Recent projections estimate the CBD market will see $15-20 billion in sales in the next 5 years, with the expansion of CBD into mainstream retail driving most of the influx. Some of these sales are going to be existing customers increasing their consumption, but the bulk will come from novel consumers. First-time CBD users tend to be in their 30s and 40s, educated, and employed. This is the person whose tastes will drive the emergent market. What will they be looking for in CBD products?
Ease of use
There are many products on the market that, frankly, look and taste awful, but they succeed because their form factors make consumption convenient. The emergent CBD consumer isn’t looking for bongs and dabs; they want products they perceive as more sophisticated. Clean, tidy, portable.
Discretion & Tastefulness
CBD doesn’t bear the stigma of THC but delivery methods can look the same, which lends practical support to the new consumer’s otherwise subjective preferences. For their most common applications, cannabinoids require periodic administration. Professionals may be interested in consuming CBD consistently throughout the day, which calls for a non-obvious delivery method. Beverages and beverage additives, elevated tincture formats, and transdermal patches seek to address this.
Does the product deliver its promised effects? This can be a tricky one when structure-function and medical claims are verboten. Marketers have to approach from a glancing angle, using non-specific words like “calm,” and “relief” to code for CBD’s established medical effects. With customer expectations based on such inference, how will they assess whether a product “works?” As producers, our job is to overshoot the mark and make our products as effective as possible.
Unfortunately, many formulations include CBD as an afterthought rather than an active ingredient. Products need to be treated as delivery matrices for CBD; their job is to efficiently and pleasantly usher the active ingredient to the consumer. In order to be effective, CBD must be delivered in sufficient dosage, and it benefits tremendously from co-administration with native phytochemicals such as terpenes and flavonoids. While these can be a sensory challenge due to their bitterness and perceived “chemical” notes, they can also direct or integrate the flavor profile to make it feel more natural. Terpenes and terpene blends are a way to bend the subjective CBD experience and even offset the small number of potentially undesirable effects.
If customers find a product’s drawbacks outweigh its benefits, then they will most likely not purchase it again. If they do not find their product to be effective at all they will relegate CBD to the snake oil bin, with dire repercussions for the industry as a whole.
In the pre-legalization market, taste was de-prioritized and the natural bitterness of cannabinoid extracts was the price you had to pay for the effects. (There are even some who currently argue that cannabis’ bitterness helps it be taken more seriously as medicine.) But for the casual, more recreational user, it’s hard to see why unpalatability is anything but a challenge to overcome.
Fortunately, relaxed stigma around cannabis has made higher-skill talent available from the food and beverage science industry, where bitterness is an old and oft-vanquished foe. By porting people and technology from there, we can avoid reinventing the wheel.
At SōRSE, stability is our claim to fame, but the truth is customers don’t give much thought to it — at least not consciously — until it fails. Rather it is an expectation they have of mainstream commercial products, only noticeable when it is absent. As the CBD market becomes more polished, products that separate or require shaking will be viewed as unprofessional. Stability work is an indispensable part of product formulation, especially for complex concentrates with diverse chemical profiles. We’ll see more and more customers asking for this as the market matures.