The food and beverage industry finds itself in an interesting position right now. 

We’ve had several years of big changes from outside forces—regulatory revisions, economic challenges, shifting consumer demands and so on—but in a broad sense, the industry itself hasn’t changed that much. 

There have been changes in how food and beverages are produced, to be clear. But what there hasn’t really been recently is much of a change in what food and beverages have been produced. The industry has evolved to meet those external forces, but most of that change has come from rethinking quantities and package sizes, as opposed to switching what kind of food and beverages are being produced. 

Ingredients have certainly changed as the industry has adapted to what consumers want in their food (or want left out). Allergen control has also become a big focus, as well as gluten-free products. 

On the beverage side, we’ve seen the rise of craft breweries and energy drinks, as well as adaptations of existing products such as zero-sugar colas. But overall, these developments have all fit in the same big buckets of products that have existed for years.

But 2019 might be a year where we see a big shift in the food and beverage industry. Cannabis has been on everyone’s radar for a long time, but with more states (and countries, including Canada) legalizing it, we’re starting to see its momentum build. 

When I was at PACK EXPO earlier this year, one of the first people I talked to—on the morning of the opening Sunday—asked me what I knew about cannabis. He posed the question because, as he put it, “Those guys are everywhere here this year.” I heard the same thing over and over the next few days, with the consensus being that the cannabis producers were in a position to start ramping up production to a scale that their current equipment couldn’t handle. 

Make no mistake about it: Cannabis products are still a pretty small portion of the food and beverage market overall, because they so far are limited in where they can be sold. But as we saw in the November election results, the trend is heading toward more access, not less. That means that before too long, we could be looking at an entirely new market nationwide. 

That would certainly qualify as a big change. We’ve got cannabis on our radar this year, and we’ll explore the topic in both special supplements and regular coverage in the magazine. And we’re keeping an eye on opportunities to cover it online, because the pace of industry announcements is definitely picking up. I would imagine that a lot of you—or at least your companies—are thinking about what cannabis could mean for your operations as well.

It’s not very often that you get to be involved in something entirely new, especially in an industry as established as food and beverage. But the opportunity appears to be coming, and that’s something to be excited about.