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HIGHLIGHTS
  1. U.S. producers struggle to portray effect-based cannabis products in strain-dominated field
  2. Blending effect-based products with mainstream natural products helps reach consumers
  3. Cannabis companies often test effects on friends and family

Walk into a cannabis retail store and you will likely hear budtenders describing products by strain or levels of cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD.

But a growing number of producers want this dialogue changed, and aim to sell products by the effect they are designed to have on consumers.

“We wanted to say, this is absolutely a differentiated effect,” said Chris Emerson, founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based cannabinoid company LEVEL, while speaking on a panel at MJBizCon in Las Vegas last month.

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“You have to create an entirely new language. There’s a lot of push back from industry.”

Mr. Emerson recalled its first attempt at selling an effect-based pot product.

“We didn’t put a strain on it and it was a complete failure,” Mr. Emerson.

Most budtenders describe cannabis products to consumers by strain and cannabinoid percentage, posing an obstacle for the emerging number of producers who want people to buy their products for the effect they are designed to produce rather than the type of plant.

“Budtenders need to educate as most conversations are about indica, sativa or hybrids,” said Michael Christopher, co-founder and chief executive of Mood33, a cannabis-infused sparkling tonics brand based in Santa Monica, California.

“We’re a little ahead of the curve where budtenders can talk effects. We’re trying to communicate a mood and flavour at a glance, which is challenging. The packaging has to do more of the work.”

Budtenders are key to the success of effects-based cannabis sales, said Charles Jones, founder and chief executive of LucidMood, a U.S. company that has designed its cannabis products to deliver specific effects such as energy and calm.

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“They tend to believe that what they like, everyone will like,” Mr. Jones said, adding that LucidMood targets dispensaries that help customers find the experience they are looking for.

Budtenders’ recommendations are so key to product sales that when certain salespeople leave their jobs, sales of specific items drop notably, Mr. Jones said.

The makers of functional beverages, however, have another tool in their kit to help consumers instantly understand the intended effect of their cannabis-infused drinks, and this is combining them with other natural products such as lavender, which many believe to induce relaxation.

“It’s to make it easier for the new consumer to connect the dots. Our target is the canna-curious,” said Mr. Christopher.

“We’re trying to almost over-simplify it.”

Mood33 packages its beverages stating effects such as joy, peace, passion, and calm, which are deliberately vague rather than claiming specific physical benefits.

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While a growing number of U.S. producers market their cannabis products by the way they are intended to make users feel, determining the effects is often done within a relatively small testing pool.

While Mr. Jones said his company conducted tests on participants who reported the effects they felt after consuming the cannabis products, Mr. Emerson said his company relies on feedback from friends and family before launching a new product.

“It’s a lot of internal data collection for us,” Mr. Emerson said, adding that it is difficult to get direct feedback from customers and marketing remains a challenge.

“It’s education versus marketing. Sales are the way we know that the message is getting through.”

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