New Industry Insights: Edibles Outperform the Cannabis Market

A year into the global pandemic, it’s a great time to pan out to look at the big picture for the cannabis industry. Some things, it seems, were relatively easy to predict: As we wrote in this space back in March of 2020, it appeared that whatever else happened, demand for cannabis was only going to rise. That’s largely been true: In 2020, global cannabis sales topped out at $19.7 billion, a whopping 38% increase over the previous year.

That’s a big deal in and of itself, but what’s jumping out at us is the surge in sales of cannabis-infused edibles. In seven major US cannabis markets—California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington—sales of edibles rose by an astonishing 60%.

What’s behind it, and what does it portend for the industry? Let’s do a little digging….

Cannabis Industry Insights: Edibles Outperformed the Market in 2020

Cannabis-infused edibles are nothing new. An ever-increasing array of sweets, gummies, baked goods and beverages have been intriguing consumers for years. But a host of external conditions—the global COVID-19 pandemic, most notably, but the rash of vaping illnesses beginning in 2019 as well—have conspired to make edibles the hottest segment of the cannabis market.

Both these circumstances conspired to increase consumers’ doubts about inhaled cannabis. (While COVID-19 can most accurately be described as a vascular disease, it tends to present first as a respiratory one.) This confluence helped push a broad spectrum of experienced and first-time cannabis users to try edibles.

What’s more, the historically ingrained practice of sharing cannabis flower has faded in light of COVID. Quoted in Marijuana Business Daily, Guy Rocourt of California edible manufacturer Papa & Barkley attributed this in the jump to in demand for edibles. What’s more, he believes it will persist after the pandemic is officially “over”: “Post-COVID we’re all going to be a little more germophobic.”

On top of that, edibles’ long-lasting effects—in some cases, lasting up to 9 hours or more—are perhaps better suited to the long periods of mandatory lockdowns instituted by some jurisdictions. Underlining that point, Chris Beals of online dispensary directory Weedmaps, quoted in the New York Times, reported that edibles sales in March of 2020 were double those during the previous month.

Cannabis Industry Insights: Edibles Trends for 2021

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Even without the pressures of the global pandemic, it appears that edibles’ moment has arrived. Quoted in the Institute of Food Technologists journal, Randy Burt, a partner in Kearney management consultants, reported that in a 2018 survey of 2,000 North Americans, over half responded that they would try recreational cannabis if or when if becomes legal. Of those positive respondents, some 55% said they would try it as an edible, with an additional 32% saying they would try it as a beverage. And 79% felt that cannabis offers valid therapeutic potential.

What does this portend moving forward? On top of the pressing need to respond to the current unprecedented demand, manufacturers are designing and debuting products that speak to those consumers’ desire for medically active, healthful products. That may mean a turn from sugar and saturated fats to more healthful options (or at least those perceived to be). Manufacturers such as California’s Papa & Barkley are focusing on products that highlight rather than mask the flavors of cannabis, down to strain-specific pairings with products such as milk chocolate.

In many regards, this dovetails with the overall trends in cannabis. As we reported late last year, California is moving ahead with a system of cannabis appellations modeled after those in use for its world-renowned wine industry. Ostensibly, the move is intended to give small producers a leg up against the mega-farmers who control an increasingly large proportion of cannabis acreage in the state. But from consumers’ point of view, it’s an association with a premium and artisanal agricultural product that’s hard to mistake.

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Technology, too, will shape the edibles market. Because dosing THC (and to a lesser extend CBD) is both critical and historically difficult, more producers are moving towards a wider selection of dosages. And because the slow onset time is often viewed as the Achilles’ heel in edibles, manufacturers are experimenting with faster-acting products that bring edibles even closer to flower and vapes in terms of their effects.

We’ll close with this thought: If things keep going the way they’ve been—with edibles continuing to gain market share at a phenomenal rate—that faster onset time will be the only way they’re similar to flower, vapes, and all the other cannabis products they’re currently leaving behind in the dust.