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Cannabis ‘social tonic’ wins key US start-up competition

The founders of cannabis-infused “social tonic” Cann are riding high after being named the winners of New Beverage Showdown 17 hosted by BevNET Live Summer 2019, held June 12-13 in New York City.

The California-based, THC and CBD-infused beverage brand — whose parent company is Cann + Botl — beat five other startups in the final round of the competition, which was sponsored by Coca-Cola’s Venturing & Emerging Brands (VEB) unit.

Cann co-founder and CEO, Jake Bullock, told BevNET that he and co-founder Luke Anderson were not expecting to win, believing the judges would ultimately be wary of awarding a THC-infused beverage with a path to market that is currently limited to California dispensaries.

“We’ve been up against a lot coming from the cannabis industry and having THC in our product,” Bullock told BevNET. “Whether it’s when we were fundraising, formulating or the way we market and distribute the product, it is very restrictive in a highly regulated industry.

“So we were coming here excited to learn more as our first entrance into the beverage industry. I feel like we have a little bit of ‘imposter syndrome’ coming from cannabis.”

The beverage is intended as a “session style” alternative to alcohol

Each 7.5oz (222ml) can contains 6mg of CBD and only 2mg of THC — allowing consumers to drink multiple cans in a night without being overwhelmed by the psychoactive effects.

Cann is about to launch in four California MedMen locations. It retails for $30 per 6-pack and is unavailable in single units.

During their pitch, Bullock and Anderson emphasised the drink’s potential as an intoxicating alcohol alternative that won’t cause hangovers. They compared Cann to other cannabis beverages which feature THC content ranging from 5mg to as high as 100mg, suggesting those dosages are equivalent to “drinking all the alcohol you can in 10 minutes”.

The judging panel featured industry experts including VEB VP of marketing and innovation, Kellam Mattie; Powerplant Ventures managing partner, Dan Gluck; Whole Foods Market director of dairy and beverage, Lee Robinson; and BevNET founder and CEO, John Craven.

Cann beat out five other brands in the final round of the New Beverage Showdown, including two others featuring CBD — sparkling beverage Cloud Water and mocktail brand Proposition Cocktail Co — as well as milk tea brand LATTEA, sparkling herbal tonic Sunwink, and sparkling botanical drink Petal.

“We ultimately felt that a lot of the other brands had one specific gap in their product offering, whether it was their concept, their taste, the packaging, their function, their market readiness, or their ‘It Factor’” Gluck told BevNET.

“But we felt Cann really stood out as a brand that hit on all of those marks and we think there is real authenticity on the founder level and huge, pent-up market demand for a product that has psychoactive effects and that can replace alcohol one-for-one.”

According to Mattie, the judges considered the regulatory difficulties in the cannabis space when making their final decision, but felt Cann presented a “total package” of a strong brand identity and an established idea of its target consumer and use occasion.

“I think all of the brands had a lot of great things,” she said. “Each one in the mix had maybe one thing they should work on, whether it’s how to communicate the functionality of the product or getting more clear on use occasion, but we saw a lot of good things today.”

The finalists were selected from a pool of 12 brands which competed during the semifinal round of the Showdown. First round competitors included Bimble, Dr Priestley’s Fizzy Water, Ma, Minna, VIVIC, and YAYAYA.

Cann joins a select group of previous New Beverage Showdown winners, including Health-Ade Kombucha, MALK Organics, Rise Brewing Co, HopTea, Tio Gazpacho and others. The company received a trophy and a $10,000 ad package.

Hear more about Cann here with co-founder, Jake Bullock…