Exploring an opportunity in premium cannabis

Licensed producer Organigram has launched a line extension that will cater to consumers with more informed tastes.

Moncton-based licensed producer Organigram has launched The Edison Project, a premium line extension of Organigram’s existing medical cannabis products aimed at a more educated patient who is passionate about the content and cultivation of what they buy.

The Edison Project is differentiated from Organigram’s other products and defined by three major characteristics: it uses the top flower of the plant, where most of the energy and resources are directed; the flowers are hand-manicured by technicians who trim and handle each flower individually to ensure they grow to the highest standards; and uses a proprietary craft curing process to ensure a more “alluring” flavour and aroma.

The first Edison Project products were made available this week to registered medical patients, but Ray Gracewood, chief commercial officer of Organigram, says it will also serve as a learning opportunity for the recreational market following the planned legalization in July.

“We have a couple different paths we could take from a portfolio perspective going into adult recreational,” Gracewood says. “If a product like [The Edison Project] resonates with our medical patients, that’s an incredible opportunity to use that data to really influence our adult recreational strategy.”

There is an easy comparison to make between the potential for growth in “premium” cannabis products and the boom in craft beer that has occurred over the last several years  which isn’t lost on Gracewood.

Before joining Organigram two years ago, Gracewood spent 12 years as a marketing director at Moosehead Breweries, and did a lot of work on its craft-oriented Hop City and Cracked Canoe brands. While there, he saw that drinkers in the craft beer category tend to only drink craft beer, which is a fairly clear point of segmentation within the beer market. Those beer drinkers knew the flavours, ingredients and style of beer that appealed most to them. But since entering the cannabis industry, Gracewood has seen that point of segmentation even more pronounced among cannabis consumers, some of whom have ample knowledge about and preference for things like the levels of certain cannabanoids, THC content and harvesting methods.

“Craft beer consumers have nothing on cannabis consumers in terms of understanding the product,” Gracewood says. “There’s so much that cannabis consumers really geek out on that lends itself to an interesting branding opportunity where you can really tap into that as an insight to offer a premium product… to an educated cannabis consumer that cares a lot about [the process behind curing cannabis].”

Last week, the government of Canada opened a consultation period for its proposed regulations around legalized recreational cannabis. The rules for advertising and packaging were similar to those suggested by the government’s legalization task force in the summer, which called for plain packaging and very limited advertising channels, similar to tobacco.

Organigram was among a coalition of producers that worked with Ad Standards to create a different set of proposed regulations earlier this month, which would hold producers to strict and responsible advertising guidelines that would still allow them to build their brands in the marketplace. With the consultation period now open, members of that coalition are now forming questions to pose to the government and Health Canada to get more clarity around the government’s rules before the deadline for submissions on Jan. 20.

Gracewood was among those who have said the ability to build strong brands in the cannabis industry would be important in helping licensed producers succeed over the illicit market. Organigram is one of several companies that has been focusing production and communication around the quality and content of its products, something The Edison Project builds on further. That has helped Organigram build its brand in some respects among medical customers, but continuing that for the larger recreational market will be a challenge if it is limited in how it can communicate that quality mission and provide further education.

“Our thinking is that brands deserve a right to exist and brands are necessary to educate consumers on quality differentiation and what makes regulated, legal product a higher quality and more dependable product than those from the illicit market,” Gracewood says. “And if brands don’t exist, we’re going to have a really tough time telling consumers how important those difference are.”