Infused beverages – “drinkables” – make up a small slice of the market today but are among the categories expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the near future. Solving the ‘salad dressing’ effect has led to beverages that are palatable and effective. Innovators have pushed the possibilities of cannabis drinks as a novel format. (Recent profiles of Matt Vincent of Oh Hi and Jonathan Eppers of VYBES are good examples.) Drinkables are in line with several macrotrends as well: the shift away from flower and more consumption occasions and social settings consumers find suitable for cannabis. (That beverages can be newbie-friendly helps as well.) Infused beverages are hardly without challenges, but among the most critical is taste. Apart from ‘shots’, beverages are made for sipping and few consumers will stomach a full can of seltzer tasting of grass clippings. To that end, we were curious to discover how consumers thought about infused beverages.
While we were asking people to complete a survey and not a taste test (and thus we can’t speak to interest in citrus flavors compared to floral notes) the results confirm areas of promise and highlight riskier propositions in drinkables:
The chart above includes options presented to participants that consumers might want – drinks containing alcohol and cannabinoids – but as those products will likely never see the shelf, the results effectively break down between infused beverages (“non-alcoholic drinks”) and infused alcohol knock-offs (“alcohol-flavored drinks”) and the winners are obvious. The following comments ignore the “alcoholic drinks” response options for sake of clarity.
Introducing a few wrinkles into the data shows some interesting breakouts of the results. For example, comparing cannabis consumers who gravitate to products containing only CBD to consumers who also regularly use products containing THC as well:
- NA beverages with CBD or CBD & THC still bubble to the top. Both groups score these options in the top three.
- Alcohol-flavored drinks with CBD do hold some appeal to ‘CBD-only’ consumers. Not surprisingly, among these consumers, this variety gets a slight bump. CBD-only consumers ranked this option fifth compared to sixth place overall and seventh among CBD+THC consumers.
- NA beverages with THC is a polarizing option. Not surprisingly, those already consuming THC in some form prefer this option above all others while CBD-only consumers put THC-infused drinks well down the list at sixth place.
- No one wants boozy drinks with THC. Alcohol flavor seems to present too high a hurdle: both groups rank alcohol-flavored beverages infused with THC at or near the bottom.
Focusing exclusively on current consumers of products containing CBD and THC, cutting the data by age also turns up some intuitive and not-so-obvious results. Of all the age groups, only those 35-44 express serious interest in alcohol-flavored beverages infused with CBD. No other group put that variety in the top two spots. The younger set (21-34), unsurprisingly, is interested in NA drinks with THC above all others.
Lastly, drinkers see the world quite differently. Keeping our focus on THC+CBD consumers, we can see notable differences in how beer consumers differ from those who prefer wine, spirits, or cocktails.
- Craft and macro beer drinkers want alcoholic drinks with THC and CBD. While these consumers dislike the idea of alcohol-flavored beverages, there could be an opening if a nonalcoholic booze-like product could be positioned in such a way as to avoid the mental connection with O’Doul’s and Sharp’s.
- Cocktail and wine lovers are intrigued by drinkables with THC. Both groups also rank NA beverages with CBD in second place.
- As do spirits drinkers, but hold the CBD please. NA beverages with CBD slips to sixth place with this group. Alcoholic drinks (with both, with THC only) round out the top three on the wish list of spirits consumers.
While technology and regulations will act as stronger guide-rails for innovation, consumer preferences will play an increasingly strong role as infused beverages grow. And while there’s some doubt in the consumer’s mind today about “alcohol-flavored” drinks, if asked years ago, no one would have expected bourbon-flavored everything to be as ubiquitous as today. The next great drinkable could be resting in a charred white oak barrel, just waiting to be tapped.