December 31, 2018
From Taiwanese cheese tea (tea topped with cheesy foam), which is apparently poised to become “the new bubble tea,” to a rise in “peganism” (a paleo/vegan diet mashup), forecasters have already predicted several new trends for 2019. But if there’s one thing Canadians can count on to radically transform food and drink in the new year, it’s the introduction of newly licit edibles.
In a second wave of recreational legalization, cannabis-infused food and drink will be lawful in Canada no later than Oct. 17, 2019, and sales are projected to boom. Although the real change on the consumer side will come closer to the end of the year, 2019 promises to be packed with new products, including the world’s first beer brewed from marijuana (Province Brands’ imperial pilsner).
According to a report by marijuana market research company The Arcview Group, edibles are expected to quadruple in Canada and the U.S. by 2022, reaching a value of more than $4.1 billion. Meanwhile, global sales are anticipated to surge from $9.5 billion in 2017 to $32 billion. The report further states that “the edibles market is up for grabs. We’re already seeing mainstream beverage companies scrambling to take advantage of part of this significant opportunity.”
Megabrand Anheuser-Busch InBev, brewer of Budweiser, recently partnered with Nanaimo, B.C.-headquartered cannabis company Tilray. The companies will reportedly spend $50 million on a study, which Labatt Brewing Company (a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev) will conduct “to develop a deeper understanding of non-alcohol beverages containing THC and CBD.”
Cannabis users, especially recreational cannabis users, love variety
Sean Bird, Baked Edibles
The beer giant isn’t alone in its pursuit of non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused drinks. Constellation Brands — the company behind Corona and Svedka vodka — has a 38 per cent stake in Smiths Falls, Ont.-based cannabis company Canopy Growth, and Molson Coors has partnered with Gatineau, Que.-based Hexo. According to Bloomberg, even Coca-Cola is “closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world.”
“We’re going to see this shift away from a culture which has had one legal psychoactive for social and leisure activities, being alcohol, to a culture where there’s now a second psychoactive that’s acceptable in those same situations,” says Dooma Wendschuh, co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based Province Brands. “For a lot of people it was a surprise when big alcohol became the first of any of those categories of companies (tobacco and pharmaceuticals) to jump into the cannabis industry. I don’t know why it was a surprise because when you think about it, there are three legal psychoactives in our world. You’ve got coffee, tobacco and alcohol, and two of those three are consumed as beverages.”
Drinks are an intuitive marijuana delivery system and they’re also ideal for producers, says Sean Bird, general manager of Victoria, B.C.-based Baked Edibles. “They’re great to ship and store. They’re interesting, too. I think cannabis users, especially recreational cannabis users, love variety. They want to see what we can do with this product.” In addition to infused drinks, Bird expects low-dose items – like 1 or 2 mg mints, gummies or hard candy – to become very popular post legalization.
Health Canada recently released draft regulations for edibles (solid and beverage), extracts and topicals, and is accepting public feedback until Feb. 20. For both food and drink, the proposed THC (psychoactive) limit is 10 mg per package or container with limits on caffeine, no added vitamins or minerals, and no added alcohol. The agency is proposing child-resistant, plain packaging and suggests that the products shouldn’t appeal to children, make health or nutritional assertions, or exhibit qualities that could connect them to alcoholic drinks or alcohol brands.
“A big concern for us is that they don’t want (beverages) to have any elements in common with alcohol… Everyone knows that beer is for adults and wine is for adults. It’s not for kids. And that shape of bottle telegraphs to kids that this is not for you,” says Wendschuh, adding that since alcohol and cannabis are both intended for adult use only, they should be similar in their packaging and the way they’re handled, and that Province Brands looks forward to “working with the government to help these regulations evolve.”
A 2017 Dalhousie University study found that while almost half of Canadians are interested in trying edibles for fun, nearly 60 per cent are concerned about the risk they pose to children. “It’s not clear where the line is drawn between a child-friendly product and candies for adults. This is likely the most contentious part of the framework and regulations need to be crystal clear,” says Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie, and leader of the study. “Proposed amendments suggest edibles should not appeal to children, but adults do eat chocolate and candy as well. Distinctions can easily be made between gummy bears and sophisticated candies that you can find in a specialty shop. However, there is a massive grey zone that lies between the two worlds.”
As the regulatory framework and oversight are finalized over the coming months, and food and beverage companies hustle to comply before legalization, one thing is certain. From alcohol-free beverages with a new buzz to bud-infused treats, 2019 will bring Canadians a euphoric alternative.