Silver Lining: Mature Cannabis Consumers Are a Fast Growing Market
Source: Acreage Holdings, Harris Damashek
The green wave that’s driving cannabis legalization in the U.S. is being powered by an unexpected group: Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. The people born in the 36 years between 1928 and 1964 are providing strong demand for cannabis.
In fact, the cohort of people who will turn 55 or older in 2019 now represent one of the fastest-growing consumer segments in the industry. If you’re a Boomer, aged 55 to 64, you’re now more likely to consume cannabis than 12-17 year olds. Orders from Boomers on Eaze, the medical cannabis app, leapt 19 percent in 2017. And the Silent Generation is gathering steam: around 4 percent of seniors, aged 65 and older, now consume cannabis at least once per year, which is up from almost zero a decade ago.
This fledgling "mature market" has huge potential as a growing customer base. Around two-thirds of U.S. states have now legalized cannabis in some form and increasingly, companies will have to design products and market to an aging demographic.
A good place to start when thinking about seniors is to learn about how and why they want to consume cannabis. Most Boomers have at least a passing familiarity with cannabis. After all, this is the generation that gave us flower power, the Summer of Love and Woodstock. But these days, instead of looking for a mellow groove, they’re hoping cannabis can provide relief from the trials and tribulations of later life, such as arthritis, inflammation and chronic pain.
Senior consumers are also looking for natural alternatives to pharmaceutical products, especially opioids. Some may be using cannabis to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy. Others are turning to cannabis to combat depression and anxiety or hasten sleep, as well as enhance libido and creativity.
It’s also worth noting how the Boomers like their cannabis served. Like the general market, they’re mostly looking for alternative to smoking flower. But while vaping through pre-filled dosing pens is popular, seniors are just as likely to use cannabis pills and topicals to alleviate stiff joints and edibles to help them get a good night’s sleep.
That’s because these products tick a few boxes for this generation in terms of being low-dose, discreet and approachable. Users can microdose with candies that contain as little as three milligrams of THC or CBD. The effects are predictable and repeatable. They also seek out familiar and credible packaging. There’s an added bonus: if the product is being ingested or applied, older people won’t need any paraphernalia to administer their dose. This avoids an odor of cannabis in the house, and the risk of nosey judgmental neighbors.
A few more things worth noting about older cannabis consumers. As a group, they’re not short of disposable income now that many of them are empty-nesters -- they’re among the highest monthly spenders on cannabis products. They’re relatively brand loyal too, so it’s worth trying to win their business from the get-go. A note to advertisers: this is a demographic where word of mouth is still the best recommendation.
Because of limited mobility and desire for discretion, they want their cannabis either delivered to their door or they want an easy way to get to a dispensary, hence the rise of several Boomer-friendly regular shuttle buses that ferry seniors straight from home to the store and back again.
It’s crucial that dispensaries make this generation feel comfortable once they’re at the store. This is a demographic that is intuitive, and they like learning about cannabis the good old-fashioned way -- by talking face-to-face. But buying cannabis products can be an intimidating retail experience, particularly for those who have never set foot inside a dispensary. They might imagine cluttered speakeasies with burly bouncers on the door, and male budtenders in their twenties who aren’t quite on the same wavelength.
It’s important to make them feel welcomed and cared for. That can start at the design level by making sure dispensaries are open, clean and user-friendly. For example, my company’s chain of dispensaries called The Botanist is inspired by 19th Century laboratories, greenhouses and the study of botany. There are lush botanical walls, weathered wood, bell jars and each dispensary sponsors a program of educational and entertaining events, such as cannabis 101, cooking with cannabis, CBD-infused cocktail parties and so on. This helps Boomers enjoy an immersive experience in a safe, comfortable way.
It will take companies time before they find the best approach to marketing cannabis to Boomers. But the evidence suggests that will be time well-spent.