Over the past year, a number of partnerships developed between the cannabis industry and big alcohol. Heineken is now the latest beverage company to throw their hat into the ring.
Falling Beer Sales
In January of this year, researchers of a ten-year-long joint study undertaken by two US universities and one in Lima, Peru showed a 13.8 percent drop in beer sales following marijuana legalization. Overall, data showed that sales of alcohol were, on average, 15 percent lower in states with legalized cannabis. The study also showed that marijuana and alcohol have a widely overlapping consumer base.
Sales volume of light beers such as Coors Light and Bud Light took the most significant hit dipping by 4.4 percent, while Budweiser and Coors dipped by 2.4 percent. Also, according to the data, Denver’s beer sales plummeted by 6.4 percent following the legalization of cannabis.
Another study which took place in 2016 showed similar results. Performed, by the New York-based research firm Cowen & Company, the study found sales of beers made by the larger domestic producers had "collectively underperformed" over the past two years in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
The report stated, "With all three of these states now having fully implemented a [marijuana] retail infrastructure, the underperformance of beer in these markets has worsened over the course of 2016."
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Given these facts, it’s no wonder that both cannabis and alcohol companies are looking at the potential market for cannabis-infused adult beverages. These are some of the companies, both large and small, lining up to be contenders in this space:
Almost two weeks ago, on July 30, Heineken (NASDAQOTH:HEINY) launched Hi-Fi Hops, a cannabis-only beverage in a handful of dispensaries in California under its Lagunitas brand. The beverage is designed to taste like beer but does not contain alcohol.
Currently, the beverage comes in a ten-milligram version with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and a hybrid version with five milligrams of THC and five milligrams of CBD. Although the drink costs $8 per can, according to reports sales continue to rise.
Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ), North America’s first publicly traded cannabis company, is a multi-billion-dollar firm known for brands such as Corona. Last year, Constellation Brands announced that it would partner with Canopy Growth Corporation (TSX:WEED) (NYSE:CGC) to research the possibility of developing a cannabis brew.
Constellation wound up taking a 9.9 percent equity stake in Canopy Growth Corp. totaling approximately $190 million and has since given itself a chance to expand that stake by acquiring more than $150 million in convertible debt from Canopy. Constellation Brands and Canopy will work together to create new products, including beverages, to reach markets where marijuana is legal.
Last month, Canopy Growth announced a deal to acquire Hiku Brands, a retail-focused craft cannabis producer for CAD$269 million.
Molson Coors Brewing Co.
Back in January Molson’s noted their concerns about falling beer sales. Earlier this week, Molson Coors Canada announced a joint venture with The Hydropothecary Corporation (TSX:HEXO), a recognized leader in Canadian medical cannabis to develop a line of non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages. Molson Canada is the Canadian arm of beverage giant Molson Coors Brewing Company (NYSE:TAP)(TSX:TPX).
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The Molson-HEXO deal is structured as a standalone start-up company, complete with its own management team and board of directors. Molson Coors Canada will retain the majority controlling interest with a 57.5 percent ownership stake.
Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX:ACB) recently announced a license agreement with Alcanna, Canada’s largest private-sector liquor retailer. In February, Aurora paid CAD$103.5 million ($82.5 million) for a 19.9 percent ownership interest in Alcanna, which at the time was called Liquor Stores N.A. Alcanna already started converting some of its 229 liquor stores into cannabis retail outlets.
The exclusive agreement allows Alcanna to open retail cannabis stores under the Aurora brand in provinces where private retail will be permitted. Alcanna will build, own, and operate the new cannabis stores, which will carry a suite of brands from Licensed Producers, including Aurora-owned MedReleaf and CanniMed.
Great North Distributors
Aphria Inc. (TSX:APH) (USOTC:APHQF) signed an agreement with Great North Distributors, Inc. a wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits to serve as the exclusive distributor for Aphria’s adult-use cannabis products throughout Canada. The deal gives Aphria 100 percent coverage of all cannabis retailers, whether provincially or privately operated, across Canada from the first day of legal adult-use marijuana sales.
Other Beverage Brands To Watch
Province Brands in Ontario, Canada is developing new enzymes and fermentation techniques. The aim of the research project is to create a product with a high that is roughly equivalent to a single beer. So far the company’s experiments have produced a brew with about 6.5mg of THC.
Interestingly, Province Brands claims that the product being developed is brewed from what is now considered a byproduct of marijuana production — the stalks, stems, and roots of the cannabis plant.
The company seems fairly confident that it can do so and plans to invest CAD$50 million into building a first-of-its-kind facility for brewing cannabis beverages.
Keith Villa, the founder of Blue Moon Brewing, recently retired from his position at Molson Coors. He and his wife are now founders of CERIA Beverages, a brewing company in Colorado that is working directly with cannabis research company ebbu to develop a THC-infused, alcohol-free beer.
Doctor D’s, maker of a probiotic drink, is said to be diving into the cannabis beverage market. Founder Stuart Dimson said that CBD-infused beverages are very attractive to health-conscious consumers who are already purchasing his drinks. Doctor D beverages are already sold in 2,000 stores nationwide. However, none of them are licensed to sell cannabis.
A Growing Trend of Cannabis Beverages
These are just some of the players aiming for the cannabis-powered adult beverage market. In the short term, it’s the cannabis companies and the craft brewers who have the most to gain by the trend. In the long run, however, depending on how well received these products are, the large alcohol companies may or may not be able to make up for diminishing beer sales.
Although recreational marijuana will become available by mid-October in Canada, cannabis-infused edibles and beverages will have to wait until rules are drawn up sometime in 2019.
The rules of the game would have to change for there to be a significant upside for the multi-billion dollar players in the alcohol industry. At this time, no U.S. states allow the sales of cannabis products in liquor stores, bars, restaurants, sports stadiums, and other places where alcoholic beverages are commonly served and sold. Realistically that situation is not expected to change in the foreseeable future. But, in both Canada and the U.S. cannabis laws are still in flux and probably will be for many years to come.