Cannabis sales could hit $41B by 2025, Nielsen predicts

Dive Brief:

  • The market for all legalized cannabis, including CBD, is expected to quintuple from $8 billion in 2018 to $41 billion by 2025, according to new data from Nielsen. 
  • Since the Farm Bill legalized hemp last December, Nielsen found interest in alternative forms of ingesting CBD has increased. 
  • In the last four years, the variety of CBD edibles and other products has grown significantly. In 2014, there were only two states where marijuana was legalized and 166 brands of products. By 2018, that number jumped to 2,600 marijuana brands across four legalized states.

Dive Insight:

Despite cannabis remaining illegal at a federal level, the sentiment regarding the substance is changing. Last year, President Trump signed the Farm Bill, which made it legal to cultivate hemp. That move helped consumers and retailers feel more comfortable giving it a try. 

Although there are still FDA restrictions on hemp-derived CBD as an additive in food, several retailers are now selling health and beauty products with it, according to Nielsen. A study by A.T. Kearney last year found four in 10 U.S. consumers said they would be willing to try food made with cannabis. This open sentiment has pushed more food and beverage companies to want to introduce cannabis products — a major reason for the high predicted growth rate in the next five years.

Beer companies have already seen success investing in the space. The Nielsen report shows that cannabis-interested adults are 41% more likely to drink beer. Lagunitas Brewing, part of Netherlands-based Heineken, sells its SuperCritical IPA made with aromatic marijuana terpenes in California. Ceria, helmed by former Blue Moon brewmaster Keith Villa, launched THC brew Grainwave in Colorado. Two Roots Brewing unveiled its nonalcoholic “cannabier” in Nevada. Meanwhile, Constellation and Molson Coors are still working on their brews. 

Big companies in the food space have been more hesitant. Typically, CPG giants are slow to pick up on trends and introduce popular functional ingredients into their products, and the case is no different in with cannabis. 

But companies are starting to promise to put the ingredient in products if the FDA legalizes it. Ben & Jerry’s said it will offer a CBD-infused ice cream to consumers. Bloomberg reported that Coca-Cola was in talks with Aurora Cannabis for a CBD-infused soda, though the soda company demurred and said it doesn’t “have any plans at this stage” to enter the market.

Nielsen’s numbers account for both marijuana and CBD-infused products. The firm also assumes 75% of the U.S. adult population will have consistent access to legal marijuana by 2025. The full legalization of the ingredient and its $35 billion effect on CPG sales, according to Nielsen, depends on several unknowns. But BDS Analytics is also projecting full U.S. legalization of all forms of cannabis by 2021 — based on public opinion through state legalization issues, federal government sentiment and momentum elsewhere.

Although the FDA held its first public hearing on cannabis and CBD this year, analysts still say it could be years before there is a path for products to get to market. While these big predictions on sales growth could entice more companies to get involved, others might remain cautious and wait before developing products. The increasing confidence and predicted growth from market research firms may inspire companies waiting on the sidelines to get into the market or it may push those companies that are already on the edge to take action.

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