Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Cannabis industry update from the Cannabis Business Summit

Cannabis is already a huge business -- $23.6 billion in sales in the US in 2021. And there's room to grow fast because the industry is still not reaching as many female consumers.

This was one of the findings presented at the Cannabis Business Summit in San Francisco last week by Cy Scott, co-founder of Headset. Headset works a bit like Nielsen; it takes data from receipts from cannabis stores in the US and Canada.

Legal cannabis sales grew 28% in the US from 2020 to 2021, and 54% in Canada (to $4 billion). In Canada, the growth was largely in Ontario, because that province began opening additional stores in an attempt to tempt consumers away from the illicit market. In the US, growth continues to come from new states opening up.

Arizona legalized cannabis in 2020 and sales are rising rapidly. Sales are also way up in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan. But sales are nearly flat in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, possibly showing that the markets there have reached saturation.

Millennials are by far the biggest consumers of cannabis, making up nearly 50% of customers. Gen Z has just passed baby boomers, and more Gen Z people are reaching legal consumption age every day.

In the US, only about 33% of sales are to female consumers. Females are much more likely to buy topicals and tinctures than male consumers. The major edible brands appeal to both genders, but females buy about 43%; the over-indexing shows that they are more interested in edibles than males.

Here is something similar between the US alcohol market and the US cannabis market: distributors and high-end business types act bored with the main product, and can't wait for you to move on to some heavily adulterated intoxicant delivery system.

In cannabis this means the suits want to move people away from flower -- the basic form of cannabis, and the most popular form in every market. There's more profit to be made selling extracted chemicals than naturally grown plants. But it turns out that customers may be smarter than this. Newer markets sell more vape pens, but mature US markets sell more flower, Scott said.

Flower is about 45% of the US market overall. Vape pens make up about 20% of the US market, with pre-rolls, edibles and concentrates responsible for about 10% each. (For my wine industry readers, cannabis beverages are still a blip.)

Canadians are trying out alternatives lately: 80% of the market was flower in March 2019, and now it's about 45%.

Scott said that flower skews to an older, male clientele, but the differences aren't that great: 52% of male baby boomers prefer flower, the highest of any US demographic group, but the lowest is female Gen-Z at 39%. Give them time, they'll learn!

Here's a classic example of generational marketing. There's a "chef-based" edibles brand called Mindy's that makes items like "glazed clementine orange" cannabis-infused gummies. And there's a brand called Stiizy that makes edibles in flavors including "sour apple, Caribbean breeze, blue raspberry blast and sour strawberry." If you think Mindy's sounds good, you're probably using reading glasses: it skews to baby boomers. If you think Stiizy sounds good, you're not reading this because it's in text and not video; it skews to Gen Z.

Here's the evidence that cannabis consumers are not (yet) brand loyal: In California, 32.3% of products account for 80% of sales.

"What this tells me is the winners haven't been selected yet," Scott said.

Compare that to the wine industry. Gallo alone makes about 30% of all US wines, and just 7 companies make about 77% of all US wines.

All of that I gleaned from just one seminar! Here are some odds and ends from other seminars I attended:

* One of the cannabis industry's main Washington lobbyists expressed a lot of frustration with the dysfunctional Democrats. Consider this: a majority of Democrats in Congress support full legalization and they are joined by a surprising number of Republicans. And there are huge majorities for lesser steps, especially allowing safe banking and removing cannabis from Schedule 1, which specifically states that there is no currently accepted medical use. Obviously that's wrong.

Yet nothing has been done. The reason will remind you of the endless Democrat internal fighting over other bills this year: the perfect has been the enemy of the good. If the Democrats would just put forward a simple bill removing cannabis from Schedule 1 and allowing cannabis businesses full access to banking services for safety, it would pass easily. They have had all year; the legislation would be popular. But they haven't done it and aren't making it a priority. And in fact, a cannabis banking provision was pulled from a different bill because it wasn't "perfect."

Meanwhile, big tobacco and alcohol companies are angling through their lobbyists to write cannabis rules to benefit big businesses. I wouldn't bet against them.

* California is hoping to dominate cannabis production as it does wine. Nicole Elliott, director of the California Department of Cannabis Control, said a main goal in federal regulation is to allow interstate commerce "because of our production capacity."

* Social equity is a much, much bigger deal in the fledgling cannabis industry than in older industries, and this makes sense because the war on drugs was largely conducted in minority communities. Social equity will be a major part of many regulations going forward.

* The federal legalization of hemp has led to a weird situation where companies are taking extracts from hemp and manipulating them in laboratories to come up with the psychoactive components found naturally in regular cannabis.

Oregon's head of cannabis regulation said southern Oregon is suddenly awash in hemp growhouses that popped up overnight, driven by the demand for CBD and other derivatives, and that some of them have been caught growing regular cannabis alongside the hemp. But there is little incentive, either federal or local, to crack down on illegal grow operations with cannabis in so many legal gray areas.

* A panel of athletes revealed that they like to smoke a joint after a game to wind down, when they're full of adrenaline, and also for pain relief. The NFL is the one major US sports league that still punishes players for using cannabis -- and it's the one league where practically all of the players are in pain every single day.

* A tour of the booths offering stuff for sale to other cannabis businesses showed that powdery mildew, a wine industry scourge, is also a huge problem in the cannabis industry, with several companies offering solutions.

* However, I did not see one business offering odor control for cannabis growers. It has been an issue in some locales but there doesn't seem to be any technology to address it (market opening?)

* One PR company promised "#1 SEO placement in your local market." Seriously? If you buy that, ask for a money-back guarantee.

* Cannabis products on offer to the public are changing fast, not surprising for a young industry. I saw several objects I didn't recognize that turned out to be new models for vape pens. I also learned that I had no idea what a "diamond-infused preroll" is. The woman marketing them looked at me like I had been under a rock for two years. Which I guess is true.

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