Ten Ways Wine Can Combat the Threat of Cannabis
Here are five paragraphs from a news story concerning cannabis and wine with which members of the wine industry ought to be very concerned:
Jena, a 27-year-old business operations employee based in Chicago, has consumed alcohol socially for nearly a decade. In recent months, however, she decided it was not worth the calories or hangovers. She switched to cannabis products, and now she smokes marijuana once or twice a week and eats gummy candies with cannabidiol, also known as CBD, a chemical component of marijuana that’s legal and doesn’t intoxicate users.
“I realized that I get zero enjoyment out of drinking and it costs me more money than weed does,” said Jena, who asked to omit her last name because marijuana is not legal where she lives.
The street price for marijuana in Chicago is $18 per gram and the average beer at a bar is $6. Jena said she used to spend $30 to $50 on alcohol in one night, several nights a week, and now spends less than $30 on marijuana a month.
“I definitely enjoy weed better. It’s more relaxing, I don’t have to worry about how I acted the night before, and don’t have to deal with hangovers or throwing up the morning after,” she said.
Meanwhile, millennials drink far less alcohol than past generations, an annual national survey of 50,000 adolescents and young adults in America from the Monitoring the Future Study found. The share of college students who drink alcohol daily fell from 4.3% in 2016 to 2.2% in 2017, a more than 4 percentage-point drop from the 6.5% of college students who used alcohol daily in 1980.
CANNABIS WILL NEGATIVELY IMPACT WINE SALES
For quite some time I’ve argued that legalized cannabis sales will impact wine sales. That view was based on the idea that a number of regular wine drinkers who use the product in part for its inebriatory qualities. Many folks will use wine, for example, in the evening to “come down” off the day’s events and stress. Wine is good at doing this for us. Cannabis is very good at this too. Not only this, cannabis does not deliver calories as wine does, nor does cannabis result in a next day hangover as wine can. Many people who are popping open that $15 Chardonnay, Riesling, Rosé, Merlot or Pinot Noir are going to switch to cannabis in order to get their daily “come down”.
But what of those who use alcohol as a social lubricant, as Jena, in the above story, describes?
But what of the millions of millennials and the very young Gen Z generation, who will come of age when legal cannabis is commonplace? How many of these people who in past times would have chosen wine as their alcohol of choice and who would go on to gain an appreciation for the beverage, will instead choose cannabis?
This is a semi-rhetorical question: the answer is many millions will choose cannabis over wine (and alcohol, in general).
The question for members of the wine industry who are and will be impacted by this shift in behavior is this: Can anything be done to mitigate this threat to current and future sales of wine?
The answer is very little. But there is something.
HOW TO COMBAT THE THREAT TO WINE FROM LEGAL CANNABIS
First, as cannabis becomes legal in more and more states and as the federal government eventually de-schedules cannabis, the wine industry must insist that cannabis not be marketed by using health claims just as wine may not be marketed in such a way. Alternatively, if cannabis may by law be marketed by making health claims, then the wine industry must insist that it be allowed to make reasonable health claims about wine.
Second, if federal or state legislation concerning the sale and distribution of cannabis allows a more lenient or flexible method of sale and distribution than wine (for example, no three-tier system) then the wine industry must insist it be allowed to sell and distribute its product on the same terms.
Third, the wine industry (and alcohol industry) must insist that state and federal authorities develop a reliable means of testing cannabis inebriation levels as well as set a limit of inebriation similar to alcohol blood alcohol limit for “drunk driving” purposes.
Fourth, the wine industry’s marketing geniuses should not shy away from positioning wine as a product that possesses more history, more tradition, more gravitas and more meaning than cannabis….because it does.
Fifth, once establishing the important stature of wine, the industry’s marketing folks must stress over and over again that unlike cannabis, wine is the product through which the individual can experience land, nature and culture.
Sixth, the industry must remind consumers that it is wine that is the indispensable beverage, the drink that makes food on a plate a meal.
Seventh, the wine industry must not participate in any effort to remove the “stoner” stigma from cannabis use.
Eighth, the wine industry must avoid being seen as the enemy of cannabis by opposing legalization on a state or federal level, while at the same time lobbying to assure that wine is not put on a disadvantaged level in the course of cannabis legalization.
Ninth, every level of the wine industry must work together to assure that wine is accessible to consumers in the most convenient way possible, including all forms of direct shipments.
Tenth, it will soon be time for the wine industry to fully fund and engage in collective marketing whereby wine is promoted and advertised in a generic way.
STEPS MUST BE TAKEN
I think it is best for the wine industry to understand the introduction of legal cannabis as a potential substitution for wine and other alcoholic beverages. As I’ve described earlier, I believe there are a stable number of “inebriation dollars” in the economy. These dollars, when devoted to recreational inebriation rather than dependent usage, are spread across the various inebriating products. This means that when there is a new legal inebriating product in the legal sales channel, like cannabis, those finite dollars will be spread across all products, including the newly legal product. This means fewer dollars will be devoted to wine.
There are ways to combat this threat to wine, as I’ve listed above. There are others, surely. If they are not pursued, the growth of the wine category will slow. It’s that simple.