The best way to learn about a topic is by examining the data—and there are at least two companies in California that use data from point-of-sale and other systems to paint a picture of which people are purchasing various cannabis products.
Those companies—Headset (www.headset.io) and BDSA (bdsa.com)—provide valuable information not only for retailers, but also for the entire supply chain, as well as potential investors in the marketplace. And as a new industry, the cannabis world can use all the reliable information we can get.
This may all sound nerdy, but I thought you might enjoy reading about some of it—and how it connects to the Coachella Valley.
Who buys cannabis?
Baby boomers—people born between 1946 and 1964—make up about 13.1% of the marketplace. Many of these folks have experience with cannabis from their “early days,” when the only thing to purchase from street dealers was often poorly grown flower, which was then smoked in bongs or hand-rolled joints. Some of these consumers have used cannabis all along and are committed to the plant. Many others experimented but moved away from cannabis as they moved through life; some of these people supported the War on Drugs pushed on society by politicians and the media, so they struggle with the sea-change involving cannabis legalization. It’s fun to take boomers into a retail store—and watch their eyes get big as they see the myriad products available. Many boomers are canna-curious, and quite often have the funds to try new products.
Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) make up 23.6% of the market; that percentage has remained fairly stable over the last few years. I’m part of this group—and if I am any indication, we purchase from legal stores, but are looking for a bargain. Many of us are still earning a living, and if we were purchasing cannabis before legalization, we’re definitely feeling the price differential in our wallets. However, we are concerned enough with our health that buying clean cannabis from legal stores is important—so we do it.
Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) constitute the largest set of consumers, making up 48.3% of total purchasers. This makes sense; much of the cannabis marketing, mostly seen on social media platforms and other targeted digital advertising, is created for and focused on this age group. A very common story in the media is how these folks are moving away from alcohol usage and finding alternatives, like cannabis, to relax and enjoy time with friends.
Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2001, for the purposes of legal cannabis) is the age group that stands to grow the fastest in 2022—based on the fact that new customers are entering the market on a daily basis by turning 21 years old. This group currently makes up 15% of the marketplace.
Gender makes a difference
Cannabis products are generally broken into a few basic categories: flower, concentrates, edibles, tinctures and topicals.
Not surprisingly, men and women have different purchasing habits. Female customers buy less than a third of the cannabis sold—but the percentage is growing. Men buy more products, and more expensive products, than women. The last report from Headset revealed that women tend to buy topicals, tinctures and edibles more than their male counterparts, who tend to buy flower and concentrates. No single product or category is exclusive to men or women, of course, but it seems that women are more interested in low-dose and more-nuanced consumption; they more often tend to keep wellness in mind when they purchase.
A local perspective
I caught up with Julie Mackechnie, the general manager of Harborside, a cannabis retail store and drive-through in Desert Hot Springs, to find out about local customer trends. Harborside is just off Interstate 10, located behind a gas station with a large parking area that can accommodate large semis. (Yes, many of those drivers buy cannabis.)
Harborside’s customers are 60% locals, and 40% out-of-towners. The locals are, in large part, coming from Desert Hot Springs and the high desert (Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms); many of the out-of-towners come from Arizona. This all makes sense, based on the location of the store—and the fact that none of the high desert cities allow cannabis sales. The tourists from Arizona report that the product mix in California is far better than in Arizona, and the prices are often lower. However, locals are more price-conscious than tourists overall.
According to reports from the last three months, Harborside’s customers are 63% male, and 35% female—but the percentage of female customers is growing. Men tend to purchase flower and pre-roll products; women tend to buy more vapes and edibles, mirroring the larger trends described previously.
Most of the customers are millennials (28%). Coming in close behind are the Gen Zers, (25%), followed by boomers (20%) and Gen Xers (17%). Most boomers purchase non-psychoactive products, like CBD- and CBN-based edibles and topicals. Some purchase low-THC products, too. The most popular products for the millennials and Gen Zers are flower and pre-rolled joints. Overall, the desert seems to mirror the trends across the state.
As we watch trends year to year in the cannabis industry, one thing is clear: The industry is continuing to mature—and has room to grow.