Shelly Ruzicka, Manager at Hatch Dispensary on Growing Cannabis Beverages
Recent MS, HRMD graduate and current MS, I/OP graduate student positively energizing change in the cannabis industry chats with Cannabis Drinks Expo on Cannabis Beverages.
Your Place Of Work
Hatch Dispensary - Addison, IL
Tell us a little about your background and journey into Cannabis.
My professional cannabis journey started when Illinois went legal in 2020, although my voyage into cannabis started way before that in my freshman year of high school. My first job as a budtender was at one of the largest MSOs in the country, Cresco – Sunnyside dispensaries. Being a budtender back then was uniquely exciting and still is, but in the early days of legalization, we would have to ration what we had in stock because the state couldn't supply the demand at the time (1 edible per person). After my time at Cresco/Sunnyside, I joined Hatch, a private dispensary in Addison, IL, where I continue to be a retail dispensary manager.
Explain your current role
I'm a retail dispensary manager at our Addison MED/AU location and the lead purchaser for both Hatch locations' glass, paraphernalia, and accessories. I procure glass, paraphernalia, and accessories with my team by working alongside quality distributors and vendors to ensure guests get what they need to pair with their material.
What trends do you see in cannabis beverages?
The cannabis beverages space is still in its infancy but on its fast track to normalization in many ways. As a result, I see different trends popping up nationwide. Each state is growing and learning at its own unique pace, especially regarding craft grower licenses, infuser licenses, and licensed consumption lounges. Currently, I see a handful of low-dose/high-dose options: CBD: THC, fast-acting water-soluble powders, adaptogens, slightly traditional tea bags, energizing herbal minis, and carbonated drinks.
What tips do you have on growing the category when it comes to product development?
To focus on healthy and quality ingredients with a fast-acting absorption method. Taste is also a colossal deal-breaker; it's challenging for customers to have complete brand/product loyalty when the purchased product tastes like pennies or chalk. Lastly, I recommend displaying or continuing to display easy dosing instructions (Ex: cap size = 10mg) for high-dosed beverages in smaller-ounce bottles.
What are the 3 things that we can educate end consumers more on in growing end-consumer awareness?
1) The onset effect is different for everyone, so it's best to start low and go slow.
2) The transparency of ingredients and distinction matters, so ask as many questions as needed.
3) Lastly, the experience is unlike alcohol; there's no hangover, so it can complement your lifestyle and other cannabis products.
Which states / markets do you think present good growth opportunities for cannabis beverages in 2023-2024?
California, Nevada, Minnesota, Illinois, and New York.
What do you think are the current challenges in the cannabis beverage category?
Product offering, taste, and the selling models of dispensaries (transactional-based versus customer-centric/relationship based).
If you were to advise a first-time cannabis beverage consumer, what tips would you give?
A beverage is one of the easiest ways to consume cannabis, but starting at a low dose is still needed to feel the onset of effects and ensure you feel good without feeling too overwhelmed. Prepping the right setting and vibe will go a long way too.
Your favorite cannabis beverage brands?
I LOVE cannabis beverages but don't have an absolute *favorite* yet for different reasons. However, I am a fan of Revolution's Surps; they come in high-dose minis, so I mix them with other beverages like coconut water or homemade hot chocolate and can trust that I'll have the intended experience each time I consume them.
What do you look for when you purchase a cannabis beverage brand?
Ingredients/flavors, milligrams per serving, price, and taste. Taste seals the deal when I'm trying out a new beverage for the first time, and it all has to come together for me to be a long-term repetitive buyer.
Any out-of-the-box ideas you have for bud-tenders in promoting and educating the cannabis beverage category?
Always ask about intention! Most current products fit a consumer goal – portability, fast-acting, low-dose/high-dose, wellness-focused, distinction-based (sativa/hybrid/indica), carbonated/noncarbonated, etc.
If you were to make a new cannabis beverage today? What sort of product would you make and why?
I'm a beverage gal passionate about tea and adaptogens and love sharing my infused concoctions with others to try! It's how I connect with myself and others I care about. Creating a new cannabis beverage(s) is one of my personal GOALS.
If you were to market and distribute that cannabis beverage, what would be your top 3 areas you would focus on?
I would focus on connecting with organic and reliable ingredients growers, building a fun and educational community platform, and sourcing eco-friendly/sustainable packaging.