Two things jump out when you gaze closely at the edible items on display at a medical or recreational marijuana store. One is that the products are made by companies you’ve never heard of. The other is that whether the products are mind-blowing or not, their apparent profit margins definitely are. No wonder high-profile pastry chef Mindy Segal wants in.
You can’t beat 2012 James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef Award winner Segal’s knack for creating tasty desserts. Her Chicago standout HotChocolate Rrestaurant and Dessert Bar has been going strong for 10 years and her Cookie Love cookbook came out just a few months back. Who better to be the first celebrity chef to cross over into the marijuana edibles market?
The category could use her help. Taste and texture can be hit-or-miss in the edibles business, but Segal has consistently produced great desserts for years.
But a second edibles issue—potency—is a different story. Depending on the maker, THC levels (THC is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) can differ from product to product, from batch to batch and even from unit to unit within a particular batch. Too little THC and the customer feels ripped off. Too much and the result can be a brownie-induced bad trip like the one famously experienced by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. It’s a big deal, especially on the medical marijuana side of the business.
That’s one reason Segal is partnering with Illinois medical cannabis cultivator and processor Cresco Labs to create her product line. She’ll be able to tap Cresco’s expertise in precision dosage and strain selection. Here’s how Cresco describes the factors that come into play when people consume marijuana by swallowing instead of smoking it:
“Ingesting cannabis produces much stronger and more psychoactive effects than other delivery systems. When digested, cannabinoids are broken down in the gastrointestinal tract and then passed through the liver before entering the bloodstream. As a result of this process, the cannabinoids pass through the blood-brain barrier more effectively, thereby increasing potency by making them more likely to bind with the endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body. It may take 30 minutes to 2 hours to feel the full effects from ingested cannabis.”
Which is why marijuana edibles that are delicious to eat and accurately deliver the desired high will do well in this fast-growing market.
"We've all heard the expression 'it tastes like medicine' but there's no reason it has to," says Segal. "With my recipes and Cresco's technology, we're developing this line of products to be consistent every time and absolutely enjoyable to eat."
Marijuana is illegal at the federal level, so there are no Food & Drug Administration regulations to guide its manufacture. Each state or locality where marijuana is legal sets its own rules; Cresco will guide the Segal-branded products to market in these various jurisdictions.
Her initial product line will include chocolate brittle bars, infused granola bites, “an infused chocolate drink that it intended to be warmed” i.e., hot chocolate, and a “ready made mix with do-it-yourself instructions.”
Cresco is expecting big things from Segal’s product line.
“Having someone with Mindy's name brand and credibility enter the cannabis industry says a lot about where this industry is headed," says Charles Bachtell, Cresco Labs' founder.
Segal’s products could be sold at medicinal marijuana dispensaries (23 states allow medical marijuana) and at recreational pot shops in the four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, plus Washington DC) where marijuana has been legalized. Another 14 states have decriminalized certain amounts of marijuana possession.
So might other restaurant industry pros take a crack at the marijuana edibles market? There’s plenty of business to go after. Figures from the first full year of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado give an indication of how big edibles could become. “Edibles were certainly one of 2014’s biggest stories,” reports The Cannabist. “And for good reason, as 4,815,650 units were sold in the first year of recreational pot sales—1,964,917 units on the medical side and 2,850,733 recreationally.”
These could prove to be tip-of-the-iceberg numbers as the legal marijuana industry matures. If you’re looking for an alternative outlet for your culinary skills, the marijuana edibles market is worth a close look.
Contact Bob Krummert at bob.krummert @penton.com