What We Learned About Cannabis Consumers During the Weirdest Year Ever

In early 2020, it was hard to predict what the full impact of COVID-19 would be. Some companies stood at a standstill while others adapted and pivoted quickly. There were, and continue to be, unprecedented behavioral shifts across all categories – and cannabis is no exception. While you don’t need to be in market research to notice that, we’ve tracked the trends with hard data, and put together key insights for the cannabis industry.

SoapBoxSample specializes in emerging and niche markets, and we’ve been gathering data and analysis about the cannabis industry since 2015. We leverage a range of methodologies from online surveys, to focus groups to insight communities. We thought that nothing could be more interesting than observing the development of The Green Rush Revolution, however, things got extra weird in 2020.

We’ve surveyed thousands of cannabis consumers across the U.S. on a variety of cannabis-related topics, ranging from product preferences to gifting occasions, to changes at their local dispensary related to COVID-19 precautions. It’s clear there are opportunities across all categories in the space to deliver the benefits of the plant directly to consumers.

From illegal to essential – COVID and cannabis

COVID changed everything, including cannabis habits. A survey of 1,000 U.S. cannabis consumers conducted in March of 2020 revealed that 42% of cannabis consumers had made changes to their cannabis routines since the start of the pandemic. Not only did they change the amount they consumed, but they also updated the way they purchased it, and the forms of cannabis they chose to consume.

We learned that the people who started consuming more cannabis were driven by emotional and mental health reasons.

  • 60% sought to relieve stress
  • 53% wanted to calm down
  • 57% were looking for relief from anxiety
  • 34% said cannabis helped them with “cabin fever”
  • 34% said it eased their fear and panic
  • 24% were just bored

Among people who reported that they were consuming less, the top reasons included:

  • 36% didn’t want to go out in public to get it
  • 34% were unsure of their future income
  • 31% said it simply wasn’t a priority at the moment
  • 30% were concerned about coughing or respiratory irritants
  • 25% said they were rationing their supply for fear of running out

Almost overnight, the drivers of consumption shifted from being social and having fun to easing anxiety and falling asleep. Some brands took advantage of these changes and positioned their products for specific use cases and occasions. Others launched new product lines to meet their customers’ needs. By understanding the behaviors, preferences and occasions behind the purchases, brands can make smarter, data-driven, customer-centric decisions.

Delivery Decoded

Many consumers turned to delivery services to avoid the lines and crowds at dispensaries, and 17% of cannabis consumers said they used a delivery service for the first time in 2020, and 33% reported that they relied on delivery services more during lockdown. The influx of demand put a strain on some delivery service providers. Customers reported experiencing:

  • Longer wait times – 40%
  • Items out of stock – 38%
  • Higher prices – 36%

To address customers’ pain points and work toward a “frictionless” experience, the first step is to understand the experiences of consumers. Website and app usability testing can be a helpful first step in diagnosing potential issues – before valuable customers are lost.

Professionals and the Growing Acceptance of Cannabis in the “Workplace”

With many offices suddenly shuttered and the abrupt shift to working from home, SoapBoxSample wanted to understand if the habits of cannabis-consuming professionals looked similar to the habits of the wider population of cannabis consumers. We learned that more professionals are making cannabis part of their workday, and a substantial portion are now “out of the closet” about their usage. A whopping 73% said they are comfortable talking about their cannabis usage with co-workers and more than half (58%) are comfortable talking about it with their boss or clients.

The survey of 450 professionals (166 C-level executives, 35 vice presidents, 118 directors and 131 managers) found that:

  • 34% consume before work
  • 36% during work
  • 34% after work

Nearly half (46%) said they’ve increased their consumption during lockdown. It was interesting to note that among this group of professionals who have increased their consumption, 61% intend to go back to their pre-pandemic habits and don’t consider this to be a permanent lifestyle change.

We also learned that many professionals turn to cannabis products to help them stay motivated during the workday (35% of those who consumed before work), presenting opportunities for brands with product lines geared toward productivity. It’s rare for any product to be “for everybody.” Understanding subgroups and developing detailed profiles of their customers allows brands to create effective and targeted marketing campaigns that speak directly to their customers’ preferences and lifestyles.

Cannabis Consumers are Thirsty for More

COVID-19 ushered in a renewed emphasis on lung health, allowing non-combustible consumption methods to attract new audiences — fast. From March of 2020 to October of 2020, we saw a 10% increase in consumers saying they preferred an edible delivery method. The cannabis beverage category expanded rapidly within a short time frame. In November of 2020, 32% of cannabis consumers said they tried a cannabis beverage in the last 12 months. By January of 2021, that number had jumped to 49%.

What we learned about this growing segment of beverage consumers:
⦁ 53% consume for anxiety relief
⦁ 46% consume to help them fall asleep
⦁ 40% want to enjoy the flavor (compare this with 10% of edibles consumers who say flavor is a top consideration)
⦁ 20% are replacing alcohol with cannabis beverages
⦁ 40% consume cannabis beverages alongside alcoholic beverages

As more beverage brands enter the market and the cultural norms around drinking cannabis evolve, companies will need to gather fast and continuous data from their customers and potential customers. What we learned during 2020 is that behaviors can change in a very short period of time. Brands that co-create their next generation of products alongside their customers by tapping into ongoing insights will be able to create products that fit naturally into people’s lives.

To learn more, visit SoapBoxSample.com/cannabis, where you can sign up for our weekly CANNAfact Friday newsletter.

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