In just seven years, Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries has built some of the cannabis industry’s most recognizable brands. Green Thumbs’s impressive portfolio includes brands the company has developed, such as Rythm flower and vape products, Dogwalkers pre-rolls, and Dr. Solomon’s topicals and capsules, as well as acquired brands like Incredibles THC-infused candies and Beboe vape pens and edible pastilles.
“We believe brands are the way to create loyalty and trust in consumers over time,” said chief strategy officer Jennifer Dooley.
Speaking of trusted brands, Green Thumb’s relationship with venerable Incredibles started out as a licensing agreement to enable the company to expand beyond its home state of Colorado. Green Thumb Industries acquired Incredibles in 2019.
Many cannabis businesses recognize the value of licensing agreements, which enable their brands to expand to other states more quickly than they could if they tried to acquire a manufacturing license. Green Thumb Industries employs both strategies–expanding to other states either through licensing agreements with existing brands and acquiring licenses and building its own facilities.
“In Colorado, we now license the brand back to the founders,” Dooley said. “Incredibles is still produced out of the original facility.”
Earlier this year, Green Thumb entered a partnership with California-based Cann to manufacture and distribute its line of THC-infused sparkling beverages.
Green Thumb leadership wanted to add a beverage to their brand portfolio to appeal to consumers who are curious about cannabis but don’t like the idea of smoking it, Dooley said. “They’re not looking for a repeat of their first and only cannabis experience where they got too high,” she said.
At 2.5 milligrams a can, Cann’s social tonics fit the bill.
“Consuming a beverage is a social experience that is comfortable,” Dooley said. “It can ease them in and become more of a familiar experience. It’s a compelling proposition in that it can offer the closest substitute for an alcoholic beverage experience.”
Dooley’s insights are bolstered by compelling data. Cannabis beverage sales are increasing faster than other categories, growing nearly four times faster than total cannabis market sales during 2020, according to BDSA. In 2020, Cann rose from fifth in market share to first with more than 600% growth in sales.
Cann already has a large following in its home state of California, and now Green Thumb’s mission will be to expand that following nationally.
“Brands are not built overnight,” Dooley said. “I’ve had some interesting conversations about whether brands are real and whether they matter in cannabis. It’s all about availability and accessibility — building distribution is super important.”
In addition to building brands, Green Thumb Industries operates 97 retail stores in 12 states. A pending acquisition would add Virginia to the roster. The people who work in its shops must have a passion for the cannabis plant and the product, as well as a desire to learn more about it, Dooley said. Education is a critical component to Green Thumb’s growth strategy.
“We’re seeing more people who have never consumed cannabis before who are coming into stores and wanting to learn more and try things out,” she said. “They’re gravitating toward new and innovative categories that they see in other industries — that’s where beverages come in. Not everyone wants to inhale flower or a vape pen.”
In terms of getting more exposure for its brands, Green Thumb leadership looks for markets where there’s demand they believe they can serve in a unique and compelling way. The company does that through expanding production capacity and opening retail stores, either through acquiring other companies or winning licenses.
“We have been successful at winning applications and we build the facilities ourselves,” Dooley said. “In other instances, we have acquired businesses and production facilities.”
No matter which strategy Green Thumb uses, it all comes back to educating consumers.
“It’s a slow process of people’s minds changing — overturning decades or even centuries of stereotypes,” Dooley said.
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