Hemp D9 Beverages Participate at WSWA's Access Live 2024 in Vegas

Home > Infused Food & Beverages >> Hemp D9 Beverages Participate at WSWA’s Access Live 2024 in Vegas

Written by | February 6th, 2024

Last week marked a significant moment in the beverage industry as the Wine and Spirits Wholesaler Association’s Access Live took place in Las Vegas. Notably, for the first time, hemp D9 beverage brands were granted the opportunity to participate, signaling a new era for this rapidly growing category.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) is a national trade association representing the wine and spirits industry in the United States. Their annual event brings wholesalers and distributors to one centralized location to explore brands that are growing in the ever-evolving alcohol industry.  The debut of hemp D9 beverage brands at the event left a lasting positive impression on the Wine & Spirits Wholesaler Association. The WSWA spoke of continued alignment and support as they expect the category to grow and bring more opportunity to their constituents. All participating brands showcased the category’s variety and potential, from multi-serving to Ready-To-Drink options, seltzers to more artisanal libations.  There were a number of distributors and wholesalers inquiring about the category, but brands knew coming into this event that hemp D9 would be unfamiliar for most and therefore, came prepared to share education about the category, not just their brand.

fable hemp thc drink

While the event celebrated progress, it also shed light on areas for improvement, particularly around how these industry events can better showcase the hemp D9 category in an environment where hemp D9 is ‘new’ to past attendees:

1. Sampling for Hemp D9 Brands is a Must

The absence of sampling opportunities for hemp D9 brands presented a major hurdle. Unlike other categories allowed to sample, this restriction negatively impacts brand exposure and hampers distributors’ ability to fully experience the products.

    • Impact on Future Participation: Without the ability to sample, there is concern that future participation from hemp D9 brands may decline.
    • Educational Material vs. Experience: Distributors and wholesalers benefit more from experiencing the products than relying solely on educational materials.
    • Vegas isn’t for Everyone, especially THC: The association of the venue with an associated casino added complexities related to gaming regulations, insurance, and sampling, creating additional challenges for hemp D9 brands.  Events in other geographic locations will often be more desirable than Vegas.

2. THC Accessibility

While the hemp D9 presentations were extremely accessible and convenient, being on the Live Stage adjacent to the showroom floor, several activities promoting hemp D9 could have been better promoted and executed, including a networking mixer and a Cheech & Chong Meet & Greet, both of which suffered from last-minute announcements and low visibility.

3. Hemp D9 Brands – “We’re Just Like Everyone Else”

Hemp D9 brands are looking for acceptance by the alcohol industry across the board.  While it may seem like a good idea to group the sample category together and create a “hemp neighborhood” within the showroom floorplan to make it easy for those in search of hemp D9 products, it can also make it very easy for the category to be avoided or missed if someone isn’t seeking out this category specifically.  Hemp D9 brands would prefer to be given the opportunity to be next to alcohol brands that bring distributor and wholesaler foot traffic.

4. Continued Education on Regulatory Clarity

Distributors and wholesalers expressed concerns regarding the regulatory landscape, including potential impacts on existing alcohol licenses and legalities in different markets. The need for clarity on the legal status of hemp D9 beverages, including market-specific restrictions, remained a top concern.  WSWA’s EVP of Government Affairs, Dawson Hobbs, was very helpful in conversations with wholesalers and distributors.  For alcohol wholesalers and distributors, hearing the regulatory landscape from a trusted resource at WSWA is the kind of reassurance they need to go back to their regulatory teams and continue exploring and working with hemp D9 brands in market.

Industry experts, including Chris Lindsey of ATACH, Rachel Burkons of Smoke Sip Savor, and Pamela Epstein of Terpene Belt Farms, delivered insightful presentations on the current landscape of hemp D9 beverages and how these beverages can be brought to market legally and marketed responsibly. These sessions garnered significant attention and demonstrated a collective interest in understanding the dynamics of this emerging market, aiming to position it for acceptance and sustained growth.

While being able to participate in WSWA’s Access Live can be chalked up as a win, there were literal wins for the hemp D9 community in the Ready-to-Drink category!  Fable Libations went home with multiple medals in the Ready-to-Drink (RTD) Cocktail category, beating out 15 alcohol-based beverages! Fable’s 3 SKUs each took home a medal – Night Flight secured a Double Gold, Best Zest took home a Gold, and Into The Woods took Silver. In a category on the rise, such victories not only celebrate individual success but also pave the way for the growth and opportunities of others within the hemp D9 beverage space.

The WSWA’s Access Live event in Las Vegas marked a groundbreaking moment for hemp D9 beverage brands, providing a platform for exposure and recognition. While celebrating successes, it is crucial to address the identified areas for improvement, ensuring the continued growth and acceptance of this exciting category in the beverage industry. As the market evolves, collaborative efforts and open dialogue will be essential to overcoming challenges and fostering a more inclusive and informed industry landscape.

Drink Cannabis.