Business

Cannabis sellers change marketing tactics to reach female consumers

Long before marijuana showed up in fancy dispensaries, the weed market mostly consisted of young guys who love to get high. So it stands to reason that early purveyors of legal weed mostly emphasized the potency of their products and leaned heavily on stoner culture, including Instagram images of scantily clad women and giant plumes of smoke.

“It was Duck Dynasty, meets Wu-Tang, meets a lot of misogyny,” says Adrian Sedlin, the chief executive officer of Canndescent, which became California’s top-selling weed brand last year.

Now that marijuana is legal for adult use in nine states including the massive California market, cannabis purveyors are keen to push beyond the core demographic of stoner bros. Women have become one the fastest-growing customer segments — whether it’s moms trading in their chardonnay for a vape pen or yoga acolytes seeking out weed-infused pain-relievers.

Female consumers still account for only about 31 percent of the U.S. market, according to Headset, which studies the cannabis market. By contrast, alcohol consumption is much closer to an even split between women and men. Hoping to get more women into its stores, Canndescent is tailoring its products and marketing to them. “For us, it was about taking it out of that counter-culture visual and putting an inspirational lifestyle behind it,” Sedlin says.

Rather than use strain names like Durban Poison and Green Crack, Sedlin’s products are named to reflect an intended effect: Calm promises restful sleep or relief from aches; Connect is for smokers who want to hang out with friends or get intimate. “We made a decision that potency wasn’t going to the headline,” Sedlin says. “You shouldn’t need a Ph.D. in weed science to make a basic purchase.”

Some women are drawn to beauty and wellness products infused with cannabidiol, an ingredient in marijuana that doesn’t get you high. Those who want to get stoned, lean toward edibles and vape pens, which are more discreet than joints and make it easier to control the dose. “They’re not necessarily looking to get inebriated and they don’t want to stink like a skunk because they just smoked weed,” says Linda Gilbert, managing director of consumer insights at BDS Analytics, which tracks the marijuana market. “It’s more about taking the edge off their pain or anxiety.”

As the industry expands to more states and starts to mature in markets that have already legalized marijuana, more brands are directly targeting women. Prohbtd, a Los Angeles-based cannabis branding and content company, has found that women consume more edibles (cereal bars; cookies; gummies) than men, often for help with sleep. The company has a cooking show called Pot Pie hosted by a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef that airs online and has proven popular with female cannabis users, according to Drake Sutton-Shearer, the chief executive officer.

Kate Miller, one of the founders of a female-oriented online zine called Miss Grass, realized about 10 years ago that the cannabis market was missing a big opportunity with women. As a student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, she took a part-time job at a weed dispensary, back when pot was legal medically and regulations were so lax that almost anyone could get a medical card. “It was all for stoner bros,” she says. “It really didn’t match up with how my friends and I were using cannabis.”

Miss Grass, which is backed by the rapper Snoop Dogg, recently hosted a yoga event in New York co-sponsored by Beats by Dre, the headphone brand owned by Apple Inc. Miss Grass positions itself as a lifestyle brand, and is meant to be an “entry point” for women new to cannabis, and curious about how it might fit into their lives.

After weed was legalized in Canada last week, the magazine ran a feature on places to eat, drink, work out and shop in Toronto. Another recent story discussed how the infusion of cannabis into beauty products could help end prohibition in the U.S. Miss Grass has also published a guide for making CBD cocktails.

For women who equate weed with a glass of wine, Aspen, Colorado-based Toast is pitching a line of premium low-dose joints, called “slices,” aimed directly at drinkers. Toast Gold is supposed to deliver the same buzz as a glass of champagne; Toast Reserve is supposed to mimic the effect of a Scotch. The company is using marijuana with more CBD than is typical, with the idea that more and more consumers are interested in casual relaxation, rather than the intense high that can come from smoking a large joint. Toast isn’t cheap: A box of 10 joints sells for upwards of $70.

“We saw a stoner world we could disrupt,” says Chris Burggraeve, a former Anheuser-Busch chief marketing officer who helped found the company. “THC has been all the rage in stoner circles, but we’re trying to bring in a new customer.”

Meanwhile, CBD, touted as a pain reliever and stress reducer, is finding its way into everything from face cremes and baked goods to cocktails and sports drinks. Green Growth Brands, an Ohio company backed by the Schottenstein family of DSW and Value City fame, is preparing to launch a line of CBD body lotion called Seventh Sense at a female-oriented retail chain it would rather not identify.

Peter Horvath, a veteran of Victoria Secret and American Eagle Outfitters who runs Green Growth, says he expects the new products to expand to thousands of stores across the U.S. and appeal to men and women. For men, the beauty products will be something they “find in their girlfriend’s shower,” Horvath says. “If you appeal to women, everyone will want it. It’s exactly the opposite of what the industry is now.”