Cannabis and Alcohol: Inevitable Rivals
As consumer consideration of cannabis and the available product lines expand, there’s little doubt consumers will consider cannabis options and that may put alcoholic beverage consumption at risk in the near future.
Weed and wine. Taken separately, they are enjoyed by many. Taken in combination, they are being enjoyed by an ever-increasing number of pleasure-seekers known as dualists.
Now, a recently-released research report says that “although legal cannabis is currently only a fraction of comparable alcohol sales, our market trend research shows the risk to beverage alcohol producers is expected to grow as the acceptance and consumption of cannabis increases.”
The two-year-long study of consumers of both products in the US and Canada, titled Beverage Alcohol, Cannabis, and the Changing U.S. Consumer — the Risks and Opportunities to Consumption Behavior, shows that as many as 40 per cent of adults age 21 and over consume cannabis where legal and “cannabis presents substantial opportunities across the consumer spectrum, especially occasions that alcohol cannot or will not play,” according to Jessica Lukas of BDS Analytics in Colorado. “Consumers will continue to look to cannabis products over alcohol for occasions when they are feeling creative, need to get motivated, or are seeking health/medical/wellness benefits.”
Speaking recently at the Unified Wine and Grape Conference in Sacramento, BDS president Liz Stahura told the group “there are going to be instances when consumers substitute, when they complement wine with cannabis, and companies that will do the best are the ones who find ways to co-exist.”
Brandy Rand, who represents co-researcher International Wine & Spirits Research (IWSR), a data source for the alcoholic beverage industry, says “though not yet mainstream, cannabis adoption is certainly growing in states where legal [10 have approved adult recreational usage and 34 have given the cannabis approval for medicinal purposes], posing a risk to the beverage alcohol industry in the future.
Faced with the fact that for the third year in a row, total beverage alcohol consumption declined by 0.8 per cent in 2018, slightly worse than the 0.7 per cent slip the year prior, Rand says “it’s clear that Americans are drinking less overall, likely a result of the continuing trend toward health and wellness, especially the aging baby boomer population, the largest group of legal drinking age consumers.”
Beer, long the nation’s favorite, was one of the bigger losers, falling 1.5 per cent in 2018 after recording a 1.1 per cent decline the previous year. Wine sales last year were up a very modest 0.4 per cent with another 0.3 per cent increase predicted for this year.
The concept of cannabis crossover is “a nuanced and complex subject,” says Rand.
“We have a new, young industry that has no leading brands today, but as consumer consideration of cannabis and the available product lines expand (and as more become recreationally legalized), there’s no doubt consumers will consider cannabis options and that may put alcoholic beverage consumption at risk.
“Alcohol brands need to pay attention to those who consume their products, recognizing that while not every dollar spent on legal cannabis is a dollar taken from alcohol suppliers, it’s critical for beverage alcohol companies to prepare today to meet consumer’s needs as the markets mature and overlap,” she adds.
According to researchers, legal cannabis will have a long-term impact on beverage alcohol that is not seen today because cannabis has yet to go mainstream. They’re not giving the beverage industry a sky-is-falling report, but an actual roadmap to identify both risks and opportunities for their industry based on consumer behavior.
Lukas says she believes future industry expansion will come in the form of drinks.
“You’re going to see a confluence of your industry and our industry in 2019. Micro-dosing allows this to be a possibility.” She also noted Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch InBev have already announced financial support to develop cannabis-infused non-alcoholic drinks.” Anheuser-Busch has committed $100 million in a joint venture with a Canadian cannabis producer to follow the trail of infused beverages.
“Our tracking in Canada parallels what we see in the US,” she said. “The difference is we haven’t yet hit a point where use in Canada has been legal long enough to chart the same kind of trajectory we see in the states — but I will tell you that consumer behavior on other major issues is almost an identical match, so we’re expected a similar story in Canada.”
Supporting predictions of a promising future, Lukas cited her firm’s research showing 25 per cent of respondents had used cannabis in some form in the last six months with 71 per cent doing so for recreation, 56 per cent using it for health or medical issues, and one-third saying they use it for both.
In this same group, 68 per cent had drunk alcohol (with 30 per cent saying their alcohol consumption had decreased since they began consuming cannabis).
From an age group standpoint, younger males were more likely to consume both alcohol and cannabis where the older generation leaned more toward adult beverages. “What’s interesting is that baby boomers’ cannabis consumption is more medically motivated than social,” says Lukas, “but 60 per cent still consume cannabis to relax and enjoy life, so you can’t discount the fact that just because they’re more medically-motivated doesn’t mean they don’t have occasion to consume for social and/or recreational purposes.
And while millennials tend to make an impact by being dualists in their consumption, the future lies in Generation Z, the group just now aging to 21 in the U.S. and 18-19 in Canada where both alcohol and cannabis are legal. That group represents a small sub-set today, but the future of tomorrow’s consumption.
Adds Lukas: “Our prediction is that by Year 2022, some people who now regularly drink alcohol, will be drinking some form of cannabis-infused beverage and that cannabinoid beverages will soon represent a billion-dollar market starting to compete with the alcoholic beverage industry which today represents $160 billion in US sales. It’s still a small market, but that’s why the term ‘long-term’ matters because the impact will get bigger as consumers seek out occasions choosing cannabis over alcohol — or pairing the two and drinking less.”