How a non-cannabis startup is riding the edibles wave

Sugar-Marie looks to build a brand of "cannabis-ready" products while sidestepping the challenges of a highly regulated industry.

SugarMarie

Cannabis sales may have fallen short of expectations during the first year of legalization, but consumer interest in the category remains high among Canadians. Edibles, in particular, appear poised for growth, as the most intriguing cannabis format among 48% of those recently surveyed by Mintel, while 66% of non-users are interested in edible and drinkable cannabis, according to the research firm.

This bodes well for cannabis players, of course. But as Mintel points out, there’s also an opportunity for non-cannabis brands in tangential industries, such as travel, gaming and food. Cannabis-adjacent companies can “carve out a share of the cannabis market – whether that’s in an overt or more subtle way,” notes Mintel analyst Scott Stewart, while sidestepping the challenges of operating in a strict regulatory environment.

Sugar-Marie, a Montreal-based startup offering food kits designed to facilitate cannabis-infused cooking, is one of the brands looking to capitalize on this opportunity.

The company launched in January with its first product, the LOL POP, a kit that contains all the ingredients needed to prepare 10 edible pop cakes – save for the cannabis oil that makes them edibles; consumers must purchase their oil from an authorized Canadian retailer.

The LOL POP kits cost $24.95 each and are currently available online only in Montreal, though the company is negotiating partnerships that should see the product distributed across the Greater Toronto Area (where regulations around edibles are most lax and demand is higher) within the next two to three months, according to founder Paul Verdy, who is also one of the co-founders of Finefleur.ca, a French-language reference site for edibles recipes.

While Sugar-Marie is currently focused on rolling out the LOL POP, within a year it anticipates releasing additional kits for cookies, madeleines (a French pastry) and other upmarket desserts, says Verdy. “Confectionary is the focus for year one, but again, I believe that the whole concept of cannabis-ready applies to many other categories.”

As opposed to directly entering the cannabis space, Sugar-Marie’s “cannabis-ready” proposition offers many advantages, says Verdy. Consumers have more control over composition, strength and dosage; they select a cannabis oil according to their own tastes and desired THC or CBD levels, for example. It enables distributors to offer a wider range of product by avoiding the challenges of creating dosage-specific SKUs.

Sugar-Marie is not the first product to play on the cannabis periphery. Others, such as B.C.-based Paracanna, which produces “Zen Zinger” gummy candies, and Alberta-based ReTreat, which sells ready-to-bake cookies, brownies and squares, appear to have a similar consumer in mind.

But Verdy believes Sugar-Marie differentiates by creating gourmet cannabis experiences that simplify the cooking experience and designing kits so that groups can assemble together. “The whole idea of preparing the dessert with other people, family and friends really speaks to the pleasure of sharing,” he says. “The process is very social and it’s not just something passive… The same way we have fun mixing and sharing cocktails with two or more people applies here.”

Verdy believes that consumers will become more preoccupied with their method of cannabis consumption as time passes and that ingestible forms can appeal to those concerned with the impacts of smoking. He notes that scientific advancements have accelerated the speed at which the effects of ingesting cannabis are felt, from an hour or more down 20 minutes or less, addressing one of the category’s chief challenges. “We believe that this is a huge turning point that will accelerate the beverages and edibles industry,” he says.