Editor's Plate / Cannabis

Editor's Plate: Even in Cannabis, Taste Is Paramount

Once the novelty of cannabis in food and beverage formulations wears off, that’s what will determine success.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

"Dave, are you sick of hearing about CBD yet?" That was the opening line of an email I got a month ago from a public relations agency, one of many, many, many on the subject of CBD and, to a much lesser extent, THC. And yes, by the time I got that email, I was sick of hearing about CBD.

I confess: I drink a beer or three every week. Just one per evening or sitting. Sometimes, when we go to a restaurant I get a red wine. Why? Because I like the taste of beer, especially with Mexican food. And I like the taste of wine and how it complements the red sauce of the lasagna or the rareness of my steak.

I haven’t drunk alcohol to get drunk in probably a decade. So why would most people drink a CBD or a THC drink – or consume a brownie or gummy for that matter – if it weren’t for the taste? And there you have the whole crux of this CBD/THC discussion and the potential for those two ingredients in food and beverages.

That’s our cover story for this month, and it might as well be the cover story for the next 12 months if you buy into all the hype. But hype it is, and while the twin ingredients of cannabis undoubtedly will find their niches, they will be relegated to niches.

Unless the best-tasting ice cream, hands-down better than Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs combined, happens to also have CBD. And CBD jelly beans that put Jelly Belly to shame. And a chocolate bar better than a Hershey’s Special.

The headlines of those press releases – which I am getting sick of hearing about – say things like “Ex-Red Bull Executive Turns CBD Champion”; “Cannabis: Food and Medicine”; and “Marijuana Plant Nutrients.”

Nobody’s talking about taste. It’s such a well-worn phrase that I’ve avoided using it in a decade or more, but it’s true: Taste is king. It’s the only reason consumers will repeatedly buy your product.

In suburban Chicago, we still have a video rental chain with multiple locations. Somehow it survived when Blockbuster didn’t. Now, the signs outside the store say things like “Rent Black Panther” on one line and “We now sell CBD!” on the other.

Really? At my video store? (And I acknowledge that talking about video rentals dates me.)

To me, putting CBD in a food or drink makes about as much sense as spiking my Diet Coke with ibuprofen. If I have a headache, I’ll take an Advil. I don’t need my drinks or my chocolate laced with painkillers. But there certainly are a lot of entrepreneurs who think food or beverage is the ideal way to deliver what could genuinely be a helpful drug … but which hasn’t yet been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

I’ve heard a number of testimonials about CBD, and it appears to be finding its rightful place in the pantheon of botanicals. But even botanicals is not a huge pantheon.

THC is another matter. As I said, I haven’t over-indulged in alcohol for quite a while, but I know some people do, some of whom are quite respectable. Occasionally, even I like that “zone” where you remain in control but lose the stress and even the inhibition of dancing in front of other people. BTW, I just got back from the IFT Food Expo in New Orleans, where that was demonstrated. I did attend the “Cannabis Edibles” session where two gentlemen of about my age talked of appropriate and legal occasions where they did reach that “zone” with the aid of THC-infused refreshments. It didn’t sound much different than the scene at The Famous Door bar on Bourbon Street.

So it’s probably a smart thing for companies like Constellation Brands, Molson Coors and Diageo to be investigating and investing in something that will likely displace some of their alcohol sales. 

But I don’t think it’s wise for those in the solid-foods space to devote much effort to THC, or CBD for that matter. Edibles and especially candies seem to have established a foothold in places where they’re legal, but both Canadian and U.S. regulators are signaling that anything that remotely looks like marketing to children will be banned. Cigarette companies in the past and now those selling electronic cigarettes are being raked over the coals for such efforts. Those are not the kinds of coals any respectable food or beverage company wants to feel.

The end of Prohibition II may be near. But proceed with caution.

Want to read the entire magazine? Download your copy of the June 2019 Food Processing issue