This past summer, a name famous for candy became part of the legal cannabis conversation when William “Beau” Wrigley, Jr. joined the Surterra Wellness Board of Directors as chairman.

Founded in 2014, Surterra Wellness is a fast-growing medical cannabis company. And now it’s working with a confectionery expert.

“Having a seasoned industry veteran like Beau intimately involved in building Surterra’s business is exciting for the future of Surterra, our patients and the entire medical cannabis industry,” says Jake Bergmann, CEO, Surterra Wellness, Atlanta.

A recent deal brokered by Surterra involves development of a Coral Reefer brand with music icon Jimmy Buffett, who had reportedly been approached by several legal cannabis venture firms but opted to go with Surterra due to their medical—instead of recreational—focus. The branded line will include edibles, as well as other products.

Wrigley has said that Surterra will eventually branch out into the legal recreational cannabis market.

These developments are a clear sign of changes in the legal cannabis market—and the ascendency of legal cannabis candy and confectionery products.

Regional activity

In Colorado, Washington and Oregon, legal cannabis edibles ranked third in terms of market share of dollars sold during 2016, capturing 12% ($269.8 million) of the $2.33 billion cannabis market, according to BDS Analytics, Boulder, Colo.

Since that time, edibles share of sales has increased. BDS Analytics reports that Colorado saw $8 million in sales on candy products during January 2018, capturing 46% of market share. This broke down into $5 million in sales of gummies and $1 million in sales of hard candies, with various other products accounting for the remainder of legal cannabis candy sales.

And while edibles are just as popular in Oregon, consumers there have a slightly different preference. 

BDS Analytics notes that in Oregon, chocolate emerged as the leader, capturing 43% of the market in January 2018 with $1 million in sales, and 39% of the market in February 2018, again with $1 million in sales. The firm notes candy lags behind in second place, with 29% market share on $893,000 in sales for December 2017 and 28% market share in February 2018 on $946,000 in sales. The firm notes that sales of candy might have been hindered by some regulatory issues that arose related to the products in fall 2017.

Product dynamics

Kristi Knoblich Palmer, COO, Kiva Confections, Hayward, CA, says legal candy and confectionery edibles suit consumers looking for the benefits of cannabis in a convenient, standardized format, with consistent cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) dosages.

Kiva Confections produces chocolate bars with both THC and CBD, as well as chocolate bites and Petra mints that each contain a 2.5-gram microdose of THC.

Palmer notes that Kiva’s customers have active lifestyles, but often use the products to help them fall asleep or deal with pain. “They want a consistent product that puts them in control,” she says. “They care about what they put into their bodies, so taste and premium ingredients are an integral part of the edible experience, too.”

In May, Wana Brands, which operates in Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, released Wana Drops hard candies in its Colorado market. The Kiwi-Strawberry flavor features a 1:1 THC to CBD ratio, with each drop containing 5 mg of THC for precise dosage management.

Mindy Segal, a nationally acclaimed chef from Chicago who won the 2012 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, recently launched a legal cannabis edibles brand, Mindy’s Artisanal Edibles—in partnership with Cresco Labs. The products are available in Nevada, and she made the first purchase herself at a Las Vegas dispensary.

Mindy’s Artisanal Edibles offers gourmet, infused chocolates and confectionery products that feature a cannabis distillate to help the products maintain their true flavors.

The chocolates feature Segal’s signature brittle bars offer a 50 mg dose of THC and include Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee, Milk Chocolate Peanut Brittle, Marshmallow Graham and White Chocolate Raspberry Cream. She also offers baked goods like cookies.

Under her Mindy’s Kitchen brand, Segal offers a line of fruit-forward legal cannabis candies, including 10 flavors of gummies and four flavors each of hard candy and fruit chews.

“I created my edible line in a medical marijuana state because I wanted to help people suffering from pain and other symptoms find relief that didn’t taste like bad medicine,” says Segal. “Our products have set a new bar for taste in the industry.” Available gummy flavors include Tropical Fruit, Triple Berry, Green Grape, Ice Tea Lemonade, Mandarin Orange and Pink Lemonade, among others.

The incredibles line from MC Brands offers chocolate bars, gummies, mints and low-dose tarts. The artisan chocolate bars are available in 18 flavors, including Key Lime Pie, S’Mores, Salted Pistachio Mint and Pumpkin Pie. The Black Cherry CBD bar has a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. The fruit tarts products include a high-CBD wellness variety with a 1:10 ratio of THC to CBD, as well as a product with a 1:1 ration of THC to CBD and one with only THC.

Mainstream packaging

Companies offering legal cannabis candy and confectionery products now strive to appeal to the industry’s expanding base of diverse consumers via highly mainstream, sophisticated packaging.

MC Brands recently debuted a sharp redesign of its incredibles product packaging, working with artists and photographers to create the eye-catching new package illustrations and marketing materials. In the new design, the featured ingredients swirl around the company logo, from the cranberries and habaneros in the Fireberry dark chocolate bar to bananas, coconut and walnuts in the Monkey Bar milk chocolate bar, and beyond.

“Our new packaging is a sophisticated reflection of our premium quality,” says Rick Scarpello, founder and CEO, incredibles and MC Brands, Denver.

As is the case for an increasing number of legal cannabis candy and confectionery products, the new incredibles packaging includes child-lock technology, airtight seals and compliance features to exceed safety and regulatory requirements in every state the products are sold.

Cheeba Chews, Denver, produces cannabis-infused chocolate taffy and gummies under the Cheeba Chews and Green Hornet brands. Eric Leslie, marketing director, notes that in Colorado, where regulations for legal cannabis edibles are the most developed, recreational edibles must come in child-resistant packaging and stamped or labeled with a “! THC” symbol. There’s also a 100-mg limit on THC content in recreational packages.

“Rules and regulations are continually evolving, and our ability to remain agile and responsive are the main reasons we’re able to exist in this highly regulated market,” Leslie says.

CBD potential

One type of cannabis has fewer legal issues—CBD, which on its own is completely non-psychoactive and doesn’t have an intoxicating effect. In some states, CBD products have been openly sold over the counter. These products feature either isolated CBD derived from hemp and containing less than 0.3% THC, or full-spectrum hemp oil, which contains CBD and other beneficial compounds—but again, little to no THC. Researchers continue to uncover CBD’s many medical and health benefits.

BDS Analytics says that while the broad edibles category grew by 36% for much of 2017 in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, high-CBD edibles expanded by 110%. And, in the candy market, high-CBD accounted for about 10.5% of the $143.25 million candy market for Colorado, Washington and Oregon between January and October of 2017.

Chocolate sales in general expanded by 47% in 2017, on sales of $65.8 million. But high-CBD chocolates reached 217% growth on $11.45 million in sales. And high-CBD candy grew by 169.5% last year, compared to 51% for candy in general. Gummies are currently the hottest category in CBD, with BDS Analytics citing growth of 1,556% to $5.8 million for high-CBD gummies.

Earlier this year HempLife Today, Denver, announced that it will be adding new CBD gummies to its growing line of CannazALL CBD products derived from hemp. The new CBD gummies will come in two versions with 5-mg and 10-mg CBD potencies. “With this addition we’ll be expanding the CannazALL brand even more as we work to compete in this growing marketplace,” says James Ballas, CEO, “and we expect our new CannazALL Gummies to add significantly to our sales.”

Crystal Lindell is chief editor of Candy Industry magazine. Alyse Thompson, managing editor of Candy Industry, also contributed to this report.