Weed wine or “cannabis-infused fermented grape juice”? New group wants cannabis beverages to parallel alcohol regulations, not tobacco or pharmaceuticals.
With cannabis edibles set for legalization this October, it’s an exciting and challenging time for both consumers and producers. The excitement is from a healthier and convenient way of consuming cannabis compared to smoking. Cannabis beverages can be considered a healthier alternative to similar alcoholic beverages, with fewer calories and no alcohol-induced hangover. The challenges for producers are the proposed regulations in bringing these products to market. These same regulations bring challenges to the consumer, with higher than expected prices and difficulty in understanding or differentiating edible and drinkable cannabis products.
With cannabis beverages, many will assume these products would appear on shelves similarly to wine, beer and spirits. For the benefit of both consumers and producers, cannabis beverages would be able share their brand, story, flavours and ingredients. Like how when you pick up a bottle of wine, with its label communicating its experience, along with its story on the back. Except instead of labelling the alcohol content, it would label the cannabis content.
Opposingly, Health Canada compares cannabis beverages akin to tobacco, prescription drugs, and the way legal dried cannabis flower is presented. So instead of the experience of browsing bottles at a liquor store, buying cannabis beverages will be more like browsing bottles of medication or even worse, buying cigarettes. Even if these beverages are essentially the same as wine or beer, with cannabis instead of alcohol, they can’t use the terms “wine” or “beer”. So get ready to pop a plain-labelled bottle of “cannabis-infused fermented grape juice” and then have to explain to your friends that it’s sparkling weed wine.
On top of these downsides that affect both consumers and producers, cannabis beverages will face additional regulatory challenges. This is where the newly formed Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance (CBPA) comes in. We spoke with Lisa Campbell, CEO of Lifford Cannabis Solutions who is also a co-chair of the CBPA, on the current situation and potential future of cannabis beverages in Canada.
Simon: What is the CBPA exactly?
Lisa: The Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance (CBPA) is a united cross-section of cannabis and beverage alcohol manufacturers, distributors and service providers coming together to advocate for common sense regulations governing cannabis-infused beverages. The CBPA wants to ensure the needs of cannabis beverage manufacturers are heard by Health Canada and relevant industry stakeholders.
Simon: For me and most Canadians, the idea of cannabis beverages was pipedream a couple of years ago. With your involvement in both the liquor and cannabis industry through Lifford, how would you like to see this dream come true?
Lisa: My vision for cannabis beverages is that one day they’ll have parity with alcohol, including manufacturing, distribution and marketing. Lifford provides alcoholic beverages to over 16,000 restaurants across Canada, so we hope to do the same with cannabis beverages one day. While the logistics of having infused dining are difficult for municipalities, having a pre-packed cannabis beverage means that cannabis products are still regulated by Health Canada.
“Like ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant or a beer at a bar, the best future is one where we can also order the cannabis beverage alternative.”– Lisa Campbell, CEO, Lifford Solutions
Simon: What are the biggest challenges in front of your vision becoming reality?
Lisa: One of the biggest challenges currently leading up to legalization is that existing food and beverage manufacturers cannot use their facilities and have to build out second sites or as joint ventures with licensed producers. It is a huge barrier to entry for entrepreneurs looking to get into the cannabis space, as it adds millions of dollars to the cost of coming to market.
Once edibles are legalized the marketing regulations restrict labelling to just one brand element and colour, it will result in lacklustre branding, making it hard to compete with the legacy market and alcoholic beverages. Currently, there are no provisions that establish permission for on-premise distribution, including restaurants to hotels, spas, live music and concert venues. The hospitality industry wants to include cannabis, as tourists are travelling from around the world to experience legalization.
Simon: What are the CBPA’s key recommendations to Health Canada?
Lisa: The CBPA recommended that Health Canada allow current beverage manufacturers to use their existing purpose-built facilities to manufacture cannabis beverage products by formalizing existing health and safety controls to prevent cross-contamination. As well, the alliance recommended permitting the use of familiar containers for cannabis beverage products, such as a 750ml bottle or a 355ml pressurized can. Additionally, the alliance advocated for manufacturers of cannabis beverages be able to use traditional beverage alcohol nomenclature, such as: wine, beer, lager, etc.
Finally, the alliance recommended regulatory parity with beverage alcohol for marketing and branding. We are advocating first and foremost for parity with beverage alcohol branding regulations be permitted to encourage the inclusion of socially-responsible and recognized companies. We believe in marketing and branding regulations which demonstrate parity with beverage alcohol to allow consumer brand recognition of socially-responsible licensed producers, while working to transition consumers into legalization.
Simon: What aspects of cannabis beverages are you most excited about?
Lisa: I’m very excited that the onset time of beverages will be faster than traditional edibles, which is more friendly to new consumers. 31% of Canadians are interested in trying cannabis beverages according to a 2018 Deloitte survey. There are many that doubt that cannabis beverages will be a big category due to low US market share. Just like fashion, in the beverage industry, we plot trends 6 months in advance. We see cannabis beverages as a category with enormous growth potential. Consumers are migrating away from alcohol to explore healthier alternatives including coconut water, to kombucha to cannabis beverages!
“Just like how mocktails were the biggest trend over the last year, we’re expecting that cannabis beverages will be the biggest trend of 2020.”– Lisa Campbell, CEO, Lifford Cannabis Solutions
Simon: Can you fill us in on any cannabis beverage brands you’re working with?
Lisa: Currently Lifford Cannabis Solutions is representing Hill Street Beverage Co across Canada to help them bring their infused beverages to market. We are assisting Hill Street in finalizing their product formulations, dosages and packaging formats. In addition to that, we are assisting them in procurement and will be their sales force across Canada once the products come to market.
Hill Street works with Lexaria Bioscience, whose technology can produce cannabis-infused beverages with a quick onset. Hill Street also just announced that they’ll be acquiring OneLeaf Cannabis, a privately-owned craft-inspired cannabis cultivation and processing company based in Regina, Saskatchewan. OneLeaf has constructed a 48,200 square foot facility purpose-built to EU GMP standards that incorporates vertical farming, LED lighting and advanced HVAC and automation systems.
Simon: For the upcoming Lift & Co Expo in Toronto, the CBPA is hosting the Lift Off Gala, can you share details on that?
Lisa: During the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo in Toronto, the Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance will be hosting a gala fundraiser at Lifford Wine & Spirits on the evening of Friday, June 7th. The alliance will gather individuals from across the Canadian cannabis community as a celebration of the industry’s accomplishments thus far and in support of fairer, common-sense cannabis regulations. The evening will feature cocktails, canapés, a live auction and aerial performances including beats by DJ me time and Zero Gravity Circus. Alliance members will also host on-site activations with educational information and non-infused product samples.
Simon: Thanks for your time Lisa. Like many Canadians, I’m looking forward to enjoying a bucket of craft cannabis beer on a patio next summer, all possible thanks to the efforts or people in the industry like you and the CBPA.
We’ll be at the Lift Off Gala on June 7th and hope to see you all there! For more event info and tickets, click here.