Cannabis Consumer Behavior Alters With Covid-19 Quarantine: Edibles & Drinks Surge

So many things have been turned upside down with this pandemic, and saying we live in interesting times would be an understatement. Industries and businesses are being demolished and altered in ways unheard of just a month ago, and a rare few are actually booming. 

For the cannabis industry, one of the biggest changes leading to a boom is that as a whole cannabis is now being considered an “essential” part of life nationwide. The level of legitimacy this brings to the industry would have normally taken another decade. 

Delivery services and curb side pick-up have been implemented across the country also erasing years of necessary effort overnight. But overall, the complete change in cannabis consumer behavior has been one of the most interesting developments to witness for many of us.

As reported by Vice, politics and current events are major sources of anxiety for many in the United States and this leads to an increase of unhealthy behaviors like drinking alcohol, smoking, or eating poorly to cope with what is termed as “headlines distress disorder”.

In times of great stress, the sale of alcoholic beverages has proven to surge without fail. With legal cannabis now implemented around the country, the same is now proving to be true. According to Headset, during this current Coronavirus crisis, US adult use cannabis markets show average daily sales at large increase by 10%.

Sue Bachorski, formerly with Constellation Brands for 30 years and currently with the House of Saka, explained that “historically, alcohol sales frequently rise during times of economic downturn, regional disasters, etc. There is no reason to believe that cannabis sales would be any different and there will likely be a prolonged upswing for the foreseeable future.”

The Numbers Say It All

As of April 2, 2020, Headset released data that shows how the landscape of preferred cannabis products and consumption methods has proven to alter completely.  In the analysis, Headset compares the average daily sales of each product category before the COVID-19 sales bump began (January 1st through March 6th) to the COVID-19 crisis time period (March 7th through March 31st).

Cannabis infused beverage sales have increased by 14% while edibles accounted for a 28% increase. With infused beverages previously only accounting for 1% of the market, this is a big jump for the category. The reasoning for this change in consumer sales makes sense considering the virus attacks your respiratory system, so people would rather eat or drink their cannabis instead of smoking or vaping it. Pre-rolls and topicals have actually fallen by 13%.

I reached out to some key players in these categories to find out why they feel these increases have occurred. Warren Bobrow, co-founder of cannabis infused beverage brand Klaus Apothicaire and a Vices writer for Forbes, told Green Market Report that he felt that “while being quarantined in our homes, it makes perfect sense to further expand our inner space with high quality cannabis beverages and edibles. Smokable products could prove tricky with this particular virus.”

Ben Larson, CEO of Vertosa, said that “in these uncertain and challenging times, it’s an encouraging silver lining to see cannabis consumers increasingly seeking out infused beverages. There are likely several factors affecting the recent rise in sales, but an important takeaway is that infused beverages are typically designed for individual consumption and can be consumed discreetly, which is ideal during social distancing. They are also an approachable, familiar way to consume cannabis for less experienced users and those looking to avoid smoking during this time.”

The Women Stepped Up Their Spending

Beyond the types of products surging, the Headset data showed that even gender sales show a change in behavior during this crisis. While both genders saw significant increases in cannabis spending, females had more than double the sales growth of males. As Headset previously reported, males make up roughly two thirds of cannabis spending on any given day. Therefore, it could be speculated that females were less likely to have cannabis products on hand and more likely to feel a sense of urgency to stock up.

Tracey Mason, CEO of House of Saka, explains that she believes females could be a major driver in these increased category surges because “there is a triangulation of needs that beverages and edibles meet specifically for the female consumer: They offer precise dosing which provides a safe and controlled means by which to experiment, they offer a subtle means of consumption which removes the stigma associated with smoking and vaping and they are multi-use which drives sociability and expands usage occasions. Safe, Subtle and Social, those are the benefits of infused beverages in a nutshell.”

It remains to be seen as to whether these changes will become market altering over the long term, or if it was truly just a panic surge with no real impact. But as far as the change in gender sales, if this pattern continues, brands will need to evolve their marketing campaigns to appeal more to women.  

“Women are often seeking a healthier alternative to alcohol, but want an elevated social experience. To do this with cannabis is ideal. In addition, women want a product that has relatable packaging, tastes amazing, and feels safe. This tends to be achieved with an edible or an infused beverage, so I am not surprised that when their sales surged during the panic buys, they gravitated toward these products. The cannabis consumable sector has come a long way. The existing products have nailed the experience for the female consumer, so this demographic will continue to grow in the coming years,” says founder & president of Viv & Oak, Alana Burstein.
Will It Last?
If the patterns remain the same for edibles and beverages for the duration of the pandemic’s hold on our behavior, which could affect our lives for up to 18 months, it is safe to say that habits may have altered indefinitely with far reaching consequences for the foreseeable future. 

Understandably, edible and beverage brands are predicting continued growth. “We’ve seen exponential growth in our edibles sales at Garden Society and expect that as these shelter in place orders remain in place, we will continue to see growth. We believe this will have an impact on the overall market and consumer trends over the next year,” said Karli Warner, co-founder of The Garden Society

Geoff Doran, founder and CEO of Van Doran Brands, stated that “right now we are watching this trend very closely as edible and infused beverage companies. We aren’t too surprised that there is a current spike with these categories. We think the current spike has a lot to do with the “newbies” that are bored at home and giving cannabis a shot because of easy access they have through delivery, and quite frankly because they have nothing else to do with their days. A lot of the new cannabis buyers tend to gravitate toward a method of consumption that is familiar to them, which is obviously through eating and drinking. We’re excited about this spike because we know people will realize that edibles and cannabis beverages are a great cannabis experience!”

Cynthia Salarizadeh

Cynthia SalarizadehCynthia Salarizadeh

Founder and CEO of AxisWire, Founder and President of the luxury cannabis brand the House of Saka, Co-founder of Green Market Media & Industry Power Women. Cynthia is a contributing writer for Entrepreneur and Forbes. She sits on the Forbes Communications Council and holds a degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a certificate in journalism from Georgetown University.


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