We want cannabis bars to look similar to alcohol bars with lots of selection and variety.
Sara Stewart is a seasoned hospitality professional with experience managing and operating 2 of the first cannabis consumption lounges in the US. She has a particular interest in bridging the gap between cannabis consumption lounges and today’s hospitality standards using education, control, and valuable insight.
We chat with her about how she thinks we can grow the cannabis drinks category and what everyone involved can do.
YOUR PLACE OF WORK
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND JOURNEY INTO CANNABIS
I first started my career in cannabis in 2019 as the assistant manager of Lowell Cafe in West Hollywood. We were the first cannabis restaurant in the US to sell food alongside weed to the general public. Learning METRC from a restaurant standpoint was a pretty wild experience. From here, I created a consulting company called Highspitality, which was created to help license holders navigate this new space of service-based business. From here, I joined Green Thumb Industries full-time, building my second cannabis lounge in Mundelein, IL. Upon leaving GTI last year, I teamed up with 2 incredible guys to create RITUAL, a full-service operations and business development firm for cannabis lounges. We help license holders plan, design, train, and operate their cannabis lounges.
EXPLAIN YOUR CURRENT ROLE
I am the Co-Founder and CEO of Ritual. My role focuses heavily on obtaining new clients, branding, marketing, overseeing all aspects of our company offerings, and assisting in capital raising for clients.
WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN CANNABIS BEVERAGES?
I see low-dosed and fast-acting beverages as the only way to go. For profitability in lounges, we need guests to consume more than one, creating a higher spending average. If we give them 10+mg all at once, we’re seeing that they don’t purchase anything else. Beverages in these new spaces are designed to attract the newbies, canna-curious, etc so we have to start thinking of beverages mainly targeted to this audience in particular. Not a lot of stoners are coming in to drink their cannabis, but rather smoke it. The drinks are for normalization and approachability.
WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE ON GROWING THE CATEGORY REGARDING PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT?
I’d love to see more healthy drinks coming to market – kombucha, pressed juices, etc. We want cannabis bars to look similar to alcohol bars with lots of selection and variety – so I would advise companies producing these drinks to be more creative.
WHAT ARE THE 3 THINGS THAT WE CAN EDUCATE END CONSUMERS MORE ON IN GROWING END-CONSUMER AWARENESS?
I think the major and minor cannabinoids are a huge key in consumer education alongside different methods of consumption and how to better know their tolerance levels. We don’t want people over-consuming in lounges, we would instead encourage them to start low and go slow.
WHICH STATES / MARKETS DO YOU THINK PRESENT GOOD GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES FOR CANNABIS BEVERAGES IN 2023-2024
Nevada and Michigan are overdue – although Minnesota has found its way to normalization much quicker through its low-dosed loopholes.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE CURRENT CHALLENGES IN THE CANNABIS BEVERAGE CATEGORY
Canning and production are expensive and many companies can’t stay afloat- I’m working with a group on something that will hopefully change this for the onsite experience – bringing a more compliant “keg” option of sorts to market.
IF YOU WERE TO GIVE ADVICE TO A FIRST-TIME CANNABIS BEVERAGE CONSUMER, WHAT TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE?
treat cannabis beverages like a beer or glass of wine, start low, and go slow.
YOUR FAVOURITE CANNABIS BEVERAGE BRANDS?
CANN – because I believe they crush their marketing and seem so much more than just a cannabis brand but a lifestyle
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU PURCHASE A CANNABIS BEVERAGE BRAND?
I mainly look for MG, followed by flavor and ingredients.
ANY OUT-OF-THE-BOX IDEAS YOU HAVE FOR BUD-TENDERS IN PROMOTING AND EDUCATING THE CANNABIS BEVERAGE CATEGORY?
I don’t come from retail environments but simply encouraging people to replace their current alcohol consumption with cannabis can be interesting and appealing, so suggesting that they take a powder like Purejuana with them to the bar and order a mocktail instead is something that I’ve found really excites people.
IF YOU WERE TO MAKE A NEW CANNABIS BEVERAGE TODAY? WHAT SORT OF PRODUCT WOULD YOU MAKE AND WHY
Probably a kombucha or low-dosed pressed juices because I’m a sucker for a good natural juice every morning and tend to want to eat cleaner when I’m high.
IF YOU WERE TO MARKET AND DISTRIBUTE THAT CANNABIS BEVERAGE, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR TOP 3 AREAS YOU WOULD FOCUS ON?
Low-dosed, natural ingredients, terpene infusions (Full Story)