By Marijuana Business Daily staff
Cannabis consumers have a major sweet tooth, as evidenced by the vast selection of candies, brownies and chocolate bars at many dispensaries and retail stores.
But salty and savory edibles such as pretzels, crackers and sauces aren’t nearly as prevalent. Some shops carry only one or two of these products, while others have abandoned them altogether.
Edibles manufacturers and dispensary owners say there are numerous business reasons behind the industry’s aversion to salty and savory edibles.
Aside from the fact that these products simply aren’t as popular as sweet edibles, companies say they face challenges with production methods, the possibility of spoilage and even state regulations. Manufacturers also often struggle with consistency, and some consumers complain that savory edibles taste too much like cannabis.
Some companies, however, are reconsidering their strategy as the industry grows and consumer demand shifts, hoping to find new business opportunities in the infused products market.
“Right now it’s a niche market for sure,” said Julie Dooley, president and founder of Julie and Kate Baked Goods in Denver. “But some people are sick of dessert.”
Sweet n’ Easy
One of the main reasons that edibles companies have gravitated toward sweeter foods is because they’re easier to manufacture.
THC is fat soluble, making it ideal for baking into foods that require butter, such as cookies.
Justin Croy, a dispensary owner and edibles manufacturer in Portland, Oregon, has experimented with creating savory cannabis products like sauces. He said it’s tricky to get consistent THC readings. He also found that when he could get the desired level of THC, the often tasted too much like cannabis.
“Sometimes the medicated oil just cooks off and doesn’t get absorbed, or else you end up with something that patients just can’t get down,” Croy said.
The Portland market has a handful of salty and savory products, including cannabis beef jerky and trail mix. In the past, some manufacturers had produced sauces and coffee. But patients complained that those products did not contain enough THC, Croy said.
Cost is another hurdle. Croy believes he could eliminate much of the cannabis taste yet still ensure high THC level if he were to use a butane extraction method for his edibles.
But he said the equipment and process for that type of extraction is simply too expensive, especially when considering that consumers simply prefer sugary products anyway.
“I’ve tried to sell savory products and they just don’t sell well,” Croy said. “Patients just don’t want them.”
Colorado’s medical marijuana market featured pasta sauces and even pizza during the industry’s early days in 2010. But as the state’s regulatory bodies gained power over the industry, these products quickly went away.
Bob Eschino, owner of the infused products company Incredibles, believes that potency testing and other regulations helped bring about the demise of these products. Products can sit on shelves for days or even weeks as they await testing or approval from regulators, so companies adjusted their product lines to foods with longer shelf lives, such as chocolate bars and cookies.
“With testing and the need to be verified by (regulatory agencies), you’ve added a week or 10 days of your product just sitting on your store shelf,” Eschino said. “When something spoils, you’re not just throwing away a muffin, you’re throwing away THC.”
Eschino believes the state’s proposed tests could make these products impossible to produce altogether. Colorado legislators have proposed making 10 milligrams of THC the standard serving size.
“If you’re infusing a spread or a sauce, how do you make sure [a serving size] has 10 milligrams?” Eschino said. “Unless you are doing 10 millgrams for the entire product, it won’t work.”
Eschino believes the market for these foods has switched to private producers and cook-at-home kits, which include cannabis butter or marijuana pills. Consumers who want to make cannabis sauce, he said, must do it themselves.
An Opportunity to go Salty
Eschino said he’d like to experiment with salty or savory recipes, but business has been so strong for his chocolate bars that he does not want to spare cannabis oil for research and development. He hasn’t ruled these products out for the future, though.
That could be a wise move, as consumer tastes seem to be expanding.
Dooley of Julie and Kate Baked Goods said her salty Sensible Seed Mix is now her second most popular food. The pumpkin and sunflower seed mix is roasted with sea salt and strain-specific cannabis butter, and it contains no sugar.
Dooley admitted that the mix is complicated to make because the seeds do not soak up as much fat as a brownie or a chocolate bar. She has to overcompensate with the amount of cannabis butter she uses in order to get the THC content high enough. That production method, she said, gives the mix the distinct and somewhat strong taste of cannabis.
But Dooley said that the sea salt cuts the flavor of cannabis. And some customers actually want that marijuana taste.
“I want you to taste the cannabis flavor. You’re not eating just roasted seeds,” she said. “That is what we are going for.”
Dooley herself does not eat sugar. She wonders if some consumers will eventually abandon the cakes, truffles and candies, and create a market for healthier edibles products. She also thinks the fear of child ingestion could steer more parents to buying savory or salty snacks.
If that happens, the market for these types of edibles could expand significantly.