Can/Should Large-Scale Operators Adopt Craft Cannabis Practices?
The legalization of cannabis has not only expanded the market but presented an opportunity to deeply explore and appreciate the potential within the plant. In fact, there is a growing number of consumers that are looking for specific qualities within their cannabis plant, whether it's a strain, terpene level, flavour profile or cultivation technique. These consumers expect to pay more for their product and are actively seeking producers that consistently respond to their needs. Master growers have identified techniques that are able to bring out nuances within the cannabis plant, elevating the entire cannabis experience. Currently, the majority of these growers are craft cannabis producers that hone their product in small batches allowing them to focus on the quality of the plant.
But, can commercial and large licensed producers apply these practices to a larger scale?
When Did Quality Get Put On The Back Burner?
Back in 2018, investors were excited by the upcoming legalization of cannabis. They connected with licensed producers making their funding decisions, not based on what was produced, but how much the licensed producer was able to produce. In October 2018, filling the square footage with plants and maximizing production became the primary objective, and quality (as well as a grower's experience) were often not a consideration.
Fast forward to today, and these licensed producers are beginning to identify the challenges with this process. Savvy consumers are rejecting substandard products and are seeking licensed producers that are able to deliver consistent, quality buds, and extracts.
A Well Crafted Cannabis Experience Starts In The Grow Room
Environmental factors, such as LED lighting, temperature, and grower’s technique including pruning, can dramatically affect the characteristics of a cultivar. Investing in good genetics is only a part of the puzzle. It is an ongoing journey, where the grower balances their craft with science to develop a strategy that will bring out the full potential of the plant. To become a leader in cannabis one goal needs to always be top of mind-Quality. Producers must deliver a consistent, quality cannabis product where the end-user is able to experience the unique attributes of the genetic strain.
Currently, there is a belief that standard cultivation facilities (often assumed to be large commercial ones) are either focused on quantity OR quality.
Do cultivators really need to choose one over the other? We don’t think so.
In fact, one example of an industry that has recognized the value of focusing on quality in order to maximize the profit in their large-scale operation is the specialty coffee industry.
What Coffee Can Teach Cannabis?
Similar to the craft cannabis industry, the specialty coffee industry began with micro-roasters. These roasters were focused on perfecting the art and science of discovering the full potential hidden within the coffee bean. Their methods were driven by their quest for quality, and it was initially believed that this could only be done with small-batch roasting.
These micro-roasters awakened consumers to the fact that not all roasts were alike. They engaged the customers in a conversation about coffee, sharing the story of the cup from the growing environment (elevation, soil quality, biodiversity) to the artisanal aspect of roasting elevating the consumer. However, It wasn’t until Starbucks entered the market that it moved from a select few coffee connoisseurs to the mass market. Today, there is a growing number of consumers that no longer balk at the higher coffee price, because they have a deep understanding of why you pay for quality.
The coffee industry is a clear example of how consumers have willingly paid substantially more for a quality cup-o-joe. Although the legal cannabis space is still in its infancy, there is already a growing consumer base that is demanding quality dry flowers and pure extracts.
Is It Too Late For Commercial Operations To Join The Craft Game?
Commercial producers have the opportunity to become “Starbucks” in the cannabis space. However, to get there, each component of the operation including sourcing the genetics, the infrastructure, and the cultivation techniques needs to focus on the craft practices required for a quality product.
Quality needs to come above and beyond everything else.
“We firmly believe Standard LPs can achieve this 'craft cannabis' folklore...IF, they focus on the quality of the product vs the quantity,” said Ryan Kirwin, CEO of Aelius LED.
“It’s about taking that step back and identifying what they are potentially losing when the focus is solely on pushing out products to maximize profit.”
The fact is, as more and more consumers become aware of the dynamic experiences associated with the cannabis plant, they will begin to actively seek out the licensed producers that use craft practices and care deeply about the end-user and the plant.
Moving Into The Craft Cannabis Space?
To successfully enter into the craft cannabis space large-scale licensed producers need to shift their mindset. This begins by establishing a strong foundation including sourcing good genetics and most importantly, developing a strong partnership with your master grower. However, hiring the right staff will only work if the licensed producer respects and values the grower's insights and provides them with the resources that they need to develop quality plants.
“The head grower should be involved in just about every conversation that has to do with the plants…and too often they are not, “ said Kirwan. “ It is the head grower that will make sure that these genetics are reaching their full potential.”
This begins by partnering with a master grower that is passionate about the industry, understands the genetics, and the tools and techniques needed to produce consistent, quality crops. A knowledgeable grower will be able to provide the licensed producer with not just a recommendation, but the information that supports why this solution is the best one for their production. HPS lights, for example, are still the least expensive way to get set up, however, a resourceful head grower will be able to identify that the performance of LEDs (and the quality and consistency of plants that they are able to produce) far outweighs the initial upfront investment. In fact, quality LED lights can make a substantial difference in the yield, potency, terpenes, consistency, and energy cost.
There is no question that shifting the focus of the operation to quality is an investment. However, this short-term commitment (and temporary slow down in production) will start to pay for itself once consumers become aware of the consistent, quality plants that your operation is producing.
Let us know what you think? Will Craft Cannabis make it to the main stage or will quantity win over quality?