The universe of cannabis edibles is rapidly expanding. There’s a lot to know, and even more to discover. For example, the gourmet edibles market remains mostly untapped. But that will be changing soon…
Will you be ahead of the curve? Or find yourself struggling to catch up?
Here are some important factors to consider; from an experienced food scientist to anyone hoping to succeed in the edibles market.
1. Account for bitterness from the beginning
Even the highest quality cannabis extracts are bitter. Simply because the molecular structures of cannabinoids inherently activate our bitterness receptors.
But don’t worry—there are numerous ways to manage bitterness in cannabis edibles.
One smart, simple way is to blend in the flavor of good quality cannabis with complementary flavors. Or you can use science-based bitterness masking ingredients that help block the perception of bitterness; either through a central cognitive effect, or by preventing the compounds from actually making contact with bitterness receptors.
Sadly, too many edibles companies just blot out the flavor with additional high-intensity artificial sweeteners. Don’t do that.
2. Invest in quality ingredients
In general, use as few ingredients as possible—and choose quality for each of them. Skimping just creates weak links in the big picture of your edibles formulation. You may be able to cut your bottom line for a production run or two…but you won’t wrangle in those invaluable return customers who are searching for the best, and deeply loyal when they find it.
Quality ingredients make edibles taste a lot better, let you market clean-label products, and keep your customers drooling for more.
3. Research your market
Don’t just start crafting blind. Know your audience. Who are you trying to help? What products are they buying? How do they like to dose?
Then once you’re formulating, set up sensory analysis panels with taste experts. And another with a set of untrained consumers.
Food science can help systematically determine which variation of your product is actually the best, for the greatest group of consumers.
Solid, scientific research is increasingly crucial as the cannabis edibles market continues to open up with new applications, consumer demands, and continued growth. Every other food production niche does extensive food-science research about their flavors. Seems like edibles producers should too…
4. Packaging matters
At the end of the day, you’re not selling products. You’re delivering an experience to your customers.
Part of that experience includes the packaging and branding. Thoughtful, functional packaging can go a long way toward building a consistent and loyal customer base who keep returning for more—and equally important, tell their friends about it.
Cannabis packaging people return for:
- Guilt-free compostable bags
- Reusable containers, giftable even as empties
- Sleek, discreet, no-frills, ergonomic
- Creatively, completely child-safe
Don’t just take it from me. Here’s another expert voice with more ideas about cannabis packaging.
5. Pay attention to shelf life
Whatever cannabis edible product you produce, it will change over time. And you really can’t plan for any best-case scenario. Your products have to last under real-world conditions. At the mercy of dispensary managers.
Don’t assume that any emulsion (even nanoemulsions) will be stable for 6 months or longer. It totally depends on storage conditions. Make sure that the shelf-life of any emulsion you use has been characterized—and be aware that depending on the dilution you add it to, that shelf life can change.
The same is true of all your other ingredients. That’s why part of science-based edibles product formulation includes laboratory shelf-life testing.
One bad experience will make people shy away from your entire brand—even if they’ve had lots of great experiences before that—and you can be sure they’ll tell their friends the whole mortifying story.
There’s a saying in marketing: The price of one negative is 199 affirmatives.
6. Extracts: don’t cut corners
Use a first-run extract from a strain of cannabis with a terpene & flavor profile that enhances your recipe, rather than something skunky that you have to cover up.
Remember, the more processed your extract, the more bitterness and off-flavors it will bring. Please, people—there’s plenty of cannabis available for making high-quality extracts. There’s no need to chemically squeeze every last drop.
Would you cook with the dregs of a third or fourth olive-oil pressing? No. So why would you make edibles with some wrung-out cannabis material?
Read more about extracts as a flavor ingredient
7. Avoid nanoemulsions
Cannabis nanoemulsions may offer the benefit of faster metabolization of the payload—but they are generally terrible for making delicious edibles: Why? Extreme bitterness because they present more total surface area for taste-bud receptors.
Additionally, no emulsion is infinitely stable. Not even the best-made nanoemulsion on earth.
If buying or preparing your own nanoemulsions make sure that droplet size can be verified in
some meaningful way (e.g. laser diffraction particle analysis via Mastersizer).
8. Beverages are risky—there’s a better way
Formulating consistent, shelf-stable beverages is a challenge. Especially when you can’t rely on dispensaries to have refrigerated display space.
But here’s a little food-science secret for you: There’s a way you can launch an infinite product line of cannabis beverages—with variable dosages!—by instead offering a series of flavored THC drops for transforming any existing beverage into a magic one.
Cannabis drops flavor ideas:
- Winter spice
- Tropical Fruit
Then part of your cannabis edibles marketing strategy could include recipe ideas or pairings with existing beverages:
- Make your own THC-infused Vanilla Coke!
- Fly higher with cherry-flavored cannabis Red Bull
- Warm winter workdays with a cinnamon cannabis latte—however you take it
- Dank up your Derby Day with magic mint juleps
The possibilities are endless. Here’s how to make your own cannabis extract to test the concept. Only question now is—how do you create the best product line of flavored cannabis drops that food science can deliver?
9. Everyone is making gummies
Don’t do the same thing that everyone is doing.
But if you have to make gummies, make them in a way no one else is!
Get your R&D team building an exhaustive list of what’s available—and then come up with something that isn’t. You also may notice that the gourmet cannabis edibles niche is still pretty wide open. There are a million and one much-loved flavors that still haven’t really been widely explored.
If you’re making gummies, use real fruit
This is one way to stand out from the gummy crowd. Most cannabis gummy producers are using sugar syrups and sometimes even artificial flavorings. Using real fruit purees instead not only tastes better, but can also clean up your ingredient list and help you capture a lucrative niche of loyal customers who want top quality real foods.
Learn about fruit purees in edibles.
10. Consistency is crucial
Food service professionals and chefs can only get you so far. Especially when it comes to scaling edibles for market growth.
Up-market confectionery and all other foods & beverages are the result of careful scientific formulation accounting for multiple variables.
Food production variables:
- Food safety
- Available manufacturing techniques
- Consumer expectations
That’s a lot of hats to wear. No matter how much you love the craft, or how brilliant your cannabis marketing genius—it’s more than you should have to juggle. Take it from a fellow entrepreneur who learned long ago the importance of delegating to the experts. Believe me, I have much love for CPAs, electrical engineers, and HVAC professionals.
Look, you may even have dedicated R&D professionals on staff working on new products and expanding upon existing products. But if they don’t have a science background, there’s only so far they can go on their own, without food science consulting.
11. Things will go wrong
It’s inevitable in food production that issues will arise and formulations will need tweaking. Especially if you try scaling a recipe without adequate food science knowledge.
Part of being a successful cannabis edibles entrepreneur includes recognizing problems you can’t solve before they become major (and expensive). Food scientists have a lot of experience with empirical problem-solving. The upfront expense can save you time and money down the line, fixing errors that magnify with every step of the production process.
12. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help
If you’re still reading this, you already realize you can’t make top quality cannabis edibles on your own. Even if you have a solid in-house R&D team. Fortunately there are many types of consultants in the food industry, with a wide range of experience and training. Naturally each brings their own strengths and weaknesses.
You’ll pay less for someone without a PhD, without formal experiment-design capabilities, without two decades of experience making best-of-class, record-award-winning chocolate, confections, and more.
But you’ll also get a lot less in return. It all depends on where you want to go with your business.
13. Invest in food science; get massive returns
Daunted by the price tag of experienced food science consulting? That’s understandable. I ran a small chocolate manufacturing business for years, so I know the feeling of expenses adding up.
But think about it this way: Putting up $7000+ for a delicious science-based formulation isn’t expensive—it’s valuable. Infusing your products with unbeatable consistency, gourmet quality, and standout creativity. Investing in truly next-level product development to vault your edibles over the heads of the competition.
That’s the key to attracting those critical return customers and nurturing brand loyalty.
Plus outsourcing science problems to a scientist frees up your R&D team to work on things where they can be the most efficient. Only you know how much that would be worth for your business.
Does any of this matter?
Well…technically no. You can very easily join the middies game, cut your ingredient costs, use third-run extracts masked with cheap sweeteners, inject preservatives, cover inconsistencies with food dyes, and churn out edibles that definitely get people high (even if they taste gross) while growing a profitable cannabusiness.
You can even spend your market research on figuring out the highest price people will pay for the mediocre flavors you’re turning out.
But then you’re asking your customers to accept an edibles experience far below the threshold of what’s possible. Depriving them of the chance to experience the soaring potential of delicious, precise, consistent gourmet edibles developed for pan-sensory enjoyment and long-term brand growth.
Or pushing them toward other companies who are doing it right.
Plus you’ll wind up shaving away some of that profit margin anyway, because it invariably costs more to market to new customers than it does to nurture loyal ones. Not to mention the cost of fixing errors down the line that could have been prevented.
As always, the choice is yours whether to focus on quick short-term gains—or tap into the magic of food science and put out products that build deep customer loyalty, wow influencers, and potentially change the edibles game.
Whatever you decide…we’ll be here.