As the fastest growing industry in America, legal cannabis is quickly moving out of the shadows and into the light of mainstream acceptance.
Back-alley, hole-in-the-wall dispensaries of the past have largely been replaced by comfortable, inviting, well-appointed cannabis retail shops that feel more like natural grocery stores or even jewelry stores.
Products that once came in clear plastic bags and screw-top medicine containers are now sold in stylish, well-branded packages, reminiscent of the leading consumer packaged goods.
But perhaps the segment that has evolved the most is cannabis-infused foods and beverages, as consumers increasingly demand more sophisticated, nuanced products, and competition pushes manufacturers to be innovators in the field. Professionalism is on the rise, institutional investments are beginning to open new doors and, particularly with the rising popularity of CBD, cannabis-based products are truly hitting the mainstream.
Here are four food-related trends in the legal cannabis industry that are gaining momentum in 2019.
Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, still faces numerous question marks in terms of regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. However, CBD has become a revolutionary additive throughout the food and beverage industry, not to mention its widespread use in cosmetics, pet products and other niche markets.
With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp cultivation, the fast-growing CBD industry is set to explode into a multibillion-dollar category. Because of its non-psychoactive properties and a host of purported medical benefits, the consumer market for CBD-infused products appears limitless. While giant companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch have reportedly begun making moves into the CBD market, the nascent industry and uncertain regulatory landscape have provided a huge opportunity for smaller food and beverage companies to gain an early foothold in the booming market.
2. Healthy options
Although sweets continue to dominate the cannabis edibles category, more and more companies are incorporating healthier options into their product offerings. The edibles of the past were typically loaded with sugar and fat, and without mandatory testing, many edibles — despite being marketed toward medical patients — contained high levels of pesticides.
Today’s edibles manufacturers have become far more cognizant of the dietary needs of their consumers, using better ingredients, offering better-tasting products made with natural flavors and taking a holistic health-and-wellness approach to product development, in addition to options that follow organic, vegan or gluten-free guidelines.
“Consumers make similar choices when they’re shopping for cannabis as they do when they’re shopping for food, so people who have made organic and GMO-free an important part of their life will continue to look for those products in cannabis as well,” says Robert Arabian, founder of Pop-Up Potcorn, a California-based edibles company.
3. Lower doses
The early days of legalization saw a glut of products made for cannabis consumers, by cannabis consumers, with little thought toward the emerging market of new consumers. Not long after Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about her harrowing experience with a high-THC edible that made her wonder if she’d survive the night. Dowd’s article, along with a small handful of similar incidents, led industry operators and regulators to establish more stringent dosing standards.
Now with boomers and seniors being the fastest growing age group of cannabis consumers, many edibles manufacturers are generally moving away from mega-dose products designed only for the most experienced users — a trend that mirrors the fall of Prohibition, a time in which bathtub gins and moonshines gave way to lower-alcohol beers and wines.
“I think it’s going to be all about the sensibly -products that you can have a couple over time and slowly get intoxicated, as opposed to getting hit over the head with the hammer,” says Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts, an Oregon-based producer.
4. Mainstream crossover
With each passing day, the lines are being blurred between cannabis-infused foods and beverages and their mainstream counterparts. Cannabis companies are actively seeking snack and beverage makers with which to partner for new and better product lines.
Cannabis companies are incorporating higher quality ingredients into their products, adopting automated production and packaging equipment, using best practices from the food industry and hiring professionals with expertise in consumer packaged goods. And although only state-licensed marijuana retailers can sell THC-infused goods, CBD products are being sold in all 50 states, through retailers ranging from high-end health food stores to bodegas to tobacco and vape shops.