For many legal cannabis markets, high THC is king. In the search for greater potency and “kick,” many producers have bred flowers specifically for their high–THC potential, up to and including instances of misleading the market as to their true potency.
Despite claims that these were novel products, it’s stunning to see vape pens still growing in popularity among U.S. marijuana lovers looking for more potent products and also for those checking out the latest innovations in each category. Among the higher purchasing volume of vape pens comes pre-rolls—now with infusions, terpene infusions, and more for a smoother, more potent hit.
Whether it’s pre-rolls, vape pens, or edibles, they all came to see a jump in popularity during the last year. Today we’ll look at those consumer trends and speculate on where the market might head next.
What Are Consumer Trends?
Vapor pens had hit second place for the largest category by revenue, behind flower, in the U.S. cannabis market for the years 2020 and 2021, with nearly $2.6 billion in retail sales last year in six adult-use markets (California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) tracked by Seattle-based data analytics firm Headset.
The pre-roll category moved from fourth to third place with $1.42 billion in sales in 2021, unseating edibles as the three most profitable categories. Both categories saw strong year-over-year growth in 2021, with vape pens up 28.1 percent and pre-rolls up 38.9 percent from 2020, according to retail sales data from the six recreational markets tracked by Headset.
The total marijuana market, by comparison, grew 18.4 percent, with edibles growing by 20%. These growths can be explained by the fact that consumers are looking for more potent products and are willing to spend a premium on them.
Does Potency Really Translate To Higher Sales?
More standard forms of pre-rolls, such as those made with a single flower strain, saw relatively low year-over-year growth, while other more specialized segments saw strong growth. For example, infused pre-rolls – made by applying cannabis concentrates or oil to the flower – stood out as the second-largest segment in 2020 and 2021.
In each of those years, infused pre-rolls saw their sales double. It shows that consumers are looking for more potent products. Another data supporting that idea is that infused pre-rolls achieved THC potency levels – on the order of 40 to 50 percent.
Generally speaking, pre-rolls have become more exciting and exotic over time. These are much more interesting products than the pre-rolls that existed in the market five years ago, but their convenience factor remains the same.
Pre-roll packages – think a pack of cigarettes, but often only five to 10 pre-rolls – are also a growing trend. Their share of sales in the pre-roll category has been steadily increasing over the past few years, reaching nearly 50 percent of all pre-roll sales by the end of 2021. The combination of higher quality flower serving as a benchmark (rather than low-cost bulk flower) and convenience is likely the driver behind this trend.
What Is The Future Like For Vaps or Vaping?
With the most significant share of vape sales reserved for marijuana THC distillate, experienced consumers turn more often to products including minor cannabinoids and a greater swathe of terpenes.
That’s where vapers formulated with live resin and rosin come in. Both have gained popularity recently and can offer a “whole-plant experience.” People are turning to the more expensive, higher-quality vapors, uplifting the industry from niche to hit. And, as we all know, where cannabis influencers go, consumers often follow.
Interestingly, according to experts, the high-THC trend is more about production than consumption. Innovators are looking for low-cost means of changing their production strategies to offer a different type of experience, even if the market hasn’t fully caught up. Still, consumers will enjoy these products for their terpene content and more flower-like flavor profiles, despite their often higher price point.
People are starting to realize that there are different types of vapes. Brands looking to compete in the pre-roll sector should also consider using higher quality flowers than shake or trim. Consumers want better quality flowers in their pre-rolls. People realize a significant difference between a dried, production-grade joint and one constructed with fresh flower.
In short, both vapes and pre-rolls have yet to slow down in growing popularity. Furthermore, new technologies and innovations are on their way to help skyrocket vapes onto the broader market for inexperienced consumers looking for an elevated experience. For example, technological advances on the production side, including extraction equipment that could produce these solvent-free products on a larger scale to help reduce costs and meet consumer demand.