Too mellow? How companies try to speed the cannabis beer buzz

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Dive Brief:

  • Partnerships between big alcohol companies and cannabis firms are struggling to develop consumer-friendly pot-infused drinks that can give alcohol a run for its money. It’s difficult because cannabis and alcohol are different and don’t metabolize at the same rate, Bloomberg reported.
  • One major difference is that alcohol is water-soluble but cannabis is not. Booze is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream while pot-infused products take longer to make it through the digestive process. Synchronizing this so-called “onset time” is challenging those making cannabis-infused beverages, Bloomberg reported.
  • Currently, cannabis beverages comprise less than 0.5% of total U.S. legal pot sales, according to BDS Analytics. As cannabis-infused beverages become more widely legalized and the market category is projected to be valued at $600 million by 2022, manufacturers are looking to quickly make progress on these weed drinks.

Dive Insight:

Some major alcohol companies have partnered with cannabis firms to develop CBD or THC-infused beverages to unlock new growth as they face a slumping beer market. 

There are a lot of companies working toward this goal, especially since recreational cannabis use has been legal in Canada since October. Constellation Brands, the maker of Corona and Modelo beers, owns a 38% share of cannabis company Canopy Growth. AB InBev’s Labatt Breweries’ Canadian subsidiary is working with cannabis producer and distributor Tilray, with each company putting in $50 million toward creating these beverages. There’s also Molson Coors Brewing, which has a controlling interest in HEXO, formerly known as Hydropothecary, to develop non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market. 

Industry observers told Bloomberg that winning over consumers will mean developing beverages with a low percentage of intoxicant that can be consumed over several hours and still enjoy “a steady, moderate high.” Methods of solving these challenges include making cannabis compounds water soluble to adjust the onset time, although Canopy CEO Bruce Linton said there is no single solution.

Another potential solution is nano-emulsification, a blending method that helps cannabis molecules mix more effectively and evenly with water. That way, the active ingredient will absorb into the bloodstream more quickly, Bloomberg reported. Nano-emusification has allowed Cannabiniers, a California company that owns cannabis-infused beer maker Two Roots Brewing, to come up with an onset time of 10 minutes and a wear-off time of about an hour and a half.

Cannabiniers President and COO Timothy Walters told Beverage Daily the Two Roots lineup of non-alcoholic cannabis-infused beer alternatives has done well since being introduced last summer in Nevada — and will soon be appearing at dispensaries in California.

Yet another method is glycosylation​, a patent-pending technology developed by Toronto-based ​Trait Biosciences, Inc. Glycosylation that attaches a glucose molecule to cannabis to enhance onset time and keep the oily compounds combined with water. However, because cannabis remains illegal on the federal level in the U.S., scientists here have to get a license from the Drug Enforcement Agency and acquire a legal supply with which to do their research.

Still, these ongoing developments could help the partnerships between U.S. alcohol makers and Canadian cannabis producers work on coming up with products that could find broad consumer acceptance. That market is projected to hit $10.2 billion this year, according to data from Euromonitor International, so there’s a huge incentive to overcome formulation challenges and get infused beverages to market as soon as possible.

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