On September 10th, 2018, a group of chefs, restaurateurs, hospitality representatives, and wine & spirit purveyors met to discuss the future of infused beverages at Crop to Kitchen’s quarterly meeting held in San Francisco. The theme for the night was very much aligned with recent headlines that have captured our attention over the past several weeks; will infused beverages be the largest edibles category?
Led by Crop to Kitchen’s co-founder, Kimberly Belle, the discussion touched on some hot topics that impact both cannabis and wine & spirits. With the recent entry of big alcohol, and Coca-Cola and possibly other soft drink giants eyeing the industry, what does this mean for cannabis and what’s in store for the future?
Below is a wrap up of the discussion, from my perspective, plus what you need to know now about this growing category.
(photo credit: Aurora Elixirs)
Why are infused beverages poised to be the biggest edibles category in the industry?
Infused beverages have attracted big business. As we’ve seen over the past several months, the alcohol industry is investing billions of dollars into the cannabis space. Constellation Brands was the first big US company to open the door and explore the possibilities in Canada when they bought a minority stake in Canopy Growth last fall. In August of 2018, Constellation upped it’s bet again with another $4 billion investment into Canopy Growth. After this second investment, it’s clear that Constellation is ready to grow this category, first in Canada and then into the US once cannabis is federally legal.
Constellation’s commitment has also sparked the interest of other alcohol companies as many big players are feeling optimistic about investing into the cannabis space. For example, after Constellation’s first move in 2017, infused beverages are now being produced by Heineken via the Lagunitas/AbsoluteXtracts partnership, Molson Coors is making an infused drink in Canada, and the founder of Blue Moon will be making THC-infused beer under his new company Ceria Beverages. With this surge of investments, it seems like the infused beverage category has a bright future ahead.
Infused beverages are also attractive to the consumer because they are easy to use and the process of drinking a beverage is a familiar consumption process. Consumers can enjoy infused drinks much like an alcoholic beverage in a social setting. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma that exists when you light up a joint or hit a vape at a public gathering.
Why is it important, or financially savvy, for alcohol companies to get involved in the cannabis space?
Support from the alcohol industry is important as we work towards federal legalization in the US. The opportunity to expand and create infused beverages has been a significant factor in bringing the cannabis and alcohol industries together. From a cannabis standpoint, we now have backup from a power player in the US who has faced similar prohibition struggles with our federal government.
Infused beverages are also one of the hottest topics in the alcohol industry right now because it’s a brand new category that has enormous potential for growth. When cannabis becomes federally legal in the US, companies like Constellation, Heineken, and Molson Coors will have set themselves up to be leaders in the infused beverage space, which will generate significant profits.
In recent months, important trade groups in the alcohol industry have also jumped on board. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), who is one of the largest trade groups in the alcohol industry that monitors regulations, announced publicly that they support cannabis legalization on the federal level if they adopt market regulations that meet a framework similar to what governs alcohol. The more support we get from agencies like this, the closer we get to federal legalization.
What sort of buzz is coming from winemakers and distributors who want to play in this space? Is weed wine on the horizon?
As we saw at the Wine & Weed Symposium, the number one thing that is coming from the wine and spirits industry is curiosity. Winemakers and distributors are trying to figure out how they can legally collaborate with cannabis whether that be through tourism, events, or by creating infused beverages such as Rebel Coast Winery’s THC Infused Non-Alcoholic Sauvignon Blanc. At this point, as High Times suggests, the industries see each other as “friends yet foes.” David Downs from Leafly also recently labeled the two sectors as “frenemies,” which seems pretty accurate; however, I think we can all agree that rather than being rivals, there is much room for collaboration. A great example of this would be Hi-Fi Hops produced by Lagunitas and AbsoluteXtracts. As laws change, there will be even more collaboration opportunities, especially for hospitality experiences. Perhaps one day we’ll see cannabis restaurants with award-winning wine lists?
What does the future of alcohol look like in the cannabis industry?
Alcohol companies don’t want to miss out on the green rush. To stay relevant with future trends and to carve out a space for themselves, the wine & spirits industry has invested billions into infused beverages, which in turn, will lead to significant market share in the US once cannabis becomes federally legal. Above all, cannabis and alcohol don’t have to be enemies. Instead, many partnership opportunities can benefit both industries.
Where can I find an infused beverage?
Here’s a list of some of my favorite movers and shakers who have entered this exciting space: