Cannabis Sales Trends: What Really Changed During COVID-19?

Departments - Upfront | Sales Trends

As the cannabis industry enters the post-pandemic world, differentiating between fleeting and long-term sales trends is crucial to success.

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May 14, 2021

Credit: LeafLink

In March, we passed the one-year mark since COVID-19 changed life in the U.S. Since then, the cannabis industry has flourished. Using wholesale cannabis sales through the LeafLink marketplace as a proxy (LeafLink’s marketplace is currently live in 27 cannabis markets across North America), the industry grew 99% year-over-year (YoY) from March 2020 to March 2021.

In addition, average sales per brand grew 37%, and average purchase value per retailer increased by 42% YoY. In other words, retailers are buying more cannabis than they were a year ago to keep up with increased consumer demand. But are they buying the same products they were before the pandemic? Here are some of the top trends we’ve seen emerge during the past year.

Pre-rolls are popular ... but not everywhere.

Since March 2020, pre-rolls have gained national popularity, driving market share on LeafLink to 7.8%, a 1.7 percentage point (pp) increase YoY. In California, this trend was amplified. Category sales rose 140% YoY, and as of March 2021, pre-rolls made up 18% of the state’s market share, a 7.6 pp increase YoY.

The change was less extreme in other states, such as Arizona, where pre-rolls share remained flat YoY despite a 98% increase in sales for this category. As the state’s adult-use market launches and COVID-19 restrictions lift, pre-rolls could become an entry point for a growing base of new cannabis consumers and gain share.

Edibles & ingestibles lose market share, but not sales.

The popularity of edibles (candies, beverages, etc.) and ingestibles (tinctures, sublinguals, etc.) declined during the pandemic as consumers spent more time at home. In March 2021, they amounted to 19% of total market share on LeafLink, down 1.7 pp YoY. The shift in preference was especially notable in Colorado. In March 2020, edibles and ingestibles made up more than 30% of the state’s market share. One year later, they were down to 26% and tied with concentrates. As Colorado reopens and tourists return to the state, that trend could reverse.

Flower sales soar higher than ever.

Throughout the pandemic, flower remained dominant across the country. In March 2021, flower accounted for 30% of total LeafLink market share, a 13 pp increase YoY. As adult-use sales in Michigan expanded, flower sales rose 528%, increasing market share to 35%. Flower’s 14 pp YoY increase in share in Michigan came at direct cost to cartridges, which declined 15 pp YoY.

Alternately, Arizona saw a 4.8% YoY decline in flower share as prices skyrocketed due to lab testing bottlenecks. In both states, re-opening could lead to a stronger supply chain and more stability.

Thanks to several major legalization wins and an uptick in consumer demand, the industry is continuing to boom. Cartridges, which are often considered to be premium-priced products, may not regain their pre-pandemic share as long as packaged flower and pre-rolls stay relatively affordable. On the other hand, edibles and ingestibles may gain share as these generally discrete products become the preferred method of consumption for events and public settings in a post-pandemic world.

Alex Feldman is the general manager of Insights & Marketing Services at LeafLink, where he develops products that empower cannabis businesses to make data-driven decisions and grow their reach.