Greg Engel is CEO of Organigram
Like most milestones, the anniversary of the legalization of recreational cannabis affords us the opportunity to look both back at where we’ve been, and ahead at what’s to come.
As Canadians and Canadian companies, we’ve been at the epicenter of one of the world’s newest, fastest growing and most dynamic industries. As the only G7 country in the world to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, much of our experience is unprecedented. And the world has been watching.
Certainly, the early days of legalization found much of the industry facing issues related to production and packaging which resulted in a delay getting product to market and into the hands of consumers. In turn, the initial retail experience of many proved frustrating.
Luckily, a concerted, collaborative effort between licensed producers and Canadian retailers helped alleviate much of this issue early on. In addition, public and private retailers have developed tremendous retail environments with well-trained staff focused on consumer education and the consumer experience.
A focus on the build-out of the retail footprint continues to be a critical component of the success of the Canadian cannabis industry. In fact, before the legalization of recreational cannabis, Organigram conducted consumer market research investigating consumers’ preferred purchasing patterns. The majority of consumers indicated that for their first, second, and even third purchases, they preferred the personal interaction and education that happens in a retail setting.
Critics have bemoaned that online sales have lagged behind projections. Actually, the performance of online sales to date shouldn’t surprise us – consumers told us they want to be educated and that they value the opportunity to engage with well-trained retail representatives.
As luck would have it, focusing on the retail experience is also one of the central ways we can support the success of the industry going forward. When we introduce cannabis 2.0 later this year – edibles, additional extracts, vape pens – the opportunity to help consumers understand new products will also help them understand how these products and brands are differentiating themselves.
Brand qualities such as expected effect, onset and offset of effect, and dosing will help consumers decide on the individual experience they want. The goal is to help them educate themselves; relying on the guidance of retail staff is critical to that education.
I would also suggest that as edibles are legalized we should prepare for product supply issues much like those we saw one year ago. Products will take some time to make their way to retail outlets. Companies will likely be most successful if we focus on delivering a consistent, core product offering, adding more options strategically and confidently as we go.
Likewise, we know that innovation and research will not only help support the success of cannabis companies and the industry but also will continue to help displace the illicit market. However, this strategy only works if we don’t just duplicate the products already available illegally.
Our goal as an industry should be not just to provide products, but to change the experience of cannabis consumption over all.
For instance, if we consider cannabis-infused beverages, we know we need to invest in the product research and development that will deliver the experience adult cannabis consumers are looking for – and potentially offer them experiences they haven’t yet considered as possible.
As an example, research and development to date has resulted in dry powders that mean consumers have the opportunity to not only consumer cannabis in new, discreet and convenient ways, but also invent their own drinks. Drinks they can rely on for with onset of effect within an estimated 10 – 15 minutes and a shorter, more consistent duration of effect.
We need to help evolve consumer expectations from what they currently know about cannabis products to create novel experiences we can help define.
It’s important to note that, despite this first one-year milestone, it’s still early days for Canadian cannabis – and cannabis worldwide.
Yes, we’re talking about Cannabis 2.0 as the evolution of the products and the industry, but there are innumerable iterations to come in the future.
Being able to anticipate where customer curiosity and preferences will head next, and support that journey with exceptional research, scientific rigour and boundless creativity, is critical to long-term, sustainable success.
New and different innovative forms, that awe and inspire our customer base, will drive this enduring success.