Companies developing cannabis-infused foods and beverages—or looking to enter the market—have a wider playing field to work with in terms of target consumer demographics. In the wake of progressively expanding legislation opening legal cannabis markets across the U.S., we’ve discovered that today’s cannabis consumer comes from all walks of life, and product branding can take myriad viable forms.


Consumer Insights

Jessica Lukas, senior vice president, commercial development, BDSA (formerly BDS Analytics), Boulder, CO, notes that BDSA insights emphasize that cannabis consumers span across generations, socioeconomic backgrounds, needs, and motivations.

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“The edibles category appeals to many, with continued popularity among cannabis consumers at around 69 percent usage,” says Lukas. “Even so, we are seeing a greater proportion of consumers who are young (18–34), single males (57 percent of edibles consumers) living in suburban areas with lower incomes (under $60k).”

A strong, emerging demographic is more urban. “While edibles continue to be popular among the majority of consumers, the market is experiencing an interesting shift, with increased spending in the category coming from higher-income ($150K+), educated (technical school grads, college grads, master’s grads, or higher), professional and white-collar millennials residing in bigger cities,” says Lukas.

The increasingly widespread availability of cannabis in the form of CBD is also a contributing factor, notes Lukas. “Increased access has meant wider exposure.”

Lukas notes 30 percent of U.S. consumers report that edibles is their preferred form of consumption, a proportion that has remained steady. “Among ‘acceptors’—U.S. adults (21+) who do not currently consume cannabis but would consider it in the future—a considerable 43 percent stated a willingness to consider edibles. This continued acceptance will prove essential in driving edibles growth.”

While current spending and consumption stems primarily from younger consumers (Gen Z, younger millennials), notes Lukas, there are a few American population segments representing a largely untapped market, including:

  • Generation X
  • Married couples with children
  • Politically conservative households
  • Service sector workers (e.g., retail workers)

“Though still ‘untapped,’ when these segments do purchase products in the edibles category, spending is notably higher than average,” says Lukas. “The key to successfully breaking into these groups lies within meeting specific desired product attributes: members of these segments tend to value products made with all-natural ingredients with a higher CBD to THC ratio, and also value dosage and portion control. Finally, packaging matters to these groups, as they tend to seek more-attractive options that also allow for convenience of consumption and portability.”

Cannabis has already broken into the mainstream, with widespread U.S. acceptance. “Mainstream acceptance is already healthy, with 69 percent of adults in fully legal U.S. states consuming or open to consuming cannabis,” says Lukas. “Cannabis as a mainstream product will most likely be the result of greater emphasis on innovation and niche-marketing to specific consumer groups. We expect to see this trend grow through 2020 and beyond, particularly as more states legalize and enable recreational cannabis sales.”

Product branding has grown increasingly mainstream. “Cannabis products are now acting like consumer products, and packaging, branding, naming and visual merchandising/presentation are important components,” says Jackie DeLise, brand growth strategist, global wellness trends and design consultant, writer, speaker, educator, The Wellery, LLC, East Norwalk, CT. She points to product dynamics like taste, efficacy through dosing (including micro-dosing), portability, quality, brand reputation, communications, and ease of dispensability as impacting consumer relevance.

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Consumer insights from New Frontier Data, Denver, can help provide a better understanding of today’s cannabis consumer, based on consumption habits, preferences, and experiences.

Infrequent Conservatives 9% Light Older, recreational consumers who use cannabis a few times or less per year for relaxation
Silver Dabblers 14% Light Typically single, older men who use cannabis a few times or less per month for relaxation
Social Opportunists 17% Light Largest consumer group, people who use cannabis a few times or less per year in group settings
Discreet Unwinders 8% Moderate Mothers of adult children who have been using cannabis for decades while strongly believing in the health benefits of cannabis
Weekend Enthusiasts 11% Moderate Most often parents in their early 40s who consume cannabis regularly to decompress and enjoy their free time
Medical Purists 12% Moderate Most likely to use cannabis for its medical and wellness benefits, consuming daily, often by themselves
Functional Dependents 5% Heavy Young, hard-partying cannabis evangelists who spend more than $100 per month on cannabis
Modern Life-stylers 10% Heavy Young consumers with high incomes who consume a variety of product types for a range of reasons
Traditional Lifestylers 14% Heavy Young, diverse, single consumers who are high-spenders and consume cannabis daily

Recreational vs. Medical

Segmentation can occur based on recreational vs. medical use. “Demographics continue to evolve around usage, generally with a younger group for recreational, and skewing older for medicinal,” says DeLise. But she notes perspectives on recreational and medical cannabis are starting to shift.

“Research has discovered changing attitudes among the fastest-growing population segment of cannabis users: adults ages 60 and older,” says DeLise, referencing the “Measuring Attitudes toward Medical and Recreational Cannabis among Older Adults in Colorado,” study that appeared in the May 14, 2019, issue of journal The Gerontologist. The study was funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

This research shows that seniors are blurring the lines between medicinal and recreational cannabis use, says DeLise. “Data were collected from a 2017 cross-sectional survey of 274 older Coloradans ages 60 to 94, with a mean age of 72, about 65 percent of whom were women who were recruited from senior centers, health clinics, cannabis clubs, and dispensaries statewide. The survey included 83 questions on a variety of topics exploring the attitudes, prevalence, predictors, patterns, and health outcomes relating to cannabis.”

DeLise notes that while about 60 percent of older adults strongly agreed that the “use of medical cannabis is acceptable,” only about 30 percent strongly agreed on the general acceptability of adult-use cannabis.

About 45 percent of the survey respondents reported using cannabis within the past year. Of these, 54 percent reported using cannabis both medically and recreationally. Those who used cannabis within the last year reported “improved overall health, quality of life, day-to-day functioning, and improvement in pain.”

Respondents reported that the most-common reasons for cannabis use include treating arthritis and back pain, followed by anxiety and depression. “The survey found that many seniors are experiencing age-related health-care needs, and some take cannabis for symptom management, as recommended by medical doctors,” says DeLise.

The study also discovered a large and growing number of “naive users” trying cannabis for the first time, notes DeLise. “Also, and interestingly, the older demographic is trying to avoid opioid prescription drugs and have found cannabis to be an acceptable alternative.”