Shifting Cannabis Consumer Trends are Marking a New Pathway for the Industry’s Future

By Patricia Rosi, VP of Marketing, Acreage Holdings

With so much uncertainty in today’s world, anxiety levels are hitting an all-time high. Social distancing, isolation and self-reflection have prompted a groundswell of changes in how consumers view, purchase and consume cannabis. Suddenly, brands and consumers have been forced to adopt new ways of interacting that would otherwise take months to implement. Will this be a lasting transformation? In this blog post, Acreage Holdings VP of Marketing Patricia Rosi explores its various facets.

The cannabis purchase experience has profoundly shifted from high-touch to hands-off. Visits to brick-and-mortar stores are less frequent and kept to a minimum, as evidenced by the year-over-year increase in the average ticket price and the adoption of digital pre-ordering. Limiting the purchasing experience to credentialization, payment, and pickup hinders the exchange of information and education about cannabis and limits development of a trusted relationship beyond the transaction. This pivot to increase “e-commerce technology is changing the future of cannabis retail for dispensaries/brands”.

Adjusting to this new reality requires changes behind the scenes in order to maintain a strong consumer experience:

  • Facilitating human connection between dispensary staff and customers is crucial. That could include conversational interfaces like live chat functions on our website or even consultation via telemedicine.
  • Stores, digital channels, and supply chains must work seamlessly and deliver friction-less convenience. In a world where so many basic things have become uncertain, delivering a seamless customer experience is one of the best marketing tools a company can have.
  • The community aspect of cannabis needs to be revived and reinvented. Cannabis has always been about community, whether patients supporting one another or activists fighting for legalization. Whether it is virtual events or something simple like social media challenges, it is on us to foster a sense of belonging, recognition and personalization.

When it comes to product form factors, the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the changing consumer habits started by the illicit/unregulated market vape crisis, which started in 2019. Consumers have become more inquisitive about ingredients, traceability, and overall quality control, shifting their consumption patterns accordingly.

As a result, sales of the entire smokable category have declined, as reported by Green Entrepreneur, and consumers are favoring edible and sublingual forms of cannabis for multiple reasons:

  • People fear harming the health of their lungs and are looking to keep them in optimal condition in case they do contract COVID-19.
  • The communal consumption of cannabis is hindered by restriction on social gatherings as well as the fear of contamination.
  • Increased dwell time at home offers more opportunity to explore new product forms.
  • Cannabis edibles provide a longer sustained relief up to 8 hours which can be particularly soothing in the context of increased anxiety as evidenced by the Sleep Foundation which published “Sleep Guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
  • Let’s not forget that food is inherently comforting and as such helps reminisce of better times like a Proustian madeleine would.

Therefore, as consumption habits shift as a result of these trends, Cannabis brands should offer a more holistic path to wellness with a diverse suite of cannabis products that also offer nutraceutical benefits.

Our award-winning The Botanist Herbalist Series line of tinctures exemplifies this trend of aligning to the needs of the wellness consumer; its unique blend of botanical essential oils are rooted in aromatherapy and Ayurvedic medicine, with a formulation free of alcohol, artificial sweeteners, or chemical flavorings of any kind.

As the world grapples with COVID-19 and the likely reality that it may take a long time to subside, dispensaries, operators and manufacturers need to chart a new pathway. Dispensary experience should follow the recommended guidelines of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state’s Departments of Health, under the close supervision of their Chief Medical Officer.

And, as always, commitment to quality should be unwavering, as it resonates more than ever with the consumer and patient quest for reliable and trustworthy cannabis products. Delivering consistent, repeatable effects through accurate dosing, and rigorous testing in compliance with testing regulations, should be a minimum threshold for consideration.

Last but not least, the pandemic’s impact has led to a rapid paradigm shift in the opinion of policy makers who now declare the cannabis industry as “essential” in this time of need. This milestone alone will profoundly shape the pathway to the future of the cannabis industry.

A leading vertically integrated U.S. cannabis operator, Acreage is dedicated to creating a seamless, consumer-focused branded cannabis experience