While CBD-infused foods and beverages remain largely the domain of small, independent marketers, cannabis multi-state operators (MSOs) serving both legal-use and medical-use states are charging ahead with increasingly sophisticated retail and product branding strategies that position them for growth.

Future growth indeed seems inevitable considering that 2019 retail sales of cannabis products reached an estimated $14.4 billion and were up 24 percent from 2018 levels, according to market research firm Packaged Facts' January 2020 report Cannabis and CBD: US Retail Market Trends and Opportunities.

With so much opportunity, these cannabis players, which market their products on a state-by-state basis, are quickly developing footholds nationwide. For example, Cresco Labs’ dispensaries provide the company with a retail presence in seven states. The company is updating all of its stores to fall under its new Sunnyside wellness brand. Upon entry to the Sunnyside location in Wrigleyville, Chicago, the customer is immediately greeted by well-designed posters promoting Cresco’s own flagship brands (Remedi, Mindy’s Kitchen, Cresco).

Cresco’s eponymous brand is positioned for everyday use, with its website emphasizing the product’s consistent quality. Much like a premium coffee or top-shelf liquor, Cresco’s Reserve brand stresses its superlative quality, while Cresco’s health-forward brand, Remedi, puts a stake in the ground as a possible alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals. The brand appears committed to a high level of customer service as a means of differentiation. Interspersed among its products are posters in the brand’s signature orange color that pose questions many first-timers might be pondering, such as: “CBD or THC: What’s the difference?” and “Will cannabis help me sleep better?” Below each question, it states: “Ask us anything.”

But CBD-infused food and beverage innovation is also not hard to find. Among 11 states where CBD is legal without restriction, Illinois provides a glimpse at CBD-infused food and beverage product trends. Packaged Facts analyst visits to three retail shops in Chicago’s trend-forward Wicker Park neighborhood demonstrate the wide variety of CBD-infused products available to consumers. There, probiotic dairy shop The Lifeway Kefir Shop peddles Kefir-based frozen treats and healthy smoothies — including CBD oil smoothie boosts. Meanwhile, sitting alongside cans of high-end coffee and bottles of collagen water, CBD beverage brands like Vybes, made with Colorado-grown hemp extract, look right at home in local independent mini-chain Goddess and the Grocer’s open cooler display.

These innovations bode well for a market still in the throes of nascent-stage growth.

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