Led by gummies, edibles keep pace with growth of overall US cannabis market

Chart showing marijuana edibles category growth in 2021

Gummies continue to dominate the U.S. edibles market, particularly among new marijuana consumers, although other consumable products are growing in popularity, including those that replicate the whole-plant experience as well as healthier options.

Gummies accounted for nearly $1 billion in retail sales last year, capturing more than 70% of the category’s share across six recreational cannabis markets tracked by Seattle-based data-analytics firm Headset: California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

Cooper Ashley, Headset’s senior data analyst, said the only other segment to grow faster was the caramels, chews and taffy component.

All other segments saw their share of the edibles market decline, reflecting the increasing popularity of gummies.

According to retail sales data from the six states Headset tracks, overall edibles sales grew by more than 20% from $1.15 billion in 2020 to $1.38 billion in 2021.

The total marijuana market, by comparison, grew 18.4%.

Ashley noted that the edibles category dropped from the third- to fourth-largest category by total sales last year, trailing sales of pre-rolls by about $45 million.

Despite the drop, the outlook for edibles is considered bullish among industry executives.

“It’s a solid category, and it will grow as the industry grows and people learn how to use them and learn their benefits,” said David Catanzano, head of cannabis operations for Tilt Holdings, a multistate operator headquartered in Phoenix.

Capturing new entrants

The companies interviewed for this story agreed that edibles are important for attracting new cannabis consumers who otherwise might shy away from other forms of consumption.

Some new consumers, for example, are intimidated by complicated dab rigs or even how to properly roll a joint.

Others don’t want to inhale smoke and find eating edibles easy, discreet and convenient.

Edibles can also deliver a consistent, measurable amount of cannabis.

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Derek Lilley, head of merchandising at Chicago-based multistate operator Cresco Labs, said edibles clearly are more popular among newbies.

“They’re easier to use,” he said. “And some consumers don’t like smoking – full stop.”

Rachel Nicholas, vice president of procurement for Portland, Oregon-based Chalice Brands, agreed that edibles are a good entry-level product for new users.

In particular, she added, new users like the consistent dosing.

“You buy a chocolate bar and break it off, and you know exactly how many milligrams you’re getting,” she said. “It’s an easy grab-and-go product.”

Industry executives said consumers around 30-45 years old especially seem to be entering the cannabis market via edibles.

Whole plant, single strain

As edibles consumers mature and become more sophisticated, they might want some of the benefits of smoking raw flower that aren’t widely available in many other products, including terpenes and a wider array of cannabinoids.

The vast majority of edibles are made with THC distillate, which is potent and consistent and doesn’t really taste much like cannabis.

For some marijuana connoisseurs, there is more to consuming cannabis than just THC.

These more seasoned users are seeking out a full range of other components in edibles that are available when consuming flower – often referred to as the whole-plant experience.

That’s where edibles made with solventless products such as live resin and rosin can fill a need.

The solventless-extraction process retains many of the terpenes and minor cannabinoids that exist in the whole plant.

Lilley sees the category evolving that way. Some of his company’s best-selling items are edibles with a ratio of THC and other minor cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG or CBN.

Medical marijuana patients also seek out those whole-plant extracts for the benefits they might get from the other cannabinoids, according to Nicholas.

“Distillate gets you high, but it doesn’t have those cannabinoids,” she said.

Catanzano sees an opportunity for strain-specific edibles to catch on with consumers with a favorite cultivar.

For example, a Blue Dream strain-specific chocolate bar could be a success, he said.

Healthier options

Medical marijuana patients who need higher doses of THC might want to avoid a full-calorie chocolate bar every day to get their medicine.

As a result, some consumers are focusing more on health and wellness in their purchasing decisions, Nicholas said, seeking out low- and no-sugar options.

To cater to that market, her company makes a vegan edible with beet sugar, which has a relatively low glycemic index.

Catanzano, meanwhile, said his company is looking into making a sugar-free line of edibles.

“People have gotten tired of the high-calorie edible,” he said.

Fast-acting, low dose

Edibles that work quickly can help to prevent the dreaded scenario where a consumer takes a dose, grows impatient, then takes another one only to find they have over-consumed.

The fast-acting edibles trend has been around for a few years, but it’s crucial to the success of the segment, said BJ Carretta, head of brands for multistate operator Columbia Care, based in New York.

“Fast-acting is a must,” Carretta said. “You need it.”

A consistent, quick effect builds consumer confidence, he added.

“There’s nothing worse than a bad edibles experience,” Carretta said.

Lilley agreed, saying fast-acting products could be an important part of the future of the edibles category.

He said older consumers, in particular, want lower doses that work efficiently.

One common bit of advice: Tell customers to start low, go slow.

“Unfortunately, if you have a bad first experience with edibles, you’re unlikely to go back,” Lilley said.

“It’s hard to undo taking an edible.”

Bart Schaneman can be reached at bart.schaneman@mjbizdaily.com.