How 4Front Ventures is Redeploying Resources from California

4Front feels optimistic about its prospects in its chosen markets.

When 4Front Ventures Corp. (OTCQX: FFNTF) decided to finally shutdown its California operations, the message was that cash rules everything around us.

Contraction in the state isn’t exactly news, but the firm’s white flag in August signaled that even the most resilient management teams couldn’t keep up with the changes. That came after the company in May set a breakeven goal for itself in the infamous West Coast market. By the end of the summer, the decision was clear.

During the company’s third-quarter 2023 earnings conference call, executives reiterated the regulatory challenges and competitive environment in California, particularly how they redirected focus toward markets in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington that promise higher returns and sustainable growth.

Chief Executive Officer Leo Gontmakher explained the rationale behind the decision.

“Our presence in California has undoubtedly played a critical role in the development of our platform and low-cost operating blueprint,” he told investors.

However, Gontmakher noted that “we can no longer justify the ongoing drag on our profitability” in California due to the state’s “demanding regulatory climate” and a far-reaching illicit market.

“There is also a lack of accessible financing and widespread struggles in maintaining cash flow when wholesale prices change quickly, affecting everyone from growers to brands. Retail operations face particularly harsh conditions with an over-saturation of stores competing for limited customer traffic in a price-sensitive market, leading to dwindling profit margins and cash flows.

Additionally, companies producing consumer goods face major challenges in receiving payments from financially struggling retailers. These accumulating pressures have rendered the California environment unsustainable for our ongoing operations. These obstacles ultimately hindered our anticipated investment returns and by exiting this market we expect to see an immediate improvement in our profitability.”

The CEO highlighted Illinois as the company’s primary focus, pointing to its “strong potential for long-term sustainable growth.” 4Front’s investment in a 250,000 square foot facility in Matteson, Illinois, feeds into the strategy. The facility is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

The upside is more realistic there, management believes. The company’s wholesale sales in The Prairie State have almost tripled year-over-year, according to Brandon Mills, President of Illinois and Massachusetts Operations.

“This surge is not just numbers. It reflects our expanding influence in Illinois as a top operator,” Mills said. He also mentioned the relocation of automated production equipment from California to the Matteson facility to expand production capabilities there.

In Massachusetts, despite facing pricing pressure and increased competition, 4Front maintained a strong market presence. The company’s premium brand, Island, saw a sales growth of approximately 28% compared to the previous quarter, signaling the brand’s appeal. Gontmakher noted the company’s efforts there to enhance store traffic and customer engagement.

Washington state, with its more competitive non-vertical legacy cannabis market, has also been a meaningful performer for 4Front, management said. The company’s flower sales have doubled there since the start of the year.

“This backdrop has only honed our competitive edge, showcasing the tenacity at the heart of our operations,” said Gontmakher.

Despite other concerns, the company’s recent financial results are beginning to reflect some of the improvements from the exit, with a reported adjusted EBITDA of $3.5 million for the period.

“The California losses of over $12 million over two quarters are gone,” Thut explained, “a more than 70% increase from the previous quarter, despite facing some headwinds in the Massachusetts market. We ended the quarter with $2.8 million in cash and have since secured $10 million in funding to build out additional retail locations in Illinois.”

Mills later added to that, “I think the only other contribution would be the manifestation of the non-California-related reduction in force that kind of led through Q3 and we were able to realize some of the benefit near the end of Q3 once the severance periods were expired.”

Generally, 4Front feels optimistic about its prospects in its chosen markets.

“As mentioned during our last earnings call, our focus for the remainder of the year and into 2024 is on profitable and sustainable growth,” Gontmakher said. “With the evolving landscape, we have retained the flexibility to adapt our operations as needed, directing our attention toward opportunities that we are confident could provide the highest return on investment within our portfolio.

“The state (California) has ultimately equipped us with invaluable assets and insights that continue to propel us forward.”

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson writes about the cannabis industry for the Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri Statehouse for the Columbia Missourian and has written for the Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter at @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.


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