Cocktails vs. Cannabis: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

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Even though the cannabis industry is still very much in its infancy with just nine states offering legalized recreational use of marijuana, it is already making its mark. In 2017, the cannabis industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry. To give you a gauge, cannabis sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry.

And that was before California opened its massive retail market on January 1. The addition of the Golden State is huge for the industry and Adams estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.

So, what does this mean for the alcohol industry? Enough that you should probably pour yourself a cocktail and keep reading. Turns out even before recreational marijuana laws were being put in place, states with legalized medical marijuana were already influencing alcohol sales. A joint study that took place over 10 years (2006-2015) conducted by researchers at Georgia State University and University of Connecticut claims a 15 percent reduction in the U.S.’s overall alcohol consumption in states with medical marijuana laws.

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Alcohol companies are taking note. In mid-February, Molson Coors Brewing cited the spread of legal marijuana as a risk to its business in its annual financial report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Although the ultimate impact is currently unknown, the emergence of legal cannabis in certain U.S. states and Canada may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer,” reported Forbes of Molson’s financial filing.

With a shift of consumer preferences in mind, have another sip of that cocktail and consider how the cannabis industry can be a synergistic partner to the F&B industry. Rather than compete with cannabis, consider embracing the creative possibilities. Some companies in the beverage space already have.

During the last quarter of 2017, Constellation Brands, owner of Corona, Robert Mondavi, and other alcohol brands, announced a $200 million investment in Canadian marijuana grower Canopy Growth, with plans to develop cannabis drinks. Constellation's CEO Rob Sands sees potential, telling TrendSource, “If a consumer is going to choose a can of beer, a glass of wine, a shot of liquor, or a weed laced-elixir, I want to be able to offer them all four.”

Constellation is not alone. Rebel Coast Winery in Sonoma County began selling its premium Sauvignon Blanc in January, calling it the "world's first legal cannabis-infused, alcohol-removed wine."

It’s not just beverages that can be adapted for cannabis either. The possibilities are endless for food too. From pop-up dinners that incorporate cannabis-infused sauces into the meal to terpene- or CBD-laced cocktails to multiple-course marijuana-paired meals, there is plenty to capitalize on.

“As more states legalize recreational marijuana, the varieties of pot-enhanced food and beverage will increase,” Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel wrote last November. “Look out for continued interest and acceptance in a host of snacks, treats and beverages with a little something extra.”

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