Cannabis consumers have evolved, some say even matured, since the days of illegal, sometimes risky gatherings where friends imbibed in secret – with doors locked and blinds closed.
Fast-forward to today’s $20 billion cannabis industry, based in the 2018 legalization of hemp and, more recently, the more controversial recreational weed. Since the election in November alone, eight states have joined the adult-use group. And over the past decade, the percentage of U.S. adults supporting legalization has risen from 41 percent to 67 percent, writes John Kagia, chief knowledge officer of New Frontier Data, the cannabis industry analytics company.
“The tide of legalization has been driven by dramatic shifts in popular attitudes about cannabis, waning public support for its prohibition and accelerated marketing, normalization and social acceptance of the plant and various products featuring it, Kagia wrote in an introduction to his company’s new report, 2021 U.S. Cannabis Consumer Evolution: Archetypes, Preferences & Behaviors (with the full report available to subscribers). A free online panel discussion on the topic of consumer dynamics in the U.S. market will take place on April 29 at 2 p.m. EST.
One topic sure to come up is that of cannabis approval. This is “one of today’s fastest-changing public policy issues in America,” Kagia wrote, adding, that, not surprisingly, this cultural change has fostered changes in consumption habits: Since 2002, the number of adults consuming cannabis (in this context meaning high-THC cannabis ) at least once a month has doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent, the report said. In addition, there are now more monthly self-identified cannabis consumers – 29.7 million – than there are residents in 14 of the country’s 14 largest cities, combined.
With all the new data coming in from its regular national surveys, New Frontier compiled a list of what it called the 10 consumer “archetypes” of cannabis use:
- Infrequent Partakers, 16 percent: Consume only occasionally and typically use the flower part of cannabis
- Classic Smokers, 15 percent. Consume frequently and do not live in legal states
- Modern medicinals, 13 percent. Consume frequently both as medical and recreational users
- Engaged Explorers, 10 percent. Consume frequently and consume the most different product forms
- Social Nibblers, 9 percent. Consume infrequently and love edibles
- Contemporary Lifestylers, 9 percent. Consume frequently and use both flower and non-flower products
- Holistic Healers, 8 percent: Consume infrequently and use non-flower products
- Savvy Connoisseur , 8 percent. Spend the most and consume the most
- Legacy Lifestylers, 7 percent. Consume frequently and are recreational consumers
- Aching Dabblers, 5 percent. Consume infrequently, mostly flowers.
Along with the archetypes, New Frontier included findings about changes that cannabis businesses have seen as a result of changing consumer behaviors:
- Brick and mortar dispensaries (+13 percent growth, 2018 to date) and delivery services (+7 percent) have seen the largest gain in share among purchase sources since 2018.
- Consumers are spending more in a typical transaction than they did in 2018: $50 or more (+11 percent); $100 or more (+7 percent).
- While the majority of cannabis consumers smoke flower, the proportion of users that consume only flower is rapidly shrinking. Currently, 57 percent consume both flower and non-flower forms, compared to 48 percent in 2018.
Frontier Data also included findings relative to company product decisions and marketing surrounding medical versus adult use:
- The reasons consumers primarily cite for consumption are wellness, relaxation and stress relief.
- Expanded opportunities for brand specialization abound: 42 percent of consumers self-identify as primarily or exclusively medical, while 58 percent identify as recreational.
Also likely to interest cannabis companies are findings around flower versus non-flower preferences:
- The importance of product diversification: Consumption methods vary widely, with 60 percent of legal consumers preferring edibles over joints (49 percent), pipes (34 percent) and vaporizers (34 percent).
- Data that gives companies demographic insight: Cannabis consumer groups between the ages of 21 and 35 are twice as likely as consumers ages 55-plus to use both flower and non-flower forms (e.g., edibles or vapes).
Finally, New Frontier Data offered useful findings on purchasing habits:
- Expanded opportunities for brand specialization exist: 42 percent of consumers self-identify as primarily or exclusively medical, while 58 percent identify as recreational.
- The impact of social acceptance and legal access: Annual adult use has risen 77 percent, from 10.4 percent to 18 percent since 2002.
- The opportunity for customer loyalty programs: Only 54 percent of brick-and-mortar and delivery service shoppers buy from the same business.
- The importance of product diversification: Consumption methods vary widely, with 60% of consumers saying they injest edibles over joints (49 percent), pipes (34 pipes) and vaporizers (34 percent).