Brews. A glass of red. Cocktails. A cold one. Pints. A nightcap.
Ask a friend or co-worker to go out for any of the above and it’s well understood. Alcoholic beverages have historically played an important role in society. Well summarized here by Desmond Morris:
“The consumption of these beverages created a shared sense of heightened well-being and release from tension. This new style of social drinking may have harked back to the primeval joy of parched, aching throats finding cool, clear water, but it now went much further. It carried men off into a world of harmless pleasure where the pressures of their newly adopted urban way of life could be eased, if only for a while. It was a marvellous invention of the first great civilizations a form of shared, chemical day-dreaming that provided vital opportunities for social bonding. Those that drank together stayed together.”
Will the cannabis beverage carve out a prominent place in our social and cultural routines? This is the opportunity that cannabis insiders have been pursuing for years. It’s the anticipated social change that has prompted beverage alcohol companies like Constellation and Molson-Coors to make significant investments in cannabis. Legalization has birthed the beverage cannabis opportunity given that the investment required to make a good-tasting and consistent dosage formulation at scale is likely beyond the interest or capabilities of the illegal marketplace. So, it’s cannabis in flower form that still competes with the incumbent black market. That plus the fact that drinking is much more socially acceptable than smoking means there may be a massive opportunity for marketers of cannabis-infused beverages.
So how does a cannabis-infused beverage then compete head-to-head with beer, wine or spirits? It has to deliver an experience somewhat similar to a enjoying a drink – rapid onset, good taste, and a consistent and reliable high. Most cannabis-infused beverages we’ve seen to date seem to provide that. And there are a few advantages for the new entrant – some cannabis beverages claim no calories, although that’s likely dependent upon the components of the beverage formulation. It’s also expected that cannabis beverages produce no hangover – another big plus for the new guys.
The ability of cannabis marketers to make claims and position their beverage products against the alcoholic competitive set is a real challenge. Regulatory bodies will be watching closely for unsubstantiated product benefit claims, with some jurisdictions much more closed to cannabis marketing than beer, wine and/or spirits. Alcohol also has a multiple decade head start; it’s not engrained in us to reach for a liquid cannabis product. Plus, there are thousands of bars and restaurants where alcohol is promoted and consumed.
But the prize is part of a multi-billion dollar industry that hasn’t seen product innovation like this. Many consumers will be curious and if the product can deliver a reliably great experience, with no calories and no hangover, marketers will find creative ways to get their message out.