Spotlight on Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo Toronto 2019
August 20th, 2019
The annual Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo Toronto is a key calendar event for global Cannabis investors and industry stakeholders. With Toronto as the hub of the Canadian finance and media industries, this event location strategically draws in pre-eminent industry leaders, business owners, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, creatives, start-ups, and consumers. Here, they come together to connect, collaborate and discuss a diverse range of topics surrounding the future of the Cannabis industry.
CFN attended this year’s Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo Toronto to become immersed in Canadian Cannabis industry as it navigates the first legal summer and looks ahead to the legalization of edibles, concentrates and topicals this fall. Coinciding with the first anniversary of legalization, the introduction of these new products is anticipated to be a major growth catalyst, with new technologies, equipment, services and product lines already emerging to service this evolving industry. In total, the Canadian Cannabis industry is estimated by Brightfield Group to be worth $5 billion by 2021.
The Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo is organized by Lift & Co. (TSXV:LIFT) (OTCQB: LFCOF), a Cannabis-focused media and technology company that monetizes a house of marketing channels modelled after a classic CPG marketers toolkit. Their platform of media, education, events and data insights provides the infrastructure that enables Cannabis businesses to better understand, target, and reach Cannabis consumers in today’s highly regulated market space in a legally compliant way. Specifically, at their Expos, Lift & Co. provides an avenue for brands to directly access consumers and B2B connections. In the leadup to legalization, Lift & Co. expanded their suite of marketing solutions, including a budtender training program, CannSell, that also provides trade marketing channel for LPs in the form of branded education modules delivered directly to budtenders across the country through the CannSell platform. Recently, they’ve also invested in growth of their data insights business, which leverages the thousands of Cannabis reviews garnered from consumers on lift.co.
Lift & Co.’s expertise and relationships with these Cannabis stakeholders informs the experience and the programming at its signature events. This year’s Expo theme was Get to Know Cannabis, further signaling a focus on education and collaboration for both Cannabis businesses and consumers. As its first Toronto event post-legalization, the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo Toronto 2019 was the Company’s largest to-date achieving 45% attendance growth over the previous year and seeing a significant spike in attendance on Industry Day.
This year also marked the first-ever Canadian Cannabis Week (CCW), a week-long series of more than a dozen consumer and industry events happening across Toronto, culminating with the Expo. Going forward, CCW and Lift & Co. will showcase Canada’s global leadership position as a unique and premier destination for investors, companies and consumers to collaborate.
(Lift & Co. Expo Toronto 2019, Photo: Lift & Co.)
The floor of exhibitors included start-ups seeking investment, emerging and later-stage private and public companies, high-tech extraction and technical equipment, cultivation, retail, distribution, manufacturing, consumer-focused products like cosmetics, as well as a number of ancillary companies.
In addition to over 250 exhibiting companies, a comprehensive speaker program spans Lift & Co.’s business conference, the Expo Industry day and the Expo Consumer Weekend with leaders discussing the sector’s major investment opportunities, sharing an outlook on future growth opportunities and shining a light on current industry challenges.
Here are a few highlights from the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo Toronto 2019:
According to Lift & Co., major brands are now spending over six figures on their booth builds. 7ACRES stood out with a two-storey, matte black clubhouse with a second-floor balcony overlooking the show floor to promote their Khalifa Kush Enterprise (KKE) partnership, a brand launched with hip-hop artist and entrepreneur Wiz Khalifa.
The Cronos Group (CRON.TO) (CRON.TO) almost stole the show. They were able to create a display that interwove all three of their distinct consumer brands into one immersive journey: a person began in a vegetable-themed Spinach brand area leading into a giant-sized Battleship game board. From that space, attendees could touch a hidden bookcase door leading to the dimly lit Cove Room, and a cascading digital waterfall. Hopefully reaching a state of bliss, visitors exited through billowy curtains into the clean white lounge of the Peace Naturals brand. One of the objectives of the show is to give attendees a chance to discover and interact with Cannabis brands in ways they cannot otherwise, due to regulations; this was a keen example of a corporation creating a cohesive experience around three distinct consumer brands.
(Lift Expo Toronto 2019, Photo: Lift & Co)
HEXO’s (HEXO-T) approach was a bright yellow and blue interactive terpene bar, combining an experiential and educational experience.
(Lift Expo Toronto 2019, Photo: Lift & Co.)
Combining top consumer technology and Cannabis, several companies incorporated VR, including FIGR who showed off a preview of its new app that helps people understand cannabinoid levels, terpenes and the origin (or provenance) of a particular plant.
(Lift Expo Toronto 2019, Photo: Lift & Co)
Leveraging newer consumer entertainment technology, Biome Grow’s “Weed VR” gave users a library of Cannabis education on plants, cultivars and flowers they could read about, and reach out and “touch”.
For the first time, Lift & Co. expanded to the first floor of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to feature a 10,000 square foot Vape Showcase, giving investors and consumers a first look at products that will be coming to the Canadian market when vapes are legalized later in 2019.
(Lift Expo Toronto 2019, Photo: Lift & Co)
Off the Show Floor: Marketing Cannabis in Canada
From left, panelists Angela Blake (partner, Bennett Jones), Alessandra Hechanova (Digital Marketing Manager, Canopy Rivers, Inc.), Kayla Rochkin (VP marketing, TREC Brands) and moderator Anne Gaviola (VICE Canada). (Lift & Co. Expo Toronto 2019, Photo: Lift & Co.)
The marketing regulations within the Cannabis Act are restrictive for Cannabis companies and the ways in which they can talk to the public about their products. This communication barrier is compounded by the fact that social media platforms operate in the United States and their policies are tied to US federal law, further preventing Cannabis companies from marketing to consumers online in ways other industries are able. A panel called Silent Mode: Social Media, Cannabis and Advertising tackled the topic, coming to the consensus that unless and until the US legalizes Cannabis, the Canadian Cannabis industry has to remain creative. Unlike a market like California where Cannabis brands have more leeway to speak to lifestyle, Canadian LPs cannot have any promotion that could conceivably link to a certain lifestyle nor make their products attractive to young people. However, there are permitted promotional opportunities like educational events, branded gear and celebrity partnerships (though, never endorsing the products).
Marketing Data and Information
Marketing constraints will be exacerbated when edible products are ready to roll-out later this year. In one on-stage presentation, Lift & Co.’s Chief Revenue Officer Jon Kamin and Ashley Chiu, Strategic Growth and Risk Leader at EY Canada presented early data insights about Canada’s upcoming edibles market, including a statistic that 1.5 million new Cannabis consumers will be entering the market with edibles; they will require educational information and product information to make informed choices. The full Lift & Co. and EY Canada report on Legalization 2.0 consumer insights is out now.
Cannabis consumer data was a key theme running through the Expo, including the keynote presentation made by Lift & Co. CEO Matei Olaru and Cy Scott the CEO of Headset. They presented early insights into Canadian emerging consumer profiles, identifying four key archetypes of consumers that brands should be targeting in today’s market. Their position is, while access to data on these consumers is still nascent, it’s not too early to start looking at Canadian data to meet the bottom line.
When asked about Lift & Co.’s strategic focus on data insights, Matei Olaru said, “This is an emerging, global CPG industry and Canada’s insights will inform market decisions here and around the world as other countries look to us for guidance. Understanding the consumer, what they’re buying and how they feel about a product transcends marketing restrictions and gives brands much-needed information they can leverage to innovate and create value for their customers and shareholders.”
As a leader out of the US, I took the opportunity to ask Cy Scott from Headset what advice he would give to investors in the Canadian Cannabis market? He told me: ‘’Like any investment, strong fundamentals are certainly key — but I would say with respect to the Cannabis market it’s having a long-term view that is critical. In Canada specifically, the market is still in its infancy with restrictive packaging, limited form factors and licenses which is a common thread across many new markets we’ve seen in the US. As these restrictions loosen, the opportunity grows as does the size of the overall addressable market. Finally, when making investments it is the organizations that are set up to be flexible and capable of moving quickly that will succeed longer term, as the landscape is constantly changing with new legislation, new licensees and new markets always on the horizon.’’
Also exhibiting at the show, I followed up to ask Cy Scott what the most attractive feature of Lift & Co. Expo is for his business? He said, ‘’the most attractive feature of the Lift Expo is the audience it attracts, both from an attendee as well as an exhibitor perspective. With the Business Expo, Industry and Consumer Day there is a lot of opportunity for us as an organization to connect with clients and partners in one of the most exciting markets today.’’
Apart from the opportunity to network one-on-one with leading Cannabis brands in the Canadian market, on-stage programming focused heavily on the investor audience. In “Cannabis Investing 2.0”, investors were urged to ignore the year-over-year performance of companies because of the rapidly growing market. In traditional markets, year-over-year growth is a good indicator, but the regulated market for Cannabis didn’t exist one year ago, and the stratospheric growth of the market makes it hard to measure versus past precedent. Panelists said the surest way to understand a company was to meet their team and look closely into the business.
While the event cannot permit the sale or sampling of Cannabis, companies brought out swag in full force: baseball hats, rolling papers, printed t-shirts and every conceivable kind of branded stationery. Urban Juve, a Yield Growth company had plenty of samples of their new cosmetics line, which doesn’t currently contain Cannabis. HEXO, for example, set up mini outposts across the expo floor and gave away Cannabis-free mini bottles of its Elixir Peppermint Oil Oral Spray—the 2018 Canadian Cannabis Award winner for Product of the Year—so consumers could get a feel for the real thing.
Beverages are a hot investment item in Canada, with many companies such as Constellation Brands and Heineken striking lucrative deals with Canadian LPs to enter the market. According to Dooma Wendschuh, Province Brands’ CEO and co-founder, the company is light-years ahead of the competition; they say their product will be the world’s first-ever beer brewed from Cannabis.
On the other hand, Hill St. Beverages are infusing their beverages with Cannabis using a technology from Lexaria, encapsulating Cannabis oil into a sunflower oil and dehydrating it to create a water-soluble powder that can be combined with their alcohol-free beers and wines.
Lift & Co’s Lift Expo is far more than another event in the crowded Cannabis and Hemp conferences calendar. Lift & Co are a linchpin to the industry, a focal point with an unbeatable combination of being a news source, an educational source and their conferences are a great forum for investors to meet companies up close and personally. By opening certain days of their events to the public, Lift & Co are also doing a brilliant job of democratizing and normalizing the entire Cannabis industry. When the history of the Cannabis industry globally is eventually written, Lift & Co will have a central role in the global success of Cannabis.
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