There's no question the global alcohol market is being challenged by cannabis products, but opportunities are there to take a complementary approach rather than a competing one, according to a Euromonitor International researcher.
During a Tuesday webinar, Spiros Malandrakis, head of alcohol drinks research for the London-based company, said Canada offers the most immediate growth opportunity since legalization of recreational marijuana is expected to take effect there next year. However, he singled out California and Nevada as "attractive markets within the U.S.," where the potential national cannabis market totals $16 billion, or about twice that of Canada.
Concentrates and edibles are projected to experience "massive growth," Malandrakis added. While all marijuana products are predicted to grow during the next few years, he said that edibles, concentrates and beverages will transform into consumer products more than parts of the actual plant.
Malandrakis and Shane MacGuill, the head of tobacco research for Euromonitor International, told webinar participants that global alcohol and tobacco markets are losing share to cannabis and other competing products. These products are looking for ways to innovate and grow in a challenging, yet potentially lucrative, environment.
"Alcohol distributors see cannabis development as inevitable and are trying to get active within the segment, which could provide a new area for growth and revenues and a way to remain relevant within the next couple of years," Malandrakis said.
Positioning itself to take advantage of the opportunity is Constellation Brands, which announced in October that it would acquire a 9.9% minority stake in Canopy Growth, a Canadian marijuana company. The $191-million deal will allow the alcoholic beverage giant and Canopy to develop cannabis-infused beverages and "stay ahead of evolving consumer trends."
Rob Sands, Constellation's Brands' CEO, told The Wall Street Journal at the time that he doesn't consider marijuana a serious threat to the alcohol space, but that Constellation isn't "going to stand around twiddling [its] thumbs" as the market grows. Instead of competing with weed, Constellation is teaming up with it — a strategy reminiscent of its many takeovers of disruptive craft players.
Constellation isn't the only alcoholic beverage player to dip its toe in this market. In September, Lagunitas Brewing launched an IPA made with marijuana terpenes, the aromatic compounds of fragrant oils from the cannabis plant. But this beer, which is only available for a limited time in California, doesn't contain tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC, the active chemical in cannabis that causes the euphoric high.
Due to patchwork state regulations, today's legal marijuana market in the U.S. is valued at about $5.4 billion, while the illegal market is estimated at $40 billion, the researchers said. By 2025, the total legal marijuana market is expected to reach $50 billion or more. But because Canada is legalizing recreational marijuana on the federal level, the potential there is more immediate.
Americans' views on marijuana legalization have shifted from just 12% approval in 1969 to a record high of 64% today, according to a Gallup poll that came out in October. The firm noted that while pot is still illegal at the federal level, eight states and the District of Columbia have fully legalized marijuana, and more than one in five Americans live in a state where they can legally use it.
If additional states legalize recreational pot, projections are that beer sales could be hit even harder. A June report from Cannabiz Consumer Group estimated the beer industry stands to lose more than $2 billion in retail sales to legal marijuana. Twenty-seven percent of beer drinkers have already substituted cannabis for beer, or would substitute retail beer purchases with cannabis in the future if it were legalized, the report noted. The impact could spill into lower sales for wine and spirits, too. Beer's dollar share fell 0.3% to 49.2% last year, and the survey found that recreational marijuana could take 7.1% of the beer industry's revenue.
Malandrakis noted that beer sales seem to be most in danger of losing share to the "cannibalizing effect" of cannabis. That's because the category's core demographic — young adults and millennials — also tend to be cannabis users. However, craft beer, small-scale brewing and artisanal spirits appeal to a similar audience as do premium cannabis strains and "can be used to the bridge the gap between the two industries through hybrid products and cooperation," he said.
Some areas of cross-pollinization that already exist include wines with THC, beers containing aromatic marijuana compounds but without THC, cannabis-infused vodka, cannabis cocktails and a martini product containing cannabis, Malandrakis said. There also are wine and cannabis pairings being offered on tours, which are attempts to "premiumize" specific regions of the country such as California. "I can definitely perceive more of this kind of thing in the next few years," he said.
Malandrakis also noted that the language of alcoholic drinks is widely spoken in the cannabis world, with words like "nose" and "aroma" being used, as well as newly coined terms such as "cannatourism" and "cannasseurs" frequently appearing. The bottom line is that the alcohol and tobacco businesses should embrace the cannabis industry without fear or prejudice since there are plenty of areas of overlap and common appeal that can be explored to the benefit of both.