Faced with plummeting flower prices that depressed its margins, Michigan retailer Premiere Provisions sought to put greater emphasis on the sale of concentrates.
It’s a big pivot.
Stand-alone concentrates – such as wax and shatter – were long viewed as products for hard-core cannabis consumers.
It’s a stigma that was further fueled by the need to consume them with clunky and complicated dab rigs that could easily cost north of $100 – often more than $200 – and required nails, torches and other equipment.
Premiere Provisions General Manager Edwin Maguire made sure that his dispensary in Big Rapids stocked a variety of concentrate consumption devices – from high-end table-top dab rigs for experienced concentrate consumers, to smaller, less expensive, one-click battery pens that could appeal to concentrates newbies.
Maguire said he also made sure to educate consumers about these devices and offer them at discounts.
The result has been about a 10% increase in concentrate sales from this time last year to the present, Maguire estimates.
“They are definitely a big reason our concentrate sales are up,” Maguire said of the simpler consumption devices, made by companies such as Hamilton, Lookah, Nectar Collector and Puffco.
Nationally, including medical and recreational markets, concentrate sales have jumped from some $1.9 billion in 2020 to $2.4 billion in 2022.
They are projected to reach $3.2 billion in 2024, according to the Brightfield Group, a Chicago-based cannabis analytics firm.
By educating consumers about easier-to-use concentrate-consumption devices, many retailers have been able to increase concentrate sales – an important boost at a time when flower revenue is plateauing.
Guy Rocourt, CEO of Los Angeles-based Papa & Barkley, agrees.
He said simplified concentrate-consumption tools have “tremendously” aided concentrate sales. “It’s all about normalization,” he added.
Not just for connoisseurs
Concentrates such as wax, shatter, badder and budder are, for the most part, relatively new cannabis products that started to be developed roughly 20 years ago.
Newer varieties like diamonds and crystals came onto the scene only a few years ago.
The exception is hash, which goes back thousands of years.
Only in the past five to 10 years, however, have concentrate products become ubiquitous in the nation’s dispensaries.
A big reason Premiere Provisions and other retailers have increased concentrate sales is because they have been able to un-pigeonhole concentrates as a product for connoisseurs as well as hard-core or veteran consumers.
These retailers have instead pitched concentrates as a viable option for new cannabis consumers.
“If a new person comes up to me and says, ‘How should I start?’ This is it,” Rocourt said. “Edibles take too long. Smoking flower, you might cough and get too much.”
But with concentrate consumption devices such as The Zenco, which come with tulip-shaped glass bulbs that capture the concentrate vapor when its heated, consumers can “take small sips” of concentrate vapor, appreciating the terpenes and flavonoids as if they were sipping wine.
“It has a glass that fills up with vapors, so you can drink it. That’s totally normalized. It just takes all that stigma away,” Rocourt said.
Lance Mathis, general manager at Inyo Fine Cannabis Dispensary in Las Vegas, agrees.
In the last year, Inyo started selling what Mathis calls “entry devices” that are typically $20 or $25.
That's a fraction of the cost of higher end dab rigs and e-rigs, which can easily cost more than $100.
These devices are shaped like vape battery pens, except they come with a small chamber where consumers can load the concentrate, heat it, and then inhale it.
“It’s about accessibility and convenience,” Mathis said in an interview late last year.
“If it’s small and discreet and you can easily load it and play with it and not worry about spending $200 or $300 (on a more expensive device) and then not liking it.
"You can come in our shop, spend $60 and walk out with a nice gram of concentrate, a new device to play with, and you wouldn’t feel like you got burned.”
Some of the devices Inyo sells include XVape’s Cricket vaporizer for $25, and the Terp Pen for $40.
“Those devices often lead to customers becoming more serious concentrate consumers who’ll buy Puffcos for $200. Eventually they get there. You just have to give them options and the most amount of runway so that they feel comfortable,” Mathis said.
“You try to have something that’s cheap, and something that at least can get them started.”
Attitudes and normalization
These new devices are important because they also help change consumer attitudes toward concentrates, decreasing the stigma around them.
Somewhat unwieldy, dab rigs seemed specially reserved for only the heaviest cannabis and concentrate consumers.
But newer devices are sleeker, simpler, and more elegant, evoking normalcy rather than something exceptional.
“We have these great devices that normalize it,” Rocourt said.
These new devices also make it easier to switch out less appealing terms associated with concentrate and cannabis consumption – such as dabbing, vaping and smoking – for more appealing terms, such as “low temperature vaporization” or “aromatherapy.”
“When you smoke, you're combusting it (cannabis flower) at 1,100 or 1,200 degrees, which brings all kinds of carcinogens from the plant matter. Even if you're smoking your concentrates, you're going to get at those levels. All kinds of weird things happen," Rocourt said.
"But less than 500 degrees, that's low temperature compared to combustion. That's low temperature being causation. You could also call it aromatherapy, the notion of warming up essential oils so that they become a gas and we are smelling them for our well-being.”
Maguire notes that there are not just simpler devices, but more of then.
California-based Lookah, he noted, has put out three new concentrate and vape batteries since the beginning of the year. These include the Seahorse, the Dragon Egg and the Unicorn.
Another product, the Fire Bee, comes with an adapter so that it can be used as a vape battery or as a concentrate-consumption device.
“With all of these devices, it’s pretty much just hitting a button,” Maguire said.
“They are also pretty affordable,” he said, adding that most Lookah products are $100 or less.
Although these devices have become more affordable, Premiere Provisions sells them at 20% off, “so it incentivizes (customers) to try out those options.”
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.