First it was Constellation Brands with a major investment into Canada’s marijuana grow giant Canopy Growth for $200 million. Then a tobacco-concern dipped its toe in the water, buying a stake in two Canadian medical marijuana growers and an industrial hemp firm in its home state of North Carolina. Now the world’s #2 spirits firm, French liquor giant Pernod Ricard signaled it is seriously looking at the cannabis market, both from an opportunity to produce new combination specialty drinks and perhaps actual license-holding operations.
“What are we going to do about it? It’s a little bit early right now to have a clear view as to the real impact cannabis may or may not have,” CEO Alexandre Ricard told a news conference on February 13. And in other comments, he said he did not see marijuana impact yet on higher-end distillates.
Ricard offered his take on how the entire liquor business is attentive to marijuana, saying, “We look at [cannabis] closely. The whole sector is watching it closely,” at a London conference sponsored by Bloomberg.
Ricard’s company, founded in 1805, owns some of the world’s best-known brands, including Seagrams, Absolut, Beefeater, Jameson, Havana Club, Chivas, and its own French market leaders. Pernod has a market cap of €34.7 billion, or about $43.5 billion.
In October, Constellation Brands said it acquired the initial 10% stake (with the option to buy another 10%) to begin to fully understand possible products and other synergies that the US firm might gain in working with Canopy. Using Canada’s bilateral global trade agreements, Canopy has begun supplying raw cannabis and oils to major medical marijuana startups in Germany, Spain, Australia, Israel, and Italy, with expansion continuing around the globe.
New Cannabis Ventures first reported the entry of $1.2 billion (annual sales) Alliance One International, a major global tobacco leaf provider based in North Carolina. Its hemp growing play is ultimately aimed at becoming a major CBD extractor, working under the state’s hemp pilot program, through its 40% acquisition of hemp grower, Criticality.
Traded as NYSE symbol, AOI, Alliance One said it acquired a 75% equity position in Canada’s Island Garden and an 80% stake in Goldleaf Pharm, both mid-sized Canadian medical marijuana producers.
The union of cannabis and alcohol exists already, but only on a small scale. In 2016, one small brewery in the town of Aurora, Colorado launched its ‘Cannabeer’ which fused marijuana with beer. California’s Rebel Coast Winery began selling its alcohol-free cannabis sauvignon blanc last month.
The potential loss of alcohol consumers to cannabis alternatives is a concern to the liquor industry. One recent analysis suggested that since Las Vegas began recreational marijuana sales last July, sales of beer inside convenience stores has dropped 15 to 20 percent. Through 2015, researchers at the University of Connecticut compared same-sales counters sales at grocery, drug or mass chains before and after medical marijuana legalization. In those counties with medical marijuana access, alcohol sales fell by 13%, higher against just wine or beer, according to the researchers.
“When we focus our analysis to bordering counties only, we find that those in MM have lower a reduction in monthly aggregate alcohol sales of 20%, with comparable results for beer and wine.” See the study here.
And with this significant substitution effect, writers argued that prohibitionist claims of “new” driving impairment might be overblown, given the likely reduction in drunk driving. However, further studies are needed to confirm the theorized increased threat from alcohol-and-marijuana combined use.