Who Are The Big Names Entering The Cannabis Industry?
Rewind a few years; if you had speculated that industry giants like Coca-Cola or Marlboro would show an interest in cannabis, chances are you would’ve been laughed out of the office. The reality, however, is that the legal cannabis industry is experiencing never-before-seen levels of investment, financial support, takeovers, and most importantly, interest from world-renowned brands and personalities.
Perception of the cannabis industry has changed from a no-go area to one of exciting possibilities. Not only are the developments in cannabis enticing investors, but consumer interest is growing at an equally rapid rate. The legality of cannabis is a hotly debated topic, and we are seeing amendments to legislation on a global scale. The result is a chain reaction of activity that is further driving overall industry growth.
Although cannabis is generally viewed as a recreational substance, there is also substantial opportunity for medicinal product ranges using cannabinoids like CBD. The medicinal cannabis market comes backed by a significant amount of ongoing research—this gives established corporations far more confidence to invest.
This investment in cannabis isn’t out of the kindness of corporate hearts—that is undeniable. It is a calculated move based on the viability of new markets and how their respective sectors are performing. While we will take a detailed look at prominent takeovers and investments, you only need look at the declining categories of alcohol and cigarettes to see that companies in these sectors need to diversify if they want to maintain the margins they’ve grown accustomed to.
The impact of alcohol on our health is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that has become a significant consideration for drinkers in recent years. The number of people avoiding alcohol, or limiting their intake, has been steadily rising, and this is bad news for the biggest beer manufacturers in the world—unless they can diversify.
Heineken has already seen success with their “Heineken 0.0” low-calorie, no-alcohol brand. In 2018, the company launched a non-alcoholic cannabis beer after they acquired a 50% stake in brewer Lagunitas. Infused with THC and CBD, it represents one of the first successful crossovers between alcohol and cannabis. Heineken now owns 100% of Lagunitas, and together with CannaCraft, are working to expand the range further.
- Constellation Brands
With a portfolio of over 100 brands, Constellation Brands are leaders in the beer, wine, and spirits division. Now, thanks to a $4 billion investment in Canopy Growth Corporation, that portfolio is set to expand into a range of cannabis-infused beverages. Aimed primarily at the Canadian market where cannabis was legalised in October of 2018, the move by Constellation Brands was one of the first major partnerships to merge mainstream categories with marijuana.
The injection of capital gives significantly more financial security for flourishing companies like Canopy Growth. By having the backing of established, global corporations, cannabis producers can move away from smaller-scale operations and pursue rapid commercial expansion.
- Anheuser-Busch InBev
The world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, is another leading drinks corporation that has partnered with a cannabis producer to expand its portfolio options. This time, the owner of Budweiser, Becks Blue, and Leffe (amongst others) has teamed up with Tilray to research how best to bring cannabis drinks to mainstream markets.
A $50 million investment from both parties shows their commitment and excitement about the possibilities ahead. They have no doubt seen the strategic moves being made by other prominent drinks brands, and are keen not to miss out on the opportunity to secure a share of the market.
Technically, we haven’t seen any actual investment into cannabis from Coke, but when they show an interest, everyone takes note. This is likely to be because Coca-Cola is the world’s number one non-alcoholic beverage company, with over 500 brands. This puts them in a business league all their own. Last year, the company was rumored to be in talks with prominent Canadian cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis about developing marijuana-infused beverages. At the time, both parties declined to comment before Coca-Cola confirmed it “doesn’t have any plans at this stage”.
Although Coca-Cola may have passed on the opportunity at present, one of the world’s most successful companies showing an interest in cannabis is enough to spark a steady stream of attention from similar brands and businesses.
Altria, best known as owners of Marlboro cigarettes, acquired a 45% stake in cannabis company Cronos Group. The Canadian producer is one of the country’s largest suppliers of cannabis, and this partnership is one of several other multi-billion dollar investments that have taken place.
Traditional cigarette sales have been in steady decline as new legislation and taxes continue to dampen profits. By diversifying into healthier alternatives using CBD and other cannabinoids, Altria hopes to retain the majority of their infrastructure while still capitalising on new markets. The investment forms part of Altria’s global strategy, as both companies have the supply chain needed to be a leading force in the legal cannabis industry.
- Estée Lauder Companies
Another new and emerging segment of the market is the use of cannabinoids in cosmetics. Compounds like CBD have shown promising anti-inflammatory properties and can now be found in anti-ageing creams, sleep masks, soaps, and a variety of body scrubs.
As a globally recognised brand, Estée Lauder has developed a range of hemp-infused body products via their “Origin” brand. Hemp is legal to cultivate in most parts of the world and contains higher natural concentrations of CBD while maintaining a nearly undetectable amount of THC.
- Leon Cooperman
Investors don’t come much bigger than billion dollar hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman. As chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors (an investment firm with over £3 billion in assets), his decision to enter the cannabis market did not go unnoticed. His personal portfolio now includes CannTrust, Green Thumb, and iAnthus. Both CannTrust and Green Thumb Industries are medical cannabis producers, while iAnthus is a holdings company with a portfolio spanning several areas of the cannabis industry.
- John Boehner
John Boehner is a former Republican Speaker of the House, who, despite previously acknowledging a strong opposition to cannabis, has joined the advisory board for Acreage Holdings. The company specialises in cultivation, processing, and cannabis dispensary operations across the US. The move shows a significant shift in attitudes towards the substance as Boehner himself recognises that “American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically”. His political expertise will no doubt be invaluable for Acreage, and support them in navigating America’s confusing legal landscape.
- Martha Stewart
Celebrity endorsements of cannabis are nothing new, but few influencers put their money where their mouth is. Martha Stewart has announced she will undertake an advisory role at Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth. Her experience in the limelight will be essential for Canopy Growth as they intend to expand cannabis into pet care and wellness. The collaboration is yet another sign of the increasing demand for CBD-infused ranges.
- Brian Athaide
As a highly experienced managerial figure, Brian Athaide’s appointment at Green Organic Dutchman Holdings Ltd. is a prime example of how cannabis companies are attracting talent in order to conquer global markets. Athaide, a former chief financial officer at Procter & Gamble, was overseeing operations in Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia. His attention will now turn to cannabis and how TGOD can expand into the THC/CBD infused beverages market.
- Nelson Peltz
Peltz’s previous success stories include Procter & Gamble, Kraft Heinz, and Mondelez International. As a billionaire businessman and investor, Nelson Peltz will be turning his attention to cannabis via Canadian cultivator Aurora Cannabis. Aurora is considered among the top three cannabis producers in Canada, but this latest appointment supports their focus to achieve the top spot. His expertise will be essential for Aurora as they look to expand globally and introduce new ranges.