Experts agree that the beverage market is ripe for innovation, and the latest trend is, in fact, the cannabis-infused beverage trend. As Faith Popcorn, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of New York-based Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve puts it, “Smoking is on the way out and sipping is on the way in.”
Beverage companies are delving into the cannabis realm and fashioning alcohol and non-alcohol beverages infused with cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and the move seems to be appealing to the masses.
The growing wave of legalization also has made the beverage industry realize that the culture is changing, and no big beverage company — alcohol or otherwise — can ignore that fact, Popcorn says. “were seeing established brands entering the market, for example, Laguintas Hi-Fi Hops, an ‘IPA’ inspired THC-infused sparkling water,” she explains. “This has been called the first time a major brewery has successfully and legally been represented in the THC-infused beverage space.”
Companies like Constellation Brands and Heineken have made pivotal moves into the cannabis market by investing millions of dollars into Canadian growth and research companies. “This tells us that even the most conservative of the Fortune 200s are diving in,” Popcorn says. “The cannabis-confidence will accelerate the explosive growth of this category; this is no longer a weird, ‘fringy,’ hippie thing for people in Colorado.”
One point that leaves a big question mark in industry players’ heads is, “Who should we be marketing these products to?” BrainReserve’s CEO thinks its baby boomers. “A recent on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 9 percent of boomers ages 50-64 had used marijuana, which is twice the number reported a decade ago,” she says.
“Boomers have the money to spend,” she continues. “Millennials and Gen Z will also be targeted. According to a survey by online pollsters The Tylt, nine out of 10 millennials believe that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and 84 percent support legalization.”
Popcorn suggests the intensity of daily life, referring to it as the “25/8 pace,” is one of the main attractions to this new evolving market. “Everyone craves relief,” she says. “We want an edge, meaning if a strain of cannabis can clear our heads, help us focus, get to sleep more easily and awaken refreshed, we’re all in.
“We want relief as anxiety is the No. 1 emotional issue and a global epidemic,” she continues. “Especially among millennials and Gen Z — college health services can’t keep up with the demand. Also worth noting is that we crave community as a way to offset stress. Beverages are how we unwind with friends, so a cannabis drink that takes behavior and re-invents it makes the individual more available.”
Since its inception, different types of beverages are being infused with cannabis, including waters, teas, coffees, craft sodas, beers and more. “This is the moment for artisanal functional drinks, like elixirs,” Popcorn says. “Cannabis is a plant, it fits with the natural ethos and the strains allow for benefits from giddiness, to calm, to sleep, to relaxation and focus. Elixirs, with their wellness vibe and magical-sounding flavors and ingredients, can pioneer a whole new, bigger category.”
Although a legal gray area still surrounds cannabis, beverage-makers are utilizing each and every bit of acceptance to their advantage. Vast amounts of new product development and experimentation are happening, Popcorn notes. An entire market is evolving, both in product and in usage, but most importantly, the selling of experiences too, she adds.
Popcorn points to the CBD craft cocktail movement in Los Angeles. “It’s triggering a whole new dimension to happy hour,” she says. “You maybe pay $5 extra for a few drops of CBD in your tequila, [but] you get the buzz from alcohol and the relaxation and anti-inflammatory lift from the cannabis.”
However, new market areas bring about new challenges. Dosing and how that is communicated to the consumer must be standardized, just as it was in the alcohol industry, Popcorn explains. “Right now, it’s the Wild West, you don’t know whether a serving is going to get you a little ‘more chill’ or ‘completely wasted.’ A structure like the alcohol industry has with a drink’s ‘alcohol by volume’ and serving size has to happen as soon as possible.”
The future of the cannabis-infused beverage industry is flying quite high, Popcorn says. “We will soon have the ability to know exactly how each person’s body processes cannabis and which strains are best.”