What do Canadian cannabis consumers want? Not even they know

Published on February 24, 2020 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Canadian cannabis consumers
Photo by Jesse Milns/Leafly

Virtually everyone in the cannabis sector wants to know what adult-market consumers want from the world of cannabis products. The problem is, they may need to wait for the bulk of consumers to find that out for themselves.

The newest numbers from Brightfield Group’s January 2020 Canadian Cannabis report aren’t encouraging: a third of Canadian consumers had no idea what brands of cannabis they’d bought, while half didn’t know what dosage they preferred.

Those are impressive numbers, but consider: one week into legalization in 2018, 95% of consumers shopping at legal cannabis stores in four markets could not say which brands they had purchased.

A third of the market having little familiarity with brands on offer strikes most vendors as bad news, though a problem some retailers have attempted to circumvent by abandoning new branded names and identifying LP products by their traditional cultivar names. Early into legalization, Matt Ryan, VP marketing for retailer META Cannabis (formerly National Access Cannabis), confirmed old habits of buying by strain had carried over into the legal market.

Yet companies have little idea exactly what their customers want to buy. It’s easy enough to understand why Canopy’s new CEO David Klein told BNN Bloomberg last week, “I want to focus the business on the consumer. It’s cool that we can now grow and sell cannabis in a legal fashion, but we haven’t built that connection with the consumer.” Last summer, Canopy was forced to face the fact that it bet big on oil and gel-caps for the adult-use market only to find consumers didn’t want very many of them.

What do consumers want? Shoppers seem happiest when they can get products at low prices, and of course higher-THC products. But beyond that, neither LPs nor retailers are especially sure. They know millennials (aged 22-39) represent a major cohort of cannabis buyers, with roughly half of the 13% of Canadians who identified themselves as occasional or frequent cannabis users. But that’s partly tempered by the fact that the fastest growing cohort of cannabis users is over the age of 65.

As of last fall, 70% of consumers arriving at cannabis stores had no idea what they were going to buy, which only makes it harder for brands to win customers over.

Meanwhile, a University of Waterloo study released last week found few consumers could accurately gauge the potency of cannabis edibles based on the THC information on their packaging. Two thirds, instead, said they’d prefer a traffic-light symbol system to indicate the difference between strong doses, middle doses, and lighter doses.

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Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse Staniforth reports on cannabis, food safety, and Indigenous issues. He is the former editor of WeedWeek Canada.
View Jesse B. Staniforth's articles
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