By: Rob Wertheimer
The headline is not a joke about the potency of Coke versus cannabis drinks. It’s not an argument that they should put the cocaine back in to compete. The idea is the potential for differentiation in products/ beverages. With cannabis having potential for more variety and consumer pull than soft drinks, cannabis may be as different from soft drinks as soft drinks are from water.
Let it be clear that we are not bashing Coke here. There may be nothing more refreshing than a cold Coca-Cola. When I lived in the Peace Corps in a dry part of West Africa, you could find a cold Coke in a cooler in some roadside towns and villages. The distribution effort was amazing, with Coke the only cold drink for miles, and I had many while ducking out of the 100+ degree sun for a break from motorcycling along dirt roads to villages. To the downside, that did come along with several cavities filled without benefit of Novocain; the dentist I saw during a rare visit to the capital had limited time, since she had a party to go to, and said that painkillers were only needed for boys, not men. Still, I loved it. There may be nothing more comforting than Coca-Cola; as a sick child, Coke and saltines were a remedy I remember fondly. That comfort is branding on flavor and experience; there are probably no real medicinal qualities, despite my family’s views on it.
We’re not bashing water either, but water is obviously a much bigger branding challenge, and a financially painful one for beverage companies as consumers have shifted away from sugar based soft drinks. Nothing much differentiates Dasani from Aquafina from Poland Spring, and that fact has obviously been a long drag on beverage sales and margins. The search for healthy alternatives has been broad, with a lot of so-so alternatives. Vitamin water is in the end not as healthy as you might hope, and both it and many iced teas are primarily just different vehicles for sugar.
Cannabis has vastly greater complexity, and maybe real health benefits as well, providing better opportunity for branding and differentiation than either waters or soft drinks. Most folks think of cannabis/marijuana as THC, the compound within marijuana that produces a high. More recently CBD has become well known; it doesn’t produce a high, but may be effective for sleep, anxiety, inflammation, and other conditions. There are however more than 100 different cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, in cannabis, with interacting and differing effects, none very well studied. Our bodies use natural endocannabinoids in maintaining equilibrium in several major systems; that’s one reason its plausible to think that some of the touted health benefits of cannabis could be real.
There are a great many traditional uses for cannabis, aside from feeling high, and there exists the potential therefore, for beverages that help with relaxation, or drowsiness, or longer periods of sleep, or inflammation, or headaches, and more. That’s a more exciting opportunity by far than coffee, which we also love, or taurine, whatever that may be.
We expect both adult beverage and soft drink companies to explore the potential of cannabis. Cannabis companies will need to convert early expertise in growing and genetics into more, but if so, can be attractive partners as new products are created.