Cannabis is poised to be a major disruptive force across a variety of markets, but none more so than food, beverage, and health and wellness. But we’ve seen this type of movement before.

Chef and DoctorWe see more and more consumers embrace activities promoting general health and wellness. Whether shopping, cooking, eating, exercising, reading, or healing and taking care of themselves and their families, millions of Americans are participating in the marketplace that we define as “natural product worlds.” Healthier food, organic food, herbal and dietary supplements, natural personal care and household products as well as a serious involvement with alternative medical treatments and practices have come to represent lifestyle choices by which consumers can differentiate themselves in new and fulfilling ways.

While this could be said about today’s health and wellness consumers, we made these observations in 1998 in our Natural Sensibility: A Study of Changing Culture and Lifestyle report. So, it’s not that big of a new flash to us to see the emergence of cannabinoid products (both intoxicating and non-intoxicating) onto the mainstream stage.

CBD jelly beans are now a reality, major beverage and QSR brands are contemplating CBD-infused beverages, and recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states with medical marijuana legal in 33 states. This is very reminiscent of the fast-moving days of the late 1990s when natural and organic products were exploding into the mainstream from what had formerly been a niche natural products industry.

Back then, before it became a household word, we boldly and correctly predicted that organic would emerge from the shadows of a niche market and into the blazing sunshine of the mainstream marketplace. We demonstrated that the industry game board was changing and said that even the largest retailers would one day be selling organics to everyday consumers across all walks of life. They did and continue to expand on this proposition.

Today, with linkages to the natural and organic movement, diverse cannabinoid products (including cannabis and CBD) are storming into the vanguard of contemporary health and wellness culture. Cannabis in all its varied forms promises significant disruption in the health and wellness industry, from food and beverages to supplements to pharmaceuticals. Current users in legal recreational states almost always have a health and wellness-related reason, even if they also enjoy cannabis’s recreational benefits.

Our Health + Wellness 2019: From Moderation to Mindfulness report includes a special focus on cannabis for health and wellness, exploring consumers’ attitudes, usage occasions, and reasons for using cannabis from a health and wellness perspective. We find that the state-by-state legalization of marijuana and the national deregulation of hemp and CBD have brought about greater consumer awareness of cannabis as a health and wellness product — to the point that consumers now primarily talk about cannabis as a natural, safer way to treat many conditions and something that should be made available legally to adults.

Mainstream experimentation with the health and wellness uses of cannabinoids has not occurred in a vacuum and parallels the growth of natural and organic products, which themselves have expanded dramatically since the late 1990s. During the same period, the rise in use of medical marijuana shifted the conversation around cannabis away from its counterculture, psychedelic associations and situated it within a medical framework. At the same time, the natural food movement and holistic wellness culture led more consumers to search for alternatives to pharmaceuticals and to see their indulgences (including “vices”) in a new light — as essential parts of health and wellness.

Out of the Shadows and Into the Light of Market Potential

The appeal of cannabis as a health and wellness tool rests on the consumer perception that it is a plant and thus a more natural, less harmful replacement for OTC and prescription drugs as well as alcohol.

Most health and wellness users in legal states differentiate between THC and CBD, the most familiar cannabinoids in cannabis: THC can make one high, while CBD does not. Both have health and wellness benefits aligned with current concerns and needs, especially anxiety, stress, and inflammation.

Currently, edibles are the top category of cannabis products purchased in the past year among legal health and wellness users, promising significant growth for future markets. Gen Z and Millennials are particularly inclined to seek out cannabis beverages, too.

The early natural and organic movement had to move beyond the “hippie” co-ops where it started with more mainstream messaging that was less intimidating and ideological and more focused on personal health benefits while still maintaining the underlying ethical sensibilities that gave it authenticity. The cannabis industry will need to do the same.

Illuminating Insights

Health and wellness 2019

CBD is like the Wild, Wild West of food and beverage. Companies are rushing in to stake their claim on a piece of the as-yet-to-be determined size of the market. Speculation swirling around Starbucks’ entry into the space demonstrates that there is serious demand, not because it’s the ingredient du jour but because it’s tapping into some deeper-rooted link between microbiome and health and wellness. CBD is generating a lot of excitement across the broad spectrum of the food and beverage industry, but eventual success is going to come down to one vital factor: what do consumers want?

Health + Wellness 2019: From Moderation to Mindfulness explores what’s new, what’s mainstream, and what’s around the bend in the world of health and wellness.