Blunt Q&A: The Cannabis Drinks Expo on the Future of Weed Beverages
By Jeff Klingman, theBluntness Feature Writer
Can bud and booze get along? There’s a lingering view among some beverage industry execs that legal weed is a direct competitor to alcohol, destined to cut into their business. But as the cannabis drinks market seems poised to boom, that tension may be beginning to thaw. California wineries are overcoming initial qualms to collaborate with neighboring pot growers. Craft brewers are toying with CBD IPAs. Soft-drink giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, as well as alcohol titans like Anheuser-Busch and Diageo, have all begun making moves into the market for cannabis drinks.
One established beverage industry body is committing to a future of mutually beneficial co-existence with cannabis, as well. The Beverage Trade Network, an international organization who hosts events that connect spirits distillers, wine makers, beer brewers, exporters, importers, etc., will seek to bring cannabis pros and drinks experts together at their first Cannabis Drinks Expo, this July in San Francisco.
The expo will feature companies from a wide swath of the sip and smoke communities. Growers, labs, and pharma reps will walk the floor with drinks industry professionals. A connected one-day conference will feature panel discussions with cannabiz leaders, tackling topics like “The Future of Cannabis Drinking and Dining,” “A Compliance Plan for the Ever Evolving World of Cannabis,” “Changes in Cannabis Laws and Customs,” and the “Disruptive Potential of Cannabis Infused Beverages.”
“It’s like a race where everyone is wanting to get ahead. People are trying everything, They’re trying out soda, they’re trying out cannabis-infused wines. Everything is important right now in the [cannabis drinks] market,” says Ankita Okate, BTN’s Chief Communications Officer. “But the most important thing is how well you are providing your services, how well you are connected.”
We talked with Okate about all the connections they think the first Cannabis Drink Expo might make possible.
How many people are you expecting to attend the expo in its initial year?
At the expo, we will have 70 to 100 exhibitors from all over the cannabis industry. That’s the number we are aiming at. For the conference, we’ve invited the most important people in the cannabis industry right now, people who’ve initiated something, great attorneys who know cannabis law, cannabis activists. We are expecting between 100 and 150 people to be attendees. The people who will be going and participating in the expo would definitely like to go and attend the conference as well. That’s how we’re thinking.
The initial story we heard about the cannabis and spirits industries was one of competition. Is that still the perception in your industry, or do you think it’s begun to see cannabis as a bigger opportunity than an obstacle?
To be honest, when we started it was mostly a challenge. Looking into the market, how people will move, whether people have sufficient information or not, who was ready for the biggest risk—that’s what the ideology was. But when you’re interacting with people who are actually doing the cannabis-related executions, I think people are looking towards the possibilities. There are a number of people in pockets here and there who need to come together and work together.
I can see the enthusiasm in people to become a part of this. They want to share their insight, they want to share their experience, so their fellow people. who want to come into the industry, can grow. We want everyone in the the cannabis drinks industry, labelers, bottlers, manufacturers, growers, to network and get to know each other. That’s what our first year aim would be.
What do you see as the primary goal for potential attendees?
This is a first-time event for the actual wineries, breweries, and distilleries, and those who are looking into the possibilities of developing themselves into a cannabis market as well. So that is going to be the biggest possibility and platform for them to come. Once you get the entire supply chain under one roof it will becomes really easy for people to see what’s being done, what innovations will they have to bring to the market to just be one step ahead of everyone in competition. They will also come to know about the compliances, which is right now super, super interesting when you talk about the cannabis industry. [You may not know] how it’s been legalized, what are the customs, what attorneys might have to share with them. That’s going to be super important information for them.
Also, we think that we will get to know, what are the new routes, the new possibilities and distribution channels that are there for this particular market? How people can come from traditional drinks to the new cannabis related drinks market. Everything, from every aspect, is going to give them a new exposure.
For venture capitalists at CDE, what are some of the key factors that might make a new brand attractive for potential investment?
Target audience, key targets, key requirements, future plans, ROI, and how easily legal they can be in terms of product selling.
A big trend we're seeing is large national beverage companies making moves into the cannabis drinks market. For smaller companies who might be looking to get attention at CDE, is the primary goal to compete with those big players, or present themselves as attractive targets for a future acquisition?
The latter one. The main goal of CDE is to bring in manufacturers, growers, small wineries, distilleries, breweries, suppliers everyone in the same room and collectively look at ways they can also benefit from legalized cannabis. Also, it focuses on how to leverage current wine and spirits infrastructure and unlock new opportunities. That is directly applicable to the new players want to come into the market.
Can independent companies compete, or are these big national corporations poised to dominate the cannabis drinks industry from the very beginning of mainstream awareness?
Not really. It depends on the new ventures ready to take up the challenge and compete against the big companies. It’s all about how quickly you make yourself legally compliant and get into the mainstream. With the legalization of cannabis, investment opportunities in the industry would become nearly boundless. Companies selling the product would get access to more financial development.
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