View from the C-Suite: Truss unveils five new cannabis beverage brands

How CMO Lori Hatcher helped the Molson-Hexo joint venture build a product line that caters to various cannabis occasions.

Lori Hatcher

Truss Beverages spent the last two years designing a portfolio of cannabis-infused beverages around specific cannabis occasions.

The joint venture between Molson Coors and licensed cannabis producer Hexo (then known as Hydropothecary) was formed in 2018, with the goal of creating not just a cannabis company, but rather what CMO Lori Hatcher calls “an entirely different kind of beverage company.”

Truss planned to bring its first products to market by the end of last year. But those plans were postponed, says Hatcher, so that the 50-person company could focus on getting the beverages “to the very best place and [to] feel really good about the product and the experience.”

Over the next several weeks, it will begin rolling out the fruits of its two-year-long development process: 13 different products under a portfolio of five initial brands, from “crisp and easy drinking” Mollo beverages to the more “bold and high-intensity flavoured” XMG label.

In launching now, the company is entering a race that includes Canopy Growth – which became the first major producer to market with its ready-to-drink cannabis drinks in March – Phivida, Hill Street Beverage Co., as well as Everie, a brand of CBD sparkling drinks from Fluent, a joint venture between cannabis producer Tilray and AB InBev, and others.

Strategy spoke to Hatcher about building Truss’ portfolio while working alongside AOR Rethink on brand development and strategy, We Are Social on social, Epitaph on media and Agnostic on PR.

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When you say you don’t see yourselves as a traditional cannabis company, what do you mean? How does that align with what consumers think of you? 

We want consumers and our partners to see us as beverage experts. It’s not just about cannabis for us. It’s about taking the power of this plant and entering it into the beverage space. There’s around two billion occasions a year for cannabis. That’s a lot of occasions. But there are 140 billion beverage occasions a year in Canada.

We want to be seen as those beverage experts that can be trusted to have the best-tasting products that are super consistent. That’s the other thing we’ve heard from consumers about beverages. With other formats, it’s difficult to get good consistency. We offer consistent dosing so that consumers know what to expect every time.

Early on, Truss planned to launch six brands. Why did that seem like the right number of brands to have, and why have you now come out with five? 

I wouldn’t say there’s a magic number [of brands]. My very first week at Truss, we sat in one week of focus groups, with everyone from heavier, more experienced users to consumers who had never even actually had cannabis before, because we wanted to understand how cannabis beverages could fit in their lives. Our approach has been, ‘What are the different occasions for consumers?’ We have built brands around five of them, everything from wellness to hanging out with friends, even mental acuity and helping you focus. By understanding those occasions, we’ve been able to develop a portfolio to fit the needs of those different consumers.

One of the reasons we’ve launched such a large portfolio is we want consumers’ feedback. We can’t wait to get these products out there and listen. What do they like? What don’t they like? How might we optimize this portfolio to build it out over time? You can have all the research in the world. But you really don’t learn until consumers can experience your products.

Before this launch, Truss announced Flow Glow Beverages, created in collaboration with Flow Alkaline Spring Water. Will that product line complement the brands you’re coming out with now? 

Flow was a partner brand that we were going to have as part of the portfolio. With changing business and with COVID right now, Flow has decided to focus on other areas of their business. They’ve been amazing partners, but they won’t be part of the launch portfolio.

Tell us about the individual brands you’re launching. How do they differentiate and complement each other to form a coherent brand strategy? 

Truss_HOT_LimonenI’ll highlight a few of them. First, there’s Veryvell, which we [consider] more of a wellness brand. We’ve initially launched a drops product under this brand, with three different formulations, and will be coming out with CBD waters and a better-for-you iced tea under this lineup. It’s all about the occasions where consumers use cannabis for wellness.

Another occasion is socializing. [For that], we have a brand called House of Terpenes. Terpenes are like the essential oils of cannabis – they are fascinating and delicious – so we want to focus on flavours with this brand. We’ve taken individual terpenes and concocted mocktails that elevate the individual terpene. One that’s rolling out now in Ontario is called House of Terpenes, with Limonene and Sparkling Tonic. We’ve taken Limonene, which tastes like lemon and tangerines, and complemented it with lemon, thyme and a little west-coast hop. We’re going to have several products within the [House of Terpenes] portfolio. It’s for the occasion where you’re getting together with friends and want to try something different.

The one I’m most excited about is Little Victory. It’s about celebrating the little moments in life and not waiting for the big ones. This is a line of flavoured sodas, with a nice 2.5 milligram dose of CBD and THC, that is super approachable, with natural flavours. It’s great for get-togethers with friends. We have other brands that fit under [different] occasions.

Research has shown that cannabis brands are still struggling to differentiate and drive sales through greater awareness. Are there similar challenges in cannabis beverages? Are consumers thinking functionality first, brand second? 

That’s something that we will find out. In beverages, I think product will probably be more important than brand — to begin with. This is beverages, and we know people want them to be delicious and they want them to be consistent. We put so much effort into building the best product we can, and we look forward to getting consumer feedback so we can optimize them.

But our focus really has been product first, because we know that if consumers love the product, we can build the brand over time. It’s going to be about, ‘What’s the best-tasting product? What’s the best experience and does it really fit in my life?’ And that’s what’s going to be most important first as we launch.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.