Scott Stewart
Scott Stewart is the Associate Director for Mintel's Lifestyles & Retail Reports.

The recreational cannabis industry in Canada is maturing. It has been more than two years since federal legalization and over a year since edibles and drinkables became available with legalization 2.0. The result is a clearer picture of how consumers use and perceive cannabis. In particular, there is a very clear gap between those who are currently using cannabis and those who are open to it – and edibles/drinkables are positioned to bridge that gap.

Open non-users would rather ingest than inhale

According to Mintel research on cannabis in Canada pertaining to food and drink, rolled joints are by far the most common cannabis format among current users, as more than three in five have used the format in the past six months and a similar number say they may use rolled joints in the next six months. Yet, open non-users – consumers who are not using cannabis but are open to it – have little interest in smoking cannabis with rolled joints; just three in 10 say they might use that format in the next six months.

Edibles and drinkables, however, are particularly relevant with these open non-users. Edibles are the most likely format they will try while drinkables are in line with the much more widely available and common rolled joints. Furthermore, open non-users have very little interest in other inhalable formats like vape pens, vaporizers or hand pipes.

While current users are more likely to use rolled joints overall, three in five might use edibles in the next six months, while three in 10 may use drinkables – meaning those ingestible formats are not limited to the new user segment.

Nearly nine in 10 believe edibles or drinkables are a discreet way to use cannabis – which is important due to the pervasive stigmas associated with it.

Understanding the appeal of edibles and drinkables

There are several reasons why edibles and drinkables fit so well with consumers who are just entering the cannabis market. Three quarters of users/open non-users agree that edibles and drinkables are healthier than smoking or vaping. Nearly nine in 10 believe edibles or drinkables are a discreet way to use cannabis – which is important due to the pervasive stigmas associated with it. More than three in five open non-users think that edibles or drinkables are good for beginners – likely because the measured dosage and ease of use make it a safe, familiar foray into the industry.

Familiarity – or lack thereof – also drives open non-users away from inhalable options. Less than a quarter of open non-users smoke cigarettes compared to nearly half of current cannabis users, suggesting that smoking cannabis would be a new behaviour for the majority of open non-users and they would not only have to get comfortable with using cannabis, but also with inhaling smoke or vapour. Edible and drinkable cannabis products are therefore a much more cohesive fit with open non-users’ behaviours and preferences.

What we think

The cannabis industry has two main avenues for growth. Attract more current cannabis users away from unlicensed, black-market suppliers – which requires a focus on quality, availability and price, or broaden consumption by attracting new users into the industry. This is where edibles and drinkables will play a vital role.

Cannabis is an incredibly unique industry. Some consumers have used cannabis for years and know exactly what they want; others are entirely new to it and are trying to dip their toes in to find out whether cannabis is right for them. Segmenting these two groups will be an important step for stakeholders since current users and open non-users have such diverse demands and will respond differently to products and messages.