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Beyond beer: Molson Coors sales dip but brewer remains focused on future growth

UnknownMolson Coors Beverage Co. recorded a lacklustre third-quarter as ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and packaging material constraints curbed the brewing giant’s sales.

The Montreal-based company, which reports in U.S. dollars, said it recorded net sales of US$2.75 billion for the three months ended Sept. 30, down 3.1% compared with US$2.84 billion for the same quarter last year.

Molson Coors chief executive Gavin Hattersley said the pandemic has presented obstacles for the brewer.

“Like all other beverage companies, one of the biggest challenges this year has been packaging supply,” Hattersley said during a conference call with analysts.

“To put into perspective the scope of the challenges, we sold 300 million more cans of beer in the first nine months of 2020 than we did in same period in 2019.”

He added: “There have been times over the last few months when demand for tall cans was four times what it was in 2019.”

But Hattersley said there has been a steady improvement in supply over the last several weeks.

He said the supply of 12-ounce industry standard cans is stabilizing, and the company is starting to improve its inventory of tall cans as well.

Meanwhile, the company said Coors Light and Miller Lite grew 6% and 9.5%, respectively, in off-premise sales in the U.S. so far this year.

The combined U.S. segment share for Coors Light and Miller Lite has grown for 24 consecutive quarters – six straight years, according to data and market firm Nielsen.

Molson Coors’ said its so-called above-premium products made up a record portion of the company’s U.S. portfolio in the third quarter.

The brewer’s light citrus wheat beer Blue Moon LightSky was listed as the top selling new beer in the U.S. in 2020, according to Nielsen.

The company also recently launched Coors Seltzer at the end of August and sold over 500,000 cases in the first month.

Meanwhile, in a bid to expand beyond the beer aisle, the company has broken into the cannabis beverage market in Canada.

Molson Coors said Truss, its Canadian cannabis joint venture, has become a market share leader of ready-to-drink cannabis beverages, with an estimated market share of over 50% in Quebec.

The Company also launched Vyne Botanicals hop water in Canada.

Last October, the company announced a revitalization plan with the aim of strengthening its core brands, growing above-premium brands and expanding “beyond the beer aisle.”

Hattersley acknowledged there are questions about the complexity of the company’s revitalization plan, expansion of products and ability to execute the goals.

But he said the company is already making progress and seeing improvements in both core products and newer brands.

He said retailers are “hungry” for innovation, while 80% of its distributors already carry non-alcohol products and half carry wine and spirits.

“They’re actually ahead of us,” Hattersley said. “We’re playing catch up with them.”

From a supply chain perspective, he said the new products are not going through the company’s breweries and Molson Coors is expanding its warehouse capacity.

Still, Hattersley said the can shortage during the pandemic forced the company to make some decisions around slow-moving brands and stock keeping units.

“I would expect some of those SKUS won’t come back, so from a complexity point of view from a brewery point of view I would expect that we will have less SKUS when we come out of this pandemic than we did coming into the pandemic,” he said.

Molson Coors said it earned net income of $342.8 million or $1.58 per diluted share for the quarter compared with a net loss of $402.8 million or $1.86 per diluted share a year ago when it took a large goodwill impairment charge.

The brewer said its underlying net income for the third quarter was $350.8 million, or $1.62 cents per diluted share, compared with an underlying profit of $321.2 million, or $1.48 per share, in the third quarter of 2019.

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Supply and demand: A conversation with Dan Elrod of Wallace & Carey

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Dan Elrod ©CU Photography

Dan Elrod is president of Wallace & Carey, a leading logistics and supply chain solution to the convenience industry Canada. The family-owned business started in Calgary in 1921 with one truck and eight staff—today it has touchpoints coast to coast to coast, stocking more than 12,000 products in 10 modern distribution centres, a fleet of more than 140 trucks and 700 staff. With more than 1,000 deliveries a day, and millions of items each year, the company is an integral part of the supply-chain network for convenience retailers, which represent about 80% of the company’s business.

Elrod, who hails from Texas, retired from distribution giant McLane in 2017 and in 2018 moved to Calgary to join Wallace & Carey.

CSNC editor Michelle Warren spoke with Elrod about challenges, changes and fresh opportunities. 

What brought you to Canada? DE: One of my key decision points on deciding to join this company was, ‘Do we have competent, skilled professionals in the key areas of the business?’ That’s in purchasing and in operations, that is sales and marketing—the answer was very much so yes, in every area. I thought that I could be of benefit to the business after looking at what their opportunities and needs were, and decided to give it a shot. 

What’s the first thing you noticed about the Canadian convenience industry? DE: There has been some consolidation occurring through acquisitions, where some larger groups are bringing on or taking over some smaller regional and local players. I would say the independent convenience store retailer is very much fragmented, including sourcing, which is an inefficient process for those retailers.

 How are you addressing this? DE: Wallace & Carey began an initiative last year, to increase our retail store base by a net 300, over a 12-month period, and we achieved that goal. Success with independents is getting their order to them with the products that they need at the right time at a good price. You have to have a sales force that is actually making physical calls into retail, and talking to those customers, and developing the relationship so they trust we know what’s going on, what’s available in the market, what the trends are, the new products—things that a large chain is going to hear immediately from the manufacturer. The independents don’t have that luxury: Bringing those offers, options, deals and promos directly to them on an ongoing basis, is a huge added value proposition.

 Tell us about some core initiatives. DE: We’ve taken a number of steps to improve our performance. Wholesale distribution, if you run extremely well, you hope to achieve maybe 5% gross margins and maybe 1% pre-tax operating profit. It’s tight, so what do you do? If you raise your price to your customers, then you’re not competitive. Instead, you become more efficient in what you buy and how you manage it. We have focused on improving our value added services to our suppliers so we have more productive relationships with them. The other side is being a very good service provider. To a convenience store that means you show up on time with the products that they ordered. That’s your service levels, your fill rates. We’ve always been good at that, but it’s cost us money to be good at that because of some inefficiencies.

How did you turn this around? DE: We’ve become more efficient in our inventory management. We’ve also become much more efficient in our operating costs and routing. That’s essentially asking if we are matching labour expense to the volume of work that we’re doing on a minute-by-minute basis: Literally, it is minute by minute. For instance, now we create a route that’s got 10 specific stores on it and each one can be delivered to within a two-hour ETA. Really, blocking and tackling operational execution, running things efficiently, finding areas of waste or inefficiency, and solving for those, is where a distributor can make a material difference. Everything has to be measured against a standard: Is it contributing positively to the bottom line or is it not? We have focused and grown in areas that were positive and productive to our business.

You’ve added cannabis distribution to the mix: How did that come about?

CannabisDE: Timing is everything. I joined officially in September of 2018, and cannabis became legal in Canada in October. However, Canada did what countries always do with initiative like this, they forgot about the supply chain. All of the regulations are around what a manufacturer-producer can do, and about what a retailer can do, but what happens in the middle? What we quickly found was that our expertise handling, managing and shipping, high value, highly regulated product was very well developed, because of what we do with cigarettes and tobacco. We developed a very extensive set of best practices and procedures, specific to that product—this is what you need to manage, and secure, and protect, and stay within the laws and guidelines of getting your product from point A to point B.

What is your role now? DE: The key point is we do not buy, own, we don’t even warehouse cannabis. Our involvement is in transporting. We essentially saw a market need, and the solution fit our business model well. We’re venturing into areas and situations where it makes sense, but it’s by no means our core business—that continues to be convenience and that’s where we invest our capital resources, in our infrastructure and systems growth and development of our core business and core competencies. That is convenience store wholesale distribution.

Do you see any links between the future of cannabis and convenience? Might there be opportunities, down the road, to marry these businesses? DE: What I hear is, ultimately, most in the industry believes that they will be selling cannabis in some form eventually, and that’s from the largest chains to the smallest store. You put your regulations around it, and then you make it available to the public. You don’t tell them where they have to go to buy it. 

 One more COVID-19-related question: As the economy reopens, what can the industry learn from and build on to succeed in the coming months? DE: As with most Canadian businesses and elsewhere, Wallace & Carey took immediate steps to protect our teammates and customers, through implementation of improved health and safety protocols. Deemed an essential business, we have continued to operate in support of the needs of our customers and all Canadians…. Wallace & Carey, and our industry as a whole, has learned unexpected disruptions require us to be nimble and efficient, in all areas of the business, at all times. New traffic patterns within our customers’ businesses, changing demand from consumers, a workforce with high expectations for improved health and safety measures, and any number of other variables challenge us to be flexible, adaptable, and open to change that is certainly with us and here to stay.


Canopy Growth opens cannabis stores in Alberta

Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corp. is preparing to open its first retail cannabis stores in Alberta.

The company is to open 10 stores under its Tweed and Tokyo Smoke banners and says it has additional locations in the pipeline.

Visitors Centre_Tour_jp94Rx9A“With 10 new stores set to open and additional locations in the pipeline, we are thrilled to announce this milestone and excited to bring the Tokyo Smoke and Tweed guest experiences to Alberta for the first time,” Grant Caton, general manager Canopy Growth, said in a statement. “We’ve seen the value brick-and-mortar retail brings to our consumers – welcoming new guests to learn about cannabis and building relationships in new communities – and we’re excited to share our knowledge and industry leadership across the region.”

The stores include seven locations in Calgary and one each in Spruce Grove, Lethbridge and Edmonton. Canopy says it will create more than 100 jobs in Alberta.

The following retail locations are set to open their doors this week:

Tokyo Smoke:

  • Unit 100, 4310 MacLeod Trail SW, Calgary, AB
  • 418 16th Avenue NW, Calgary, AB
  • Unit 101, 1022 17th Avenue SW Calgary, AB
  • 3011 14th Street SW, Calgary, AB
  • Unit 204, 131 Century Crossing, Spruce Grove, AB
  • Unit 104, 1020 9 Ave SE, Calgary, AB


  • 8650 112 Ave NW, Calgary, AB
  • Unit 122, 425 Aviation Road NE, Calgary, AB
  • Unit 130, 333-6th Street South, Lethbridge, AB
  • 10431 82 Avenue, T6E 2A1, Edmonton, AB

Canopy is one of Canada’s largest cannabis producers and retailers. In February 2019, Couche-Tard Inc. entered into a multi-year agreement with Canopy Growth. Through this partnership, the convenience giant said it planned to “lean on Canopy Growth’s cannabis expertise and leverage its experience with other age-restricted products to focus on the safe, responsible and lawful sale of cannabis, consistent with the  legislation enacted by the federal and provincial governments.”

Quebec-based Couche-Tard is vying for a piece of the North American market and is investing heavily, including a partnership with Alberta retailer Fire & Flower. This summer, the cannabis retailer co-located two locations with Circle K stores.

Canopy Growth says its expansion into Alberta will bring its number of retail locations across Canada to a total of 50, with more planned later this year.

-With files from The Canadian Press




Molson and Hexo backed cannabis drinks company launches five new brands

Competition in the cannabis beverage market is due to heat up as a company backed by Molson Coors Canada launches a group of pot drinks brands over the next few months.

Truss Beverage Co., a joint venture between the brewer and Ottawa-based cannabis company Hexo Corp., unveiled five brands today that it hopes will conquer the market and appeal to emerging tastes.

Truss chief executive Scott Cooper says his company’s new brands include Little Victory naturally-flavoured sparkling beverages and House of Terpenes sparkling tonics with botanically-sourced terpenes. All the brands will offer beverages infused with either CBD or THC.

Veryvell, an existing Truss brand that currently offers cannabis extract drops, will centre around cannabidiol products and wellness, while XMG and Mollo will focus on drinks that are perfect for special occasions.

Truss entered the pot drink space in December, when it partnered with Flow Alkaline Spring Water to launch goji-grapefruit and raspberry-lemon waters infused with cannabidiol, a cannabis compound.

Other cannabis retailers are already selling infused drinks from Canopy Growth Corp.’s Tweed, Aurora Cannabis Inc., A1 Cannabis Co., actor Seth Rogen’s Houseplant brand and Fluent Beverage Co., a joint venture between Anheuser-Busch InBev and B.C. pot company Tilray Inc.


Ontario’s pot store lottery winners sell shops as more consolidation expected

shutterstock_1140581744More than a year after winning the chance to open one of Ontario’s first cannabis stores through a provincial lottery, Lisa Bigioni has walked away from her Niagara Falls pot shop.

The store had become like a second home and it was painful to leave, but Bigioni wanted to make good on a deal she signed with a large cannabis brand that helped get her shop up and running under the tight deadlines set by the province.

“(Choom Holdings Inc.) offered a whole bunch of expertise that I needed after the lottery, but then in exchange for that, they said, ‘we’d like to buy your store when the time is right.’ The time came and there was a great deal on the table, so here we are,” said Bigioni, who sold to the Vancouver-based company in April for $2 million in cash and $2 million in common shares.

She’s using the proceeds to open her own Stok’d cannabis store chain.

The Alcohol and Gaming Corporation of Ontario, which oversees cannabis retailers, couldn’t say how many of the first lottery store winners are still associated with the shops they opened, but The Canadian Press has counted several that have changed hands _ and experts say more are likely to follow.

Such sales are being replicated by several of Bigioni’s 24 fellow lottery victors from round one, who were not allowed to sell their stores until last December, and 42 from a subsequent lottery.

Fire & Flower / Circle K Co-Located Cannabis Stores - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower / Circle K Co-Located Cannabis Stores – (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire and Flower (which recently co-located two stores with Circle K) has already scooped up two stores in Kingston and Ottawa, High Tide landed two in Sudbury and Hamilton and Canopy Growth Corp. got in on the action too.

Cannabis retail licences held by lottery winners technically cannot be transferred, but the stores can be taken over by new owners if the buyer applies for and is granted a new licence and authorization to operate the location.

For many of the lottery winners, selling is a no-brainer.

With one transaction they can make millions and rid themselves of the challenges of supply and security, regulatory changes and general hiccups that have come with owning a business in a newly legal sector.

The cannabis companies clamouring for the properties have a lot to gain too.

Many are battling it out across Canada to grab as much of the bricks-and-mortar market as they can. Stores already operating are ideal because they have some name recognition with consumers and save buyers the time and headaches associated with building from scratch.

“It’s certainly attractive on both ends,” said Melissa Gallagher, Canopy Growth’s director of franchising.

Canopy-backed Tokyo Smoke signed a deal in May with lottery winner Christopher Comrie, who operated Central Cannabis in London, Ont., but was based in Toronto.

Tokyo kept Comrie’s staff through an agreement, but chose to switch up the store’s branding and layout.

“The entire process probably took about three weeks in total, and required us to close only for one day, which ended up being a holiday, so it worked out quite well,” said Gallagher.

The experience was so positive that she says taking over more properties from lottery winners “is not off the table,” especially as Tokyo looks to “aggressively” expand.

However, not everyone is in the selling mood.

Hunny Gawri, a realtor who runs the Hunny Pot Cannabis Co. store in downtown Toronto, is keeping his business. He remembers having to turn his phone off after winning a licence in the lottery because so many cannabis brands wanted to partner with him with the potential to buy later.

“A lot of people won the lottery without the resources or the skillset to be able to execute on it and there was a lot of people that were chomping at the bit that had laid the groundwork to be able to roll out a retail chain or were already doing it on the West Coast,” recalled Hunny Pot spokesman Cameron Brown.

“But striking a deal and going with these other brands was not really what Hunny wanted to accomplish.”

So Gawri stuck with his first store and added another five across Canada – all run without partnering with a bigger player.

Brown believes the next six months will be interesting for cannabis retail in the province.

The AGCO said it has received 1,066 retail operator licence applications and 892 retail store authorizations _ both necessary for opening a cannabis store. So far, 116 stores have opened across the province.

Some shops just won’t open because of the length of the approval process and the costs and challenges of running a store, said Brown.

Others, he predicted, will close.

Corey Gillon, the chief executive of Choom, believes Ontario will still see deals like the one he struck with Bigioni, who was a director at the University of Toronto before getting into the cannabis business.

Choom hasn’t bought properties from Bigioni’s fellow winners or from the winners of a second lottery because Gillon said some of the numbers being tossed around have not made sense from a payback or performance perspective.

He believes opening stores from scratch is the best model for Choom overall, but still said, “we’re going to see consolidation in the space.

Brands with several stores may look to expand their footprint by reaching deals with people who only own one or two shops, he said.

“I think there are opportunities and people are already realizing that.”

Read: Couche-Tard vying for a piece of the North American cannabis market

Fire & Flower Deliver - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower powers up for home delivery in the GTA

Fire & Flower Deliver - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower Holdings is now offering home delivery in the greater Toronto area.

Fire & Flower, an independent adult-use cannabis retailer that owns (directly or indirectly) cannabis retail store licences in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario and the Yukon.

Through its strategic investment with Alimentation Couche-Tard, the Canadian company has set its sights on the global expansion as new cannabis markets emerge.

In addition to the curbside pickup and home delivery offered in Ottawa and Kingston, the technology powering home delivery in Toronto is enabled through the Hifyre Digital Retail and Analytics Platform. Customers can order via for free next day home delivery on orders over $50.00.

“Fire & Flower welcomes this opportunity to demonstrate how private cannabis retail can showcase fully-compliant best-in-class services such as e-commerce, home delivery and curbside pickup to our customers. It is essential that private retail is able to compete on a level playing field with government-run e-commerce and home delivery cannabis services,” CEO Trevor Fencott said in a release. “Through the Hifyre Digital Retail and Analytics platform, we are well positioned should other methods of servicing customers open across Canadian provinces.”

Under the current shutdown of non-essential businesses, cannabis retail stores are permitted to operate through online, curbside pickup and home delivery services for the duration of the emergency order on business closures in relation to COVID-19.


Canopy Growth lays off 200 workers in third cut made since March

UnknownCanopy Growth Corp. says it will be cutting 200 workers in its third round of cuts in the last two months.

The Smiths Falls, Ont.-based cannabis business says the employees impacted are working in several departments and located in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.

Chief executive David Klein says in a statement to The Canadian Press that the decision will allow the company to better focus its resources and ensure it is delivering high quality products to every market.

He says Canopy prioritized being first for a long time, but going forward it will be focused on doing things the best and in the product formats that show the greatest promise.

In mid-April, Canopy laid off 85 full-time workers, closed a handful of facilities and ceased operations in several countries as it tried to optimize its production and better balance supply and demand.

In early March, it cut 500 workers, took a writedown between $700 million and $800 million, closed two greenhouses in Aldergrove and Delta, B.C. and cancelled plans to operate a third in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.


Tilray misses analyst expectations in Q4, following February layoffs

UnknownTilray Inc. has revealed the company hit a rough patch in its latest quarter, just weeks after announcing it was laying off 10% of its staff to help better achieve profitability.

The Nanaimo-based cannabis company said that its revenues had dropped and its net loss increased in its fourth quarter, which ended Dec. 31.

Even its recent acquisition of hemp foodmaker Manitoba Harvest and growth in international medical cannabis markets were not enough to save the company from reporting revenues of US$46.9 million, a roughly 8% drop from the US$51 million it announced the quarter before. Financial markets data firm Refinitiv said analysts had expected Tilray, which keeps its books in U.S. dollars, to report a revenue of $55.4 million.

Meanwhile, the company’s net loss for the quarter was $219.1 million or $2.14 per share compared with a loss of $31 million or $0.33 per share for the same quarter of the year prior.

But on an earnings call with analysts, Tilray chief executive Brendan Kennedy did not appear to be letting such numbers get him down.

“The challenges in the Canadian market have been well-documented over the past few quarters. Primarily, the legal cannabis market has been slower than expected in taking share from the elicit market due to lack of points of distribution and product availability, but we are encouraged by recent announcements and actions taken by provincial governments to increase the pace of retail licensing,” he said.

“The market has been volatile over the last 12 months, but I remain extremely bullish on the long-term opportunity in Canada.”

Looking forward, Kennedy said Tilray would be focusing on investing in its facilities that manufacture products linked to Cannabis 2.0- a term used to describe a second wave of products like edibles, extracts and topicals that hit the market earlier this year.

Tilray has partnered with Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, to introduce cannabis-infused drinks to the Canadian market.

Its subsidiary High Park Holdings Ltd. runs confectionery brand Chowie Wowie, which makes cannabis-infused chocolates and gummies, and has beverages brand Rmdy, which makes non-alcoholic, ready-to-brew teas and sparkling beverages with all natural flavours.

The company is making a lot of new items for the first time and that is never done efficiently the first time, said Kennedy.

“The first time you make a chocolate bar, the first time we made a beverage and canned it, it’s not as efficient as the 10th time or the 100th time you operate that particular facility, so we’ll optimize our footprint, optimize our yield, optimize our unit costs throughout the course of this year.”

While many companies announced edibles they were researching and developing long ago, many have yet to launch in stores. Those that have hit the market have sold out quickly as consumer demand outweighs supply.

Kennedy said Tilray was “surprised” by the demand, but also by the lack of “competition” generated by licensed producers.

“We’re racing at this point to increase our supply of vape, edibles and beverage products and so we’re expanding our manufacturing lines and increasing our shifts, so that we can get more of those products to market,” he said.

Kennedy’s remarks came as Tilray said the company’s average net selling price per gram increased to $8.78 from $7.52 in the prior year and as it recorded non-cash charges of $112.1 million related to a revenue-sharing agreement it signed with Authentic Brands Group LLC, which is behind the Juicy Couture, Frye and Aeropostale brands.




Canopy Growth to lay off 500, close two greenhouses

In early January, the company delayed the debut of its cannabis beverages

Canopy Growth Corp. is orchestrating a massive overhaul involving a layoff of 500 workers, a multimillion-dollar writedown, the closure of two greenhouses and the cancellation of plans to operate a third.

The Smiths Falls, Ont., cannabis company revealed the moves Wednesday in a press release that attributed the cuts to the Canadian recreational pot market developing “slower than anticipated” and “profitability challenges across the industry.”

The company, which is behind the Tweed, Spectrum Therapeutics, Tokyo Smoke and CraftGrow brands, said the actions will “align supply and demand while improving production efficiencies over time.” (In February 2019, Couche-Tard entered into a multi-year agreement with Canopy that involved the opening of one of its Tweed-branded store in London, Ont.)

“When I joined Canopy Growth earlier this year, I committed to focusing the business and aligning its resources to meet the needs of our consumers,” David Klein, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“Today’s decision moves us in this direction, and although the decision to close these facilities was not taken lightly, we know this is a necessary step to ensure that we maintain our leadership position for the long-term.”

Canopy estimated that the pre-tax charge it will record in its next quarter, ending Mar. 31, will be between $700 million and $800 million.

It deemed the facilities it will scrap – greenhouses in Aldergrove and Delta, B.C. – “no longer essential to its cultivation footprint.”

Those greenhouses account for about 278,709 square metres (3-million sq. ft.) of licensed production space that was put to use in February 2018, after retrofitting was done to prepare the company to supply the new adult-use cannabis market in Canada.

The company, however, struggled to create working capital, the cannabis market did not mature as fast as it anticipated and federal regulations permitting outdoor cultivation were introduced long after Canopy had begun investing in their greenhouses.

Canopy now operates an outdoor production site that’s made cultivation more cost-effective. It believes that site will play an important role in meeting demand for products necessitating cannabis extracts.

The company also said it will no longer pursue plans to operate a third greenhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Such decisions are the latest in a string of troubles for Canopy and the industry. It announced in early January that the debut of its cannabis drinks – it has 13 planned – will now be delayed because it requires more time to develop its beverage facility and “the scaling process is not complete.”

In February, it recorded a $124.17-million loss in its third quarter of 2020.

Canopy’s cuts come nearly a month after Aurora Cannabis Inc. slashed 500 jobs, took roughly $800 million in goodwill writedowns and announced the departure of Terry Booth, the Edmonton-based company’s chief executive officer.

Aurora’s news was preceded by Tilray Inc. saying it would lay off 10% of its workforce in a bid to cut costs, Sundial Growers axing some of its workforce and Zenabis Global Inc. laying off about 40 staff, mostly in head office roles in Vancouver.


Life after the lottery: Cannabis retailers share challenges faced since opening

cannabis_packages_frLisa Bigioni was awoken last September in the middle of the night by a call from an alarm company that’s been seared in her memory ever since.

The 1:30 a.m. alert was linked to her Niagara Falls, Ont. cannabis store, where two men had been caught on camera getting out of their car, smashing the shop window and then driving away. It was enough to send Bigioni, who had been fast asleep, scrambling to meet police at the store.

Luckily, no staff had been on site, but it was “terrifying” for Bigioni, who started wondering if this would become a routine part of the business.

“It was like uh-oh, is this what is going to happen now?” she recalled. “Is this what this kind of store brings?”

The window-smashing happened just four months after her store opened in June, but is part of an array of challenges cannabis retailers across the country have faced since first welcoming customers.

Between inventory levels, security and staffing, the stress of trying to figure out a new industry has been demanding for business owners.

Bigioni expected there would be challenges. Legalization, after all, thrust cannabis store ownership into the hands of hundreds of people across the country, many with limited business or pot store experience under their belts.

She had been working as a director at the University of Toronto when she won a licence to open one of Ontario’s first 25 cannabis stores through a lottery held in Jan. 2019.

That prompted a move to Niagara Falls and a resignation from her job.

“I couldn’t sustain doing both because it was that super stressful time,” she said.

Getting the store ready, which she runs in partnership with B.C. cannabis firm Choom Cannabis Co., within a short window was the most tense time for Bigioni, but the months since haven’t been without their struggles.

On top of the break-in and a few quibbles with their point-of-sale system, Bigioni said the store has been grappling with cannabis supply issues.

“Supply by and large is available, but not necessarily in the specific strains that people are looking for or have bought or want to buy consistently,” she said. “There are strains that came out, were really popular, got really great reviews, and then they’ve been difficult to get since.”

She finds that anything with a low price and a high quantity of tetrahydrocannabinol – the main psychoactive component in cannabis – is always in demand and sells out quickly.

But fluctuating THC content in different batches creates problems.

“One week something could be a high THC product at a low price and the next batch could come in at a 5 per cent lower THC, which doesn’t necessarily meet what the customer’s looking for,” she said.

Over at the Nova Cannabis store in Toronto, supply is also a challenge – particularly when it comes to edibles.

“We thought we were going to have more selection than what we had,” said Heather Conlon, the owner of a lock-and-safe business, who partnered with Edmonton-based licensed producer Alcanna Inc. for her store.

Consumers have been scooping up edibles so quickly that it has been hard to keep any on shelves and licensed producers are still in the process of increasing their output.

The OCS said they are shipping products out as quickly as possible and anticipate the supply of edibles will be become “much more steady” in the coming months as producers capacity expands.

Conlon’s first edibles shipment from the Ontario Cannabis Store, the province’s pot distributor, was mostly vapes, chocolates and cookies. The latter two were sold out within hours.

Nova’s deliveries have recently begun to include teas, gummies, soft chews and mints, but even with more selection, products still sell out within a few days.

It’s always a week until more arrives and when it does, there is not always enough to satiate consumers since licensed producers are still ramping up edibles production.

Shoppers aren’t just clamouring for the treats available either. They’re also constantly asking about other items cannabis brands have announced but have yet to ship.

“We’re just mainly waiting now for beverages and topicals. Those are the main two things that people are still looking for,” said Conlon.

She still counts herself lucky because her store hasn’t faced vandalism like Bigioni’s.

Aleafia Health Inc. had a shipment of “packaged, finished” cannabis products stolen in late December from a truck the cannabis company had hired to deliver the items to provincial wholesale facilities.

YSS Corp., the Calgary-based business behind 17 cannabis stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan, was also targeted that month, said chief executive Theo Zunich.

“Two suspects entered the store and robbed the store at gunpoint,” he said. “It was pretty quick and they did make out with cannabis and cash.”

An employee at the Edmonton-Northwest Landing store was assaulted in the process.

The incident made the company think about safety more than it already did.

“We do daily huddles with all of the staff and reinforce certain aspects of various policies, so we definitely prioritize the staff-related ones in times when those rashes happen,” he said.

The incidents have challenged YSS and made them think about how to abide by regulations.

In Alberta, cannabis and related accessories must be kept out of sight of minors.

Many have resorted to covering their windows completely to abide with regulations, but Zunich said stores can use other visual barriers or position products in other areas of their shop.

“It’s incredibly difficult to do that though. Our frustration is you’ve made the packaging child-safe so is the window covering really necessary? I would argue let’s remove the window coverings to make the store safer,” he said.

“We are not there yet, but we are hopeful.”