At the Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE), held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Jan. 29-31, the emergence of cannabidiol (CBD) and its potential for the industry were the talk of the show.
The burgeoning assortment of products containing CBD holds both promise and uncertainty for convenience store operators, according to panelists in a session titled “Brave New World: Making the Jump into CBD.”
CBD offers the potential of a hot new market offering, increased sales and profit, and an increasingly loyal customer base. Yet it is still in its relative infancy, with a wide range of manufacturers, a paucity of oversight and regulation, and high price points. Their conclusion: The opportunities for c-store operators are real, as is the need for caution and a deft touch in product selection, marketing and merchandising.
The panelists weighed in on both the promise and potential pitfalls for retailers. Among them:
Since CBD is a relatively new category, especially in c-stores, pricing and package sizes should be developed to stimulate consumer trial.
“Shoppers don’t have a lot of experience with CBD,” said Jacopo D’Alessandris, president and CEO of E-Alternative Solutions LLC (EAS), a Darien, Conn.-based innovator of consumer-centric brands for highly regulated, emerging industries and sister company of Swisher International Inc. “They need the right price point. They need to be given a good first impression.”
Dosage and potency should also be carefully weighed.
“If the effect of a product is too weak consumers will feel as if there’s no CBD in them, and not buy them again,” said Bethany Gomez, managing director of the Brightfield Group LLC, a research and consulting firm in Chicago.
C-store operators must proceed carefully when selecting CBD suppliers until government oversight provides some direction.
“There are unscrupulous brands out there,” warned Gomez.
“(Some) small upstart brands may not take having the necessary ingredients seriously, and be competing on price,” D’Alessandris agreed. “There are lots of cowboy brands. A lot more oversight is coming.”
“The industry will self-regulate until the government does more,” Gomez added. In the meantime, retailers should check for third-party testing on products. “Look for a QR code or a lab sheet.”
A variety of products will work well in convenience store health and beauty aid (HBA) sections, noted Laura Baldwin Fuentes, co-founder of Green Roads, a licensed compound pharmacist, and a formulator of CBD products. “With single-dose packages, gummies, tinctures, topical creams, try and buy works well. It’s something convenience stores should consider.”
Communicating benefits clearly while avoiding making health claims — which may mean additional employee training — should be an in-store priority.
“Posters, pop-up tent displays, educational materials and door signage all work,” said Fuentes. So do employee recommendations, which should be offered judiciously. “Make sure they don’t recommend it for specific conditions.”
That sentiment was hammered home by Gomez, who warned retailers, “Don’t make health claims. Don’t make health claims. Don’t make health claims.”