill in the gaps from the current market. After that, visit the farms you’re sourcing from, talk to the teams working there, understand what they stand for before partnering with them. When it comes to picking packaging, go on site and spend time with the team. They will quickly become a large part of your operation, so make sure they are the right fit.
BP: What’s next for you Stephen? Are there any emerging trends in the CBD personal care realm that you’re eagerly anticipating?
Letourneau: There was really just Cannuka and Lorde Jones in 2016 and 2017, and by the end of 2019 there were over 10k SKUs with CBD in them ranging from pet food to cleaning products and from beauty to food and beverage. What’s most exciting is CBD has given brands the foundation for how we talk about cannabinoids. I can’t wait to see 2021 when we are talking about CBN for sleep, or something more timely: CBG for antibacterial. The future is now, and the future is green! n