Cannabis professionals are now looking beyond the brownies and gummies of the industry’s early years
For years, edibles have been seen as the cannabis product category with the most potential for growth, as new customers in the legal market look for better alternatives to smoking and vaping.
While the popularity of edibles continues to lag behind flower and vaping products, the creativity and product selection within the segment are growing exponentially. Traditional candies and gummies remain the top-sellers, but particularly on the West Coast, cannabis producers are setting the trends that will eventually sweep the nation.
Marijuana Venture spoke with three professionals in the cannabis and food industries about the future of edibles and trends they see emerging as the recreational sector matures.
Robert Arabian is the founder of Pop-Up Potcorn, a California brand created as an alternative to the sugar-high snacks that dominate the market. Seeing the decline in flower prices led Arabian to look beyond farming as a way to compete in the Golden State’s cannabis market. The idea for infused microwavable popcorn clicked while watching a movie with some friends a couple years ago, and the result is now available in about 40 cannabis shops throughout the state.
Chef Sebastian Corosi has had a lengthy career in the culinary industry, opening multiple restaurants over the course of the past 25 years. He has worked with multiple cannabis companies and organizations on product development, culinary ad campaigns and as a culinary director, in addition to leading the Bergin Hunt + Fish Club, what he describes as “an eco-gastronomic, roving, rural, cannabis and wild edibles supper club.”
Peak Extracts CEO Katie Stem has a wide range of experience in Oregon’s cannabis industry, including five years as a chocolatier. While Stem has experience as a grower and an herbalist, she now focuses her efforts on concentrates and hand-crafted, strain-specific chocolates, using the company’s proprietary Terp-Lock extraction techniques to retain the natural terpenes in each batch of products. Peak’s chocolate bars are vegan, gluten-free, 70% dark chocolate, infused only with sustainably grown, pesticide-free cannabis extract.
Marijuana Venture: What cannabis/food trend do you see gaining momentum in 2019?
Katie Stem: Now that we’re starting to break away from prohibition, I see things moving away from the mega-dose edibles and drinks, and into more of the session style products. During alcohol Prohibition, it was all about the bathtub gin and the moonshine and these really high-octane preparations. When more mainstream people got back into alcohol, it was more about beer and wine and something you could consume socially.
I think it’s going to be all about the sensibly dosed products that you can have a couple over time and slowly get intoxicated, as opposed to getting hit over the head with the hammer.
Sebastian Corosi: For me, it’s the plant as a whole. FECO — full extract cannabis oil. There are companies producing it that are doing a hell of a job. And also cannabis-derived, water-soluble isolates for the elderly and people who need to add it to food products.
Robert Arabian: I think cannabis and the dining experience will continue to gain momentum. Here in San Francisco and Oakland it’s already been pretty big for the last number of years, but there’s a lot of these infused-dinner events that are really popular. It fits well with the whole farm-to-fork movement, which in this area is really popular and has a good following. Right now these are held as private events, but I’m interested to see if at some point it gains enough momentum that you’ll be seeing restaurants and chefs able to put them on for the general public. And I’m happy for it because these chefs get to showcase what they can do with cannabis and food flavors.
MV: Is there a cannabis-related trend you see as being “just a bunch of hype”?
Arabian: I think the whole trend of hemp/CBD and CBD in everything. I love using CBD, but I’m just curious to see if it continues with the momentum it has in the mainstream market. Everyone I talk to who’s not from the cannabis world is so hyped up about CBD. If you have any ailment, the immediate answer is “just take CBD for it.”
I’m curious to see if it continues this momentum and how medical research will help keep it on track. Is it just the hype that’s going to plateau at some point or will it continue to grow and gain momentum in the mainstream marketplace? I hope it continues to gain momentum — I think it’s a great additive for all kinds of foods, beverages and topicals — but I’m just curious to see if it has staying power.
Stem: I think those huge, mega-dose products, like the 500-milligram syrups, are going to go the way of the dodo. So few people can consume that much THC without freaking out. The other thing is if it gets into the wrong hands, it can be really dangerous. Nobody wants to see something that potent in the hands of a child or a pet, or someone overdosing accidently and having the most miserable evening of their life because they thought they could handle 100 milligrams of THC.
Corosi: To me, it’s the CBD hype. It’s only one beneficial element of cannabis as a whole. Full-spectrum cannabis is the real medicine that needs to be touted. CBD is just one instrument in the whole orchestra of enthusiastic band members. We have THC, THCA, we have other forms of CBD, CBG, CBN. The list goes on and on.
And I’ve got a problem with finding CBD in a bodega or having a 22-year-old budtender telling a 64-year-old woman that she needs these “big, bad-ass buds.”
MV: Is there a mainstream food trend you see making the jump into cannabis, whether it’s a food category or something like organic, vegan, paleo or gluten-free?
Stem: All of them have the potential to do so. People are more conscious of pesticides with cannabis, because there’s been a lot of consumer education around it. Because it’s used medicinally for a lot of people, they might be looking for something that’s low-glycemic, gluten-free, that kind of thing. They don’t want something that’s going to make them sicker.
Arabian: Most food trends you see today are going to find their way into cannabis. It’s an easy crossover. Definitely organic, GMO-free and vegan are already finding their way into cannabis products. I think you’ll continue to see that.
Certain brands will market themselves and tell that story to connect with people who really care about that. Consumers make similar choices when they’re shopping for cannabis as they do when they’re shopping for food, so people who have made organic and GMO-free an important part of their life will continue to look for those products in cannabis as well.
I also think we’ll start to see shelf-stable probiotic cannabis products, especially on the beverage side of things. Beverages are going to have a lot of growth and we’ll see different types of beverages geared more toward the energy drink side or kombucha and health-and-wellness products.
For my product (Pop-Up Potcorn), we’re seeing what kind of growth the savory edibles side of the market will have. The majority of edibles are sweet-based. They’re chocolate or cookies or gummies or candies. We’re approaching it on the savory side. Our popcorn is definitely finding its niche there as one of the few savories on the market right now.
Corosi: I think every sector is growing when you talk about cannabis. Absolutely everything — including topical, edible sex lotion. Cannabis can be in everything on the shelf — cannabis cheese, cannabis syrup, cannabis everything. Here in Washington, I’ve helped develop a couple of those products and some of them I feel really proud of. There’s a company that makes infused Sriracha. It’s an awesome product.
MV: How do you see CBD playing into the future of cannabis and cannabis-infused foods?
Stem: It’s going to be up to how the Food and Drug Administration handles it. I think that CBD could be something like green tea or taurine were in the 1990s, where all of a sudden, everything had green tea extract or taurine in it. Obviously, this is my industry, so it would be nice if it was something people got used to seeing and was just another flavor of everything they’re already consuming.
Alternately, the FDA could limit it more as a supplement, in which case it will be interesting to see if it becomes more of a pill or something. Personally, I would love to see CBD in anything that’s regularly consumed — chocolate, coffee, tea, candies, gummies — and also things that fall into more of a supplement, like pills and things that can be added to smoothies.
Corosi: CBD is in everything. It’s everywhere. You can find it everywhere from a high-end bar or a smoothie shop down to the gas station level. I’m okay with what’s happening, but I don’t like that it’s found in a bodega or a convenience store. I feel the same way about that 22-year-old budtender giving a 65-year-old woman advice on cannabis.
We’ve been talking for years about the medicinal qualities of cannabis, but you go on Instagram and there are “cannabis nurses” smoking joints. What the f— is that? We’re supposed to be talking about medicine.
Arabian: It’s got a lot of momentum right now. Once the FDA gives approval for the use of CBD in food, we’ll see it in basically all popular packaged foods, and most of the popular beverage brands will offer some sort of CBD-added line. Right now everyone’s kind of waiting to hear what the FDA says. I know there are a ton of food items out there already, but once the FDA does give approval for CBD, it’s going to be in everything.
CBD is definitely here to stay. It’s just a matter of how popular it’s going to get in the mainstream, and for me, I think it’s going to get very popular and most of these larger food and beverage brands will have a CBD line attached to them.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.