Boston Beer Isn't Ready Yet to Tap Into CannabisPosted by On


Boston Beer (NYSE:SAM) has proved over and over again that you don’t have to be first to market to be successful.

Its Samuel Adams lager wasn’t the first craft beer, but it became one of the biggest craft brews, and Boston Beer became the face of the industry. It also wasn’t first with a hard cider, but Angry Orchard came to define the segment. And the brewer also wasn’t blazing any trails with hard seltzer, but Truly is now the second biggest brand in the space with a 29% share of the market.

So investors shouldn’t be too worried that Boston Beer is ceding the field to the competition when CEO David Burwick told CNBC the craft brewer will eventually enter the cannabis market “sometime down the road.” There ought to be plenty of time and money for a late entry, but it probably shouldn’t wait too long.

Friends smoking marijuana and drinking beer

Image source: Getty Images.

The sky’s the limit

Analysts get all googly eyed when they think about the market’s potential. In 2016, The Hemp Business Journal forecast 87% compound annual growth for cannabidiol (CBD), the nonpsychoactive compound found in marijuana, hitting $2.1 billion in sales by 2020. Earlier this year, BDS Analytics estimated CBD would grow 49% across all distribution channels and exceed $20 billion by 2024, an increase from the $16 billion market size analysts at Cowen & Co. predicted would happen by 2025.

So if Boston Beer chooses to bide its time and learn from others, as Burwick said the brewer intends, there should still be plenty of money on the table when it does finally enter. Yet it’s not likely that the brewer will be able to stake an eventual leadership position.

It’s becoming a crowded field

In craft beer, hard cider, and hard seltzer, it wasn’t going up against particularly deep-pocketed competitors. Craft beer wasn’t really a thing when Samuel Adams hit the market; Woodchuck Hard Cider by Vermont Hard Cider was the leader when Angry Orchard launched; and the guys who make Mike’s Hard Lemonade were — and are — the leaders in hard seltzer with their White Claw brand, which commands nearly half the market.

When and if Boston Beer enters the CBD space, the industry’s mammoth brewers will have already established significant partnerships. Anheuser-Busch InBev has teamed up with Tilray, Constellation Brands invested in Canopy Growth, and…

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