How Blue Moon beer founder is marketing new cannabis beverage


In creating the recipes, Villa said he took guidance from consumer understanding of the alcohol-based beer styles they resemble.

Grainwave, for example, not only looks, smells and tastes like a Belgian White, but acts like it in terms of its respective stimulant effect: It has 5 milligrams of THC that would more or less match the buzz of a can of a 5.4% alcohol-by-volume Belgian White. “Most people can have a bottle or can of Blue Moon, and it’ll take the edge off, but they won’t be falling-down drunk,” Villa said. “So what we tried to do with Ceria is five milligrams [of THC]which, for most people, will give you a relaxed feeling without getting stoned or super high.”

Indiewave aligns with the heavier punch of a craft IPA, with 10 milligrams of THC, and balances the “anxiety” that dose might bring with it by adding 10 milligrams of CBD, or the non-psychotropic element of marijuana, Villa said.

The goal of Ceria, Villa said, “was to bring cannabis to the masses in a socially acceptable format—meaning beer.” Its “Crafty” marketing message is a solution to the brand’s legal challenges but also tells consumers “These products are nothing to be afraid of,” he added.

Super-curiosity

Through born as brews meant to stimulate, Villa says reaction from early enthusiasts of a product beta-launched in the pandemic—first responders, truck drivers and military—indicated they liked the product, but worried they couldn’t use it due to their drug -testing in their respective professions. “They asked if we could make it without the infusion.” Villa said, “which was easy, because that’s our first step,” meaning only after the beer is brewed, are its psychotropic infusions added.

It was this insight that inspired a launch of a separate NA line of Ceria beer.

It proved to be fortuitous feedback, helping the brand tap a “sober-curious” market that Villa estimates may currently be less than a half-percent of the entire beer market but he envisions could one day by 10%, “because we feel there are customers that have never experienced great-tasting, craft, NA beer.” This version can also help establish equity in the Ceria brand that one day could be valuable if the unpredictable march of state—or ideally, for Ceria—federal approval comes to pass and consumers find stimulant versions of the brand in their market. Federal approval, Villa said, could also do away with the mess of patchwork regulation that makes the emerging cannibis-product market complicated for reasons that go beyond marketing. Consumers, for example, cannot use credit cards to purchase such products today.

With a “craft” backstory and positioning, Ceria’s NA beers sell at a comparable price to a craft beer (suggested retail price for a six-pack is $9.99, vs. $8 a can for the THC-infused) and have already found considerable distribution in retail stores like Total Wine and More, Target, HEB and the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant chain.

Non-alcohol beers, Villa said, are also more versatile than their forbears from an occasion standpoint; Where brands like Athletic Brewing or Michelob Ultra have been effective positioning themselves as complements for active consumer lifestyles, they’re unlikely to be consumed before exercise, as Villa maintains some Ceria users do. “We feel like we can right there with energy drinks and recovery beverages,” in marketing to active consumers.

Still, it’s the traditional beer occasions—parties and nightlife—where its biggest opportunities lie, and this is driven by young consumers, many of which are approaching conventions with new concerns for the environment and health that previous generations had not, Villa noted.

“A lot of people are trying to see what it’s like to wake up without a hangover; what is like to go your with friends on a Friday night with a clear mind, instead of being buzzed all weekend,” he said.

This is a trend bigger than Ceria. At the BevNet conference earlier this month in New York, coolers full of new brands of canned “mocktails” and other drinks inspired by traditional adult beverages were on display. A panel discussion on the topic featured remarks from a founder of a new trade organization—the Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association—developed to promote the emerging industry and its entrepreneurial members.

The non-alcoholic beer industry is projected to grow over 8% annually and the Cannabis beverage market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2026, according to reports cited by Ceria in a release. Other brands marketing cannabis beverage varieties include Jones Soda and Hi-Fi Hops, a cannabis-infused sparkling released in 2018 by the craft beer brand Lagunitas, a division of Heineken.

“For the longest time, NA beer was O’Doul’s and other brands for the big brewers that were offered more or less as a corporate responsibility play, and in my opinion, flavor was secondary,” Villa said. “So what you had recovered alcoholics and pregnant women. But now, there’s an onslaught of really delicious, non-alcoholic brews out there.”

As to the Ceria brand and its stake in two promising trends, Villa likens its current opportunity to that Blue Moon approached at its birth. “We feel like we’re in the right place at the right time.”

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