DENVER, March 20, 2019 /PRNewswire/ --Drinks infused with cannabis-derived cannabidiol (CBD) are in a prime position to bring disruption to the beverage sector.
- The growing consumer interest in hemp-derived CBD as a health supplement along with the recent passing of the Farm Bill has spawned a growing interest in CBD-infused drinks.
- The ever-increasing global trend to legalizing cannabis is also creating demand for "harder" beverages derived from marijuana
- Big alcohol companies have taken a particular interest in investing in cannabis producers.
- The relationship is also working in an inverse direction, with CBD producers recruiting experienced beverage executives to help launch new products.
Corporate interest in building a cannabis-infused beverage profile demonstrates the level of potential growth for such an industry, with key developments being made across multiple channels. To address the needs of the wellness-oriented consumer, Phivida Holdings Inc. (CSE:VIDA) (OTC:PHVAF) (PHVAF Profile) has created a line of active hemp extract (CBD)-infused drinks that are just starting to hit store shelves and is expected to be distributed to a thousand retail outlets in Q2. In the adult beverage sector, Constellation Brands Inc. (NYSE:STZ) has made a $4 billion investment in Canopy Growth Corp. (NYSE:CGC), fueling research into cannabis drinks which suggests a proactive approach to addressing the potential sales impact in markets where consumer use of marijuana is legal. The Canadian business unit of Molson Coors Brewing Company (NYSE:TAP) has also made a deal with a cannabis producer to create beverages for that market. In the health supplements sector, Charlotte's Web Holdings Inc. (OTC:CWBHF) (CSE:CWEB), which markets hemp-derived CBD oil, has recruited a former Coca-Cola executive to bring beverage sector expertise into the company.
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The Changing Beverage Space
Beverages are among the most trend-driven of all food industry products with continuing innovations in packaging, flavors and formulations being made to drive consumer interest. Decades ago, store shelves consisted of a few cola and fruit-flavored drinks. Since then, there have been introductions of enhanced fruit juices, bottled iced teas and more recently energy drinks, which created an entirely new drink category. Consumer tastes have grown considerably as well, especially when considering the popularity of the fermented tea drink kombucha.
Now a fresh wave of innovation is on the cusp of altering the beverage industry. The growing interest in hemp-derived CBD as a health supplement along with the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use in several jurisdictions has led manufacturers to explore new products and expand their consumer base. This has led to the creation of a new product category — CBD-infused beverages.
The Rise of CBD Beverages
Few companies currently have a strong focus on CBD drinks. However, among those looking to take advantage of this market is Phivida Holdings Inc. (CSE: VIDA) (OTC: PHVAF). Through its Oki brand of active-hemp, extract-infused waters and iced teas, Phivida is targeting health-conscious consumers who are looking for newer ways to enhance their well-being. Backed by its own market research, Phivida expects that introducing an attractive beverage formulated with the flavors and features most desired by this segment will have strong market acceptance.
Driving the growth of this new segment is the rocketing popularity of CBD as a health supplement. One of the many active ingredients in cannabis, CBD doesn't produce a high in users, unlike cannabis' more famous constituent, THC. While research into CBD is in its early stages, consumers are increasingly looking for products containing CBD to address a variety of health issues such as anxiety, pain, and immune health. This has been aided by the passing of the Farm Bill in December 2018 which legalized hemp — defined as a variety of the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC — and allows its production and sale in all 50 states. For companies such as Phivida, which process the hemp plant into their products, this has provided them with a significantly large market to grow into.
Launching into the CBD-infused Drink Market
Chances are that, within a decade, every store may have a CBD-infused drinks section. But currently, companies are entering new territory and strategizing the best steps that will lead to success.
A critical step some are taking is to reach into the established beverage industry to tap into seasoned expertise and leverage previous success. For example, hemp-derived CBD supplement producer Charlotte's Web Holdings Inc. (OTC:CWBHF) (CSE:CWEB) recently recruited former Coca-Cola executive Eugenio Mendez as its chief growth officer. The company has stated its strategy is to expand into new segments, and Mendez could provide vital experience for a move into beverages.
For Phivida, that process also started with finding the right people to manage the project. Last March, Jim Bailey and Mike Cornwell stepped in as new management at the company. Veteran executives from Red Bull, they brought with them large beverage company expertise in product formulation, package design, product distribution and marketing. Coming from the last company to truly innovate and trigger a widespread disruption in the beverage industry, the two executives look well-equipped to repeat that achievement at Phivida.
Another key step is designing a beverage that will have the most consumer appeal. To align with the sentiments of their target consumers, Phivida's Oki brand flavored waters and iced teas contain non-GMO, natural and organic ingredients; are plant based and vegan friendly; and are packaged in sleek 100 percent recyclable glass containers. The flavor line-up, which includes Watermelon Relax and Lemon Ginger Harmony, are aligned with the current preferences of the health-conscious consumer. Phivida's surveys have resulted in product testing scores as high as 80 percent from its sample group of 1,200 individuals for its OKI beverage.
The new leadership team has also put in significant effort to ensure that Oki has the distribution channels necessary to reach consumers. Company officials have been working with one of the nation's largest grocery distributors and meeting with both national and regional chains to secure retail contracts. Several retail contracts are in development, and Phivida expects Oki to be available in more than 1,000 outlets by the second quarter of this year.
Beer Makes Its Cannabis Move
So far, one of the most significant moves by the beverage industry into cannabis has been made by Constellation Brands Inc. (NYSE:STZ). The company behind brands such as Corona beer and Svedka vodka has taken an active interest in the cannabis sector. Through two rounds of investment over the past two years, Constellation has provided $4 billion to Canopy Growth Corp. (NYSE:CGC), one of Canada's largest and most successful cannabis companies. This investment provides Constellation with one-third ownership of Canopy Growth and the potential to take that investment further.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of speculation about how this money will be spent. Canopy Growth has been using its increased financial clout to expand its business from Canada into the United States. Canopy is establishing a production facility in New York state that, for now at least, will produce industrial hemp from which CBD can be extracted.
In another team-up between a brewer and a Canadian cannabis company, Molson Coors Brewing Company (NYSE:TAP) announced last summer that its Canadian arm would be working with the Hydropothecary Corporation on a joint partnership to produce cannabis-infused drinks in anticipation of the expansion of that country's cannabis legalization. Cannabis beverages and edibles are expected to be made available by October 2019, and Molson will be positioned to serve that new sector once it is made legal.
The market for both CBD- and THC-based cannabis drinks has barely begun to take shape, but given the dramatic growth in the popularity of cannabis, it could become a major disruptor for the beverage industry over the next few years.
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