With any new upcoming health or lifestyle trend businesses are always looking to cash in and benefit from the next big hype, and the partially legal, ever evolving cannabis market is no different! If 2018 was the year of endless CBD products, with everything from lubes to sweets available, then brace yourself because 2019 is going to be the year of the cannabis drink! Carbonated cannabis IS the next big thing!
The fact that this year will see the launch of the first ever dedicated cannabis drinks expo in July, in San Francisco should tell you all you need to know about the potential and demand for this product. Business trend analysts have it down as one to watch with Bloomberg.com making the projection in September 2018, that the cannabis beverage market could be worth as much as $600 million by 2022 (Personally I think thats a conservative number). Recreational marijuana is now legal across Canada and in 10 US states, with New York looking to potentially join that list this year. This is exciting as it means that there is so much potential and room to grow within this market, as the legal cannabis business “boom” is still only in its infancy.
Drinking is super convenient, socially acceptable, discreet, cheaply manufactured, has a long shelf life, is easily accessible, a common compliment to a good meal or staying home. Most importantly, drinking doesn’t impact on the health or social forays of others as smoking and vaping does, creating smells and unwanted second hand smoke.
These reasons show why alcohol has remained such a socially acceptable drug to indulge in, despite the devastating effect that it can have on your health. It seems that if you can drink it, then it’s ok. It’s cool to make thinly veiled jokes about “how you need a drink” or brag about how you can’t remember anything from the night before (but you had such a good time). Or to inform everyone in the office or on your social media that you are going to get “wasted” tonight! Try doing that when it comes to cannabis and you will get a much frostier reaction! Which is crazy when you think; when was the last time you saw someone who had smoked a joint, out on the street on a Friday night throwing up on their shoes and being arrested for fighting? Or clogging up and using the resources of an over-stretched health service due to their self induced states of intoxication?? (a song from “the streets” comes to mind) But hey, I digress; that my friends, is an article all of its own. Interesting point though, don’t you think?
So back to the matter in hand, with legalisation upon us the opportunity exists to package cannabis into this consumer friendly, socially acceptable form that could probably see those who are anti-cannabis, tempted into trying and most possibly enjoying. Tricking themselves to believe that now that it’s in a lovely bottle featuring a woman practicing yoga with radiant skin, that it is more acceptable and has some new super food status. Or that its ok now because you can buy it with a craft beer label slapped on it, featuring claims that it has been brewed by Vegan hipsters in a log cabin out in their own self sustaining eco-system, using the teardrops of albino unicorns. The power of packaging and advertising has a lot to answer for!
I think that you have to approach any new big trend or hype with a healthy amount of cynicism as although I’m sure that the move into cannabis drinks will result in some great new products it will also produce a lot that are just poor quality and do not live up to their claims. So with this in mind I thought it necessary to look at what is happening out there? What is legal what is not? Who are the big players and companies who want in? What can we expect to see hitting our shelves?
Whilst Cannabis is still illegal federally in the US this is not stopping the big players from investing money and marking their territory for future plans and trying out their ideas within the US dispensary market (cannabis drinks and edibles are not set to become legal in Canada until July 2019). The drinks industry might indeed be about to change the way we choose to enjoy cannabis forever.
There are already cannabis drinks available in the USA where legalisation has occurred. You can currently purchase THC and CBD loaded varieties of sodas such as lemonade, pomegranate and orange and alcoholic drinks such as Apple and pear cider and lager. You will find however that the majority of drinks contain CBD only as it is currently prohibited for alcoholic drinks to contain THC. Which is a good or bad thing depending on your relationship with alcohol, but is probably the most responsible decision, given the endless combinations of intoxication such a combination could produce.
Beware therefore (back to my point about the Vegan hipster Brewers!) about what you are being sold and what claims it is making because beer claiming to contain THC won’t get you high and drunk at the same time. FACT. Alcoholic beer that claims to contain THC Is actually just brewed with terpenes to add the tell-tale herbal flavours of cannabis. In comparison, beer that claims to contain active THC will be alcohol free.
In terms of alcohol companies, some have already entered the market, like Heineken owned, Laguinitas Brewing Co, who produce a non-alcoholic THC infused beer called Hi-Fi Hops sold in US dispensaries. Many of the big alcohol companies already produce non-alcoholic versions of their drinks and so its no surprise that given the interest and hype surrounding all things cannabis that they are willing to take a gamble in developing cannabis based drinks. A gamble which is expected to pay off big time if statistics about the demand for people wanting to drink their weed are to be believed!
The last 12 months has seen some big corporate deals, with Corona’s owner Constellation Brands investing $4 billion in Ontario based cannabis producers Canopy Growth and Molson Coors investing big money in Quebec based cannabis producer HEXO, with a view to producing non-alcoholic cannabis infused drinks for the mass market in Canada in 2019). It doesn’t stop at beer brewers either. The parent company of Tanqueray and Johnnie Walker has also expressed an interest in investing in cannabis.
Many Alcohol businesses see the legal weed industry as a big competitor and threat to their industry. With sales in alcohol currently either in decline or at a standstill due to the changing of customer lifestyles and habits they see combining their products with the cannabis market as a great way to secure future sales and remain relevant.
This interest does not start and finish with the alcohol industry either, big soda companies that often come under fire for their high sugar, nutritionally vacant drinks are also expressing an interest in merging with the cannabis industry, albeit tentatively, so as not to damage their wholesome family brands. Companies such as Coca-Cola (they don’t get much bigger than that! ) Who amongst others, have held talks with British Columbia cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis about creating possible CBD infused drinks.
The official statement released by Coca-Cola states that ” Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world”. The use of CBD would of course fit in perfectly for all mainstream soda brands allowing products to be packaged for the health, exercise and well being market. CBD would offer the consumer benefits in the way of mood and energy enhancers without the presence of any THC.
Cannabis drinks (both CBD and THC varieties) have seen somewhat of a trial run in the dispensaries in the US, where as of December 2017 there were already more than 100 different products available, a number that has no doubt has grown since and will surely continue on an upward trend. The success of cannabis drinks has not been lost on the big drinks companies who have taken note and considered the possibilities of replicating this model on both a national, and eventually, international scale as a fight back against the threat of falling alcohol sales. In August 2018 it was reported that following the legalisation of cannabis in then 9 US states (now covering 64% of the US population) that the average sale of wine had decreased by 16.2% and beer by 13.8%. There is no doubting therefore that recreational cannabis is the number 1 competitor for alcohol sales. It could also prove to be the number 1 booster for drinks sales however if figures are to be believed about the potential such products have.
Analysts at Cannacord Genuity are predicting that beverages containing CBD could reach sales of $260 million by 2022 whilst drinks containing THC could reach sales of $340 million, more than tripling their current contribution. Further predictions estimate that by the same date all drinks containing THC or CBD could hold a 20% share of the U.S edible market, compared to the 6% they hold currently. The real first big test will come this year when Canada legalises the sale of such drinks nationwide, an event which many of the big drink producers are anticipating and hurriedly preparing their new products for. If these drinks do prove to be the hit that is expected then the sky is the limit and I would fully expect the cannabis drinks market to explode into new unchartered territory, possibly, even eventually eclipsing smoking as the number 1 form of cannabis consumption.
Almost a freakish dark irony is that one of the biggest contributors of how cancer is coursed (smoking) may also be the largest cure.