In early January, a different type of news headline rocked the press. California had become the eighth state to legalize recreational marijuana use. In the coming years, we can expect the number of states permitting recreational use to continue to grow. This has big implications for many industries across the country, especially foodservice.For now, the sale of cannabis products remain illegal under federal law, but that hasn’t stopped publications, such as Forbes from including cannabis on its 2018 trends list this month, When the political tide turns, you can expect restaurants across the board to begin featuring cannabis creations in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Coffee shops, for example, currently casual places to relax, read, and study, could take this lounge atmosphere up a notch and become social spots for those who want to do all the above, while enjoying a smoke or an edible with friends.
Restaurants too can be expected to get involved in this trend by incorporating cannabis into dishes and offering unique private “tasting experiences” for those who wish to further refine their palate. Currently, chefs and managers must work to constantly change menus and use new ingredients in ways never before seen. The introduction of cannabis into this process will allow for infinitely more flavor and dish combinations, many of which will require research and testing to get right. From there, it’s possible that well-known chefs could begin offering master classes for those entering or currently working in the culinary field to learn how to incorporate cannabis into dishes effectively.
CCD Innovation, a California food and beverage consulting agency, recently released its “2018 Food Trends That Matter” in December which featured cannabis as one of the nine published. We spoke with CCD’s VP of Trends & Marketing, Kara Nielsen, about the effect cannabis could have on the food industry and what the path will look like to widespread availability in eateries across the US. According to Nielsen, one trend is that edible cannabis products have already evolved from the traditional offering of brownies and “cannabutter” into cold brew coffees, sodas, puddings, granola, and even olive oil. The elevation of cannabis into more sophisticated mediums has resulted in increased creativity, writing, and dialogue on this ingredient.
When asked what it would take for cannabis to be propelled into the mainstream, Nielsen suggested that, as with many products and services, celebrity endorsements could really help boost its popularity and sway more of the general public to vote for legalization in their states. Surely enough, Whoopi Goldberg became one of the first celebrities to throw her name behind cannabis by collaborating with Om Edibles founder, Maya Elisabeth. The two have joined forces to create “Whoopi & Maya,” a line of medical cannabis products designed for women’s relief from menstrual pain. Although not focused on food, Goldberg’s starpower is sure to create buzz around cannabis and its myriad uses. Until more endorsements come through, Nielsen noted that on the local scale, “potrepreneurs” are hard at work in legalized jurisdictions opening small artisanal shops to sell their cannabis creations.
Restaurateurs can learn a lot from eateries in states like Denver, where cannabis has been legal for almost six years. For one, eateries will have to make a choice between serving alcohol and serving cannabis as the law prohibits the sale of both in one location. This can create financial problems if owners sacrifice alcohol revenues in hopes of higher cannabis inflows that are never realized. Additionally, eateries must be cognizant of how they are offering cannabis to customers. An April 2015 article from OpenTable Business writes how a Denver “Bud & Breakfast” owner was fined for providing samples of cannabis to customers. Even though the samples were free, the city government viewed the act as dispensing marijuana and ordered the owner to cease.
The legalization of cannabis has economic implications as well. New Frontier Data’s 2017 Annual Report calculates that legalizing cannabis would result in almost $132 billion in federal tax revenue and over one million new jobs over the next seven years. Restaurants that purchase cannabis for use in their products will pay a tax for their orders, as will customers who frequent these places of business. While the tax benefits for the government will be beneficial, restaurant owners will need to factor tax prices into their business planning to determine if cannabis is something that they can afford to introduce and in what quantities.
As social and political attitudes around cannabis shift over the next few years, both restaurateurs and customers should look forward to the ways in which this highly-publicized ingredient will transform their dishes and palates.
Photo credit: KIVA Confections (in-text) and Abigail Lynn (featured image)