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The convenience industry is ground zero for cannabis-infused product innovation

“Greenfield” refers to a virgin market yet to be commercially exploited. From a business perspective, it’s elusive and appealing because of how infrequently it occurs, as well as the potential for windfall results.

Greenfield opportunities are generally not for lack of foresight, but rather a function of structural, technical, regulatory or other barriers. When circumstances change, competing parties typically scramble for prime positioning. 

The passing of Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act, in 2018 ushered in a new age of cannabis legalization in Canada. Legal sales of cannabis via retail outlets, as well as limited personal production, opened up for the first time, setting the stage for future cannabis-related innovation. 

On Oct. 17, 2019, the commercial sale of cannabis-infused edibles (baked goods, drinks etc.) became legal, however there was already much work ongoing to define a framework for what many see as the next greenfield opportunity. For instance, CBD-infused products will start hitting store shelves before the end of of the year.

This is no doubt of interest to the convenience industry and c-store operators, who may be uniquely positioned to grab a piece of this greenfield market.

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 3.45.57 PMIt’s also welcome news to consumers. According to a study out of Dalhousie University in Halifax, of the 68% of participants who were in favour of legalizing cannabis in 2017, 93% were also very likely to try at least one edible product, while 46% of all Canadians would try cannabis-infused food products if they were available. 

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Consumers have a taste for cannabis

Earlier this year Deloitte surveyed 2,000 adult Canadians regarding cannabis and edibles consumption, concluding that edibles and cannabis-infused beverages represent a multi-billion dollar opportunity. 

The Arcview, a cannabis investment and market research company, projects the cannabis edibles market will be worth more than $4 billion in Canada and the United States by 2022, with Canada representing nearly 40% of the opportunity.

 As a means of projecting the potential of cannabis for the Canadian food industry, Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, examined data from U.S. states that have already implemented legalization. The data pointed to rapid market penetration in Canada, with edibles sales expected to account for more than 10% of total cannabis sales within two years of opening the market.

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CBD: The first wave

The first wave of change will be food and beverage products that reference cannabis, but include non-hallucinogenic cannabidiol (CBD) derivatives and/or hemp-based products.

Hemp and CBD products became legal in the U.S. with the signing of the Farm Bill at the end of 2018. In its annual Chef Survey, The National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation found that 75% of the 650 chefs surveyed said CBD and cannabis-infused food would be a hot trend in 2019.

In the U.S., legalization has sparked innovation and, ultimately, consumer demand.

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 3.47.46 PMThough, it is still early in the adoption process for CBD-infused foods and beverages, there are many examples of both emerging and global drink companies aligning to prepare for the coming market gap. 

For instance, L.A.-based Kickback Cold Brew offers coffee and tea-based CBD-infused beverages made with organic ingredients, 100% single origin and shade grown coffee beans, and high-grade hemp.

In the QSR segment, Carl’s Jr., a burger chain with 1,500 locations, including more than 20 in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, recently tested a CBD Burger in Colorado. The limited edition $4.20 Rocky Mountain High: CheeseBurger Delight featured a Santa Fe sauce infused with CBD, a non-psychoactive hemp derivative. It was a nod to consumers’ pent up desire for cannabis innovation and may yet find a place on Carl’s Jr. permanent menu.

 “(It) ties back to our core strategy of being the first to bring bold and unexpected flavours, that are at the forefront of hot restaurant trends, to a quick service menu,” says Patty Trevino, Carl’s Jr. senior vice-president of brand marketing.

Cannabis express

Last year, convenience operator Kohanoff Affiliated partnered with Swissx Oil & Confectionary to distribute its Swissx CBD products in more than 500 convenience stores and gas stations across Southern California. 

 Earlier this year, Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. entered into a multi-year agreement with Canopy Growth Corp. to open a Tweed-branded cannabis store in London, Ont. “Alimentation Couche-Tard is excited about taking a leadership role in the development of cannabis retailing excellence,” says Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of Couche-Tard, adding Couche-Tard is looking at this venture as a vital entry opportunity to a new market.

Then, in July, the convenience giant announced a partnership with cannabis retailer Fire & Flower. “Couche-Tard is excited to make this strategic investment in one of the fastest growing cannabis ‘pure-play’ retailers,” said Hannasch. “This investment in Fire & Flower, with a path to a controlling stake, will enable us to leverage their leadership, network and advanced digital platform to accelerate our journey in this new and flourishing sector.”

With the legalization of cannabis, we are in the midst of a revolutionary paradigm shift. Having lived in The Netherlands during the 1990s, I was first exposed to a tolerant attitude towards cannabis: Legalization blows open the door to normalization, commercialization and potentially explosive growth. It promises to be one of the largest “land rushes” in modern memory and the time to get your claim flag in the ground is now.

 

Darren Climans is a foodservice insights professional with close to 20 years’ experience partnering with broadline distributors, CPG suppliers, and foodservice operators. His practice is to understand issue-based decisions by taking a data-driven approach to strategic decision making.