Covid Made Consumers Want More Pot, For Less

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Even as Americans fork out more cash for upscale forms of caffeine and alcohol, there’s one thing they increasingly want in bulk, for cheap: marijuana.

In Tilray’s fourth-quarter call last week, Chief Executive Officer Irwin Simon said that Covid-19 prompted more people to shop for marijuana online, and that worked against premium brands. That contrasts with the “premiumization” trend of consumers trading up to higher-priced products that companies including Molson Coors and Starbucks talked about in earnings calls last week.

Tilray isn’t the only one noticing: A Stifel survey of almost 500 marijuana users across the U.S. and Canada came to the same conclusion.

“Yes, there will be some room for brands that differentiate themselves on quality, but this is a price-sensitive category,” Stifel analyst Andrew Carter told me in a phone interview about the study, which was published last week.

Stifel’s survey found that price, potency and quantity were the top factors that influenced cannabis shoppers. Carter also observed that there was a high level of turnover in terms of which brands were most popular during Covid-19, as shown through data from cannabis data tracker Headset. This shows that consumers are still largely searching for brands and products to latch onto.

Headset analyst Cooper Ashley said there was also a trend toward buying cannabis flower in larger package sizes during the pandemic. “This indicates increased consumer price sensitivity, because the average price per gram of larger package sizes was (and still is) much lower,” Cooper said in an email. “Customers were finding value by purchasing in bulk.”

Canadian consumers are more sensitive to price than their southern neighbors, Stifel’s study found. About a third of consumers said it was a top priority in Canada, versus only about a quarter in the U.S.

Simon was optimistic on Tilray’s call that the situation will change as Canadian Covid measures ease. He said that during the last six months, price has mattered more than marketing, since most websites list products by price.

With more consumers out and about, they can “interact with bud tenders” and carry out impulse buys in stores, he said. That will cause customers to “shift away from price-based cannabis purchases,” Simon said.

Even if the trend toward low-cost pot sticks, Stifel’s report hinted at a bright side of the pandemic on the cannabis market: It has increased use, and that is likely to continue after Covid ends.

Looking at Washington state, which is considered a mature market, Carter noted that cannabis was the top-ranking “expandable” consumer item -- or product that consumers reached for most often when it was readily available. In that sense, according to data from Headset and IRI, marijuana outperformed cookies, chocolate and stay-at-home alcoholic drinks.

NUMBER OF THE WEEK

  • 55%: the percentage of people who plan to keep using about the same amount of cannabis after the pandemic ends, according to Stifel’s Cannabis Consumer Survey. A plurality of those surveyed (41%) said they used cannabis “a lot more” during Covid.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“In support of our investment in Cronos, we continue to advocate for a federally legal, regulated and responsible U.S. cannabis market, and we’re encouraged by the current momentum towards federal legalization,” Altria Chief Financial Officer Sal Mancuso said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • New Mexico anticipates it could run out of cannabis when legal sales start next year.
  • Tilray shares surged after the company reported a profit despite challenges related to Covid-19.
  • Denver’s mayor proposed directing some of the state’s sales-tax revenue to a new $50 million loan fund to help minority investors join the recreational cannabis industry. Meanwhile, Colorado opened its cannabis business development office.
  • Len Tannenbaum, CEO of AFC Gamma, discussed lending to cannabis companies on Bloomberg TV.
  • Shares of 180 Life Sciences rose after it said it’s selected a synthetic CBD analogue to move forward in clinical development for inflammation and pain.
  • Flora Growth shares jumped after it signed a letter to supply Australian cannabis.

EVENTS

Tuesday 8/3

  • 2021 Virtual Cannabis Research Conference, through 8/5.

Wednesday 8/4

  • Scott’s Miracle Gro reports third-quarter earnings before the market opens.
  • Innovative Industrial Properties reports second-quarter earnings after the market closes.

Friday 8/6

  • Cronos Group reports second-quarter earnings before the market opens.
  • Canopy Growth reports first-quarter earnings before the market opens.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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