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  • Writer's pictureHive Mendocino

What cannabis should learn from craft coffee, beer, and wine

When the possibilities of a legalized recreational market became real, a lot of folx imagined a cannabis industry reminiscent of other craft agricultural products. We had visions of cannabis lounges that felt more like coffee shops, farm gatherings that looked like vineyard events, and an informed consumer base that could discern Durban Poison from Mendo Crumble the way they can a Stout from an IPA. What we have (for reasons too complicated for this blog post) is a lot less romantic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn lessons from those industries that help us advance cannabis now and for the future. In fact, we see many opportunities to learn from craft industries including how we brand regions, build an experience infrastructure, and prioritize education. Combined, these lessons will help cannabis not just serve our existing base but to also cater to folx on the sidelines looking to dabble in mother nature’s medicine.

Brand Your Region

Why is Napa famous for wine? If you’re a connoisseur, you might answer that question with the Judgment of Paris in 1976 where Napa’s Stag Leap Wine Cellars beat out France’s renowned Burgundy & Bordeaux in a blind taste test. While that answer isn’t wrong, it also doesn’t tell the whole story. Winning that competition alone didn’t put Napa on the map. The region’s commitment to building a brand that would support its growing vineyard industry is what anchors Napa as the wine-tasting capital of California.

To cement its position in the wine industry, Napa deployed PR, education, legislation and marketing. Vineyards, tasting rooms, farmers, policy makers, and residents had to cooperate to turn a county in California into a hub of agricultural value. Today, marketing your wine as from the Napa (& Anderson Valley) Appellation is a legally protected privilege brands from the region have in order to evidence quality. In cannabis, we’re starting to see some of this collaboration, we even have our own set of appellations to leverage and promote our regions. However, we have a lot of work to do if places like the Emerald Triangle and Santa Cruz are to actualize the potential they have to become hubs of craft cannabis culture and products. In Mendocino, we see some of this collaboration through the Mendocino Producer’s Guild, Mendocino Generations, and the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance. It’s the start of what will hopefully be the foundation of Mendocino’s brand, elevating the value of the cannabis cultivated by the region’s craft farmers.

Build an experience infrastructure

What craft beer, wine, and coffee all do well is support tourism. From Colombia to Denver, cities and regions become attractive to connoisseurs of the craft goods they offer. The real added value for these regions kicks off when connoisseurs become tourists spending money in the community and with the producers they visit. This tourism requires infrastructure. If the Emerald Triangle, for example, is to attract craft cannabis consumers with spending money, those consumers will need easy access to transportation, delightful lodging, food, beverages, and guides to help them navigate the region. By cooperating together, businesses of many types can optimize the experience of visitors, carving out a piece of the market for each step of the tourism journey. For example, companies like the Sonoma County Experience have been offering wine tours for years and are now opening up to promote the region’s cannabis stakeholders. In Mendocino, events like Anderson Valley’s farmer’s markets and the Mendocino Film Festival attract cannabis visitors and hotels like Yokayo Ranch & MacCallum House offer 420-friendly accommodations.

Tourism isn’t the only opportunity to bring an experience to the masses. Packaging is another way brands can make their products more than a consumable. By focusing your design on telling the unique story of your community, farm, and product, you give your customer an experience of who you are and from where your product comes. Other ways to leverage your products to provide an experience include regional bundles and brand partnerships. Natural Cannabis Company excels at doing this for Northern California craft cannabis by offering their annual Best of Harvest Box. With this product, customers learn about 28 different farms and enjoy a sample of their offerings. It’s as close to being at the farm as you can get and for customers each jar offers a new way of experiencing craft cannabis and the folx who cultivate it.

While supporting tourism is strategic for generating regional income, many of these activities are restricted. We can’t simply copy the model from beer, wine, and coffee and paste it into cannabis. Today, tastings, lounges, and tours are limited by local and statewide legislation. One of the most important acts we can take to open up our industry as we’ve seen in other craft agricultural sectors is to educate our community on the benefits and advocate to our officials to redesign the rules in a way that allows for safe and strategic experiences for cannabis tourists.

Make education an experience

Beer, wine, and coffee drinkers tend to be incredibly knowledgeable about the products they consume. For them, it’s a point of pride and part of their personal brand. To obtain this knowledge and experience, new craft beer drinkers seek out flights, paying a higher price per pour for the opportunity to taste a wide variety of a brewery’s selections. Vineyards have relied on this model for decades, oftentimes opening up one, two or even more tasting rooms in strategic locations, bringing the experience of learning from the farm to downtown tourist hubs like Carmel. With a connoisseur demographic like you see in beer, wine, and coffee, your craft cannabis audience will commit to learning the nuance of cultivation, effect, and purpose if the opportunity to do so is provided.

There are some straightforward ways cannabis brands can make education experiential for their customers. First, consider product bundles that allow consumers to sample your products, learning which is their favorite. If you pair your bundled product with printed content or packaging that educates them on the difference between each offering, you’ll help them determine the patterns behind what cannabis suits them best. Additionally, consider your communications channels like Instagram and email as an opportunity to educate customers on how best to enjoy your cannabis, they know how to get the most out of their experience.

Overall, from industry collaboration to individual brands innovating their products, there are many opportunities for craft cannabis to learn from craft beer, wine, and coffee. While it can be extremely challenging to operate and grow an agricultural business, branding, tourism, and education are all pathways to introduce more customer loyalty and income stability. These opportunities can also help us expand the cannabis market to folx who are canna-curious but don’t know where to start. As we sit here in the first steps of our industry’s journey, it’s easy to be discouraged by the current state of the market. At Hive Mendocino, we’re inspired by the many untapped opportunities that exist for the craft cannabis market to fluorish. It may take time, but if we collaborate together, we can make a thriving craft cannabis industry a reality.

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