The Key is to Remain Adaptable and Flexible- Says Lisa Hurwitz
Lisa Hurwitz, the President of Happi talks about the idea behind launching Happi and the recent trends in the cannabis beverage industry.
With over 20 years of experience in the CPG and cannabis industries, Lisa works as a transformational brand developer and multi-channel marketing leader. She even developed the Grassroots marketing team and innovation pipeline from scratch. Lisa managed a 30+ brand portfolio for P&G North America and was also responsible for Kimberly-Clark's global brand strategy, creative, content, and design work across all brands and geographies. Lisa excels at modernizing and reinventing brands, developing unique strategies, building capabilities, and solving difficult challenges with ease. Always has a point of view, validates with data, and believes that big ideas implemented flawlessly can revolutionize an organization.
Tell me about yourself and your current work
The roots of my career began in the CPG industry where I ran a large brand portfolio for P&G on the agency side and then went in-house to Kimberly-Clark as a VP of Global Marketing for several years. I made the switch from CPG to THC in 2018 after using cannabis as a tool to sleep through the night, unwind after a long day and help provide anxiety relief. During that time, I explored cannabis products on the market, and quickly realized the lack of education for women like me looking for a product to help with these specific issues. I knew there was an opportunity for cannabis to impact women specifically. I saw this career shift as both a personal mission to help women and professional ones to develop really strong brands in the cannabis industry, which was lacking.
Image Source- Happi
How did you come up with the idea to launch Happi? What inspired you?
During my time as the CMO of Grassroots Cannabis, a multi-state operator based out of Chicago, I saw a big gap in products designed for women. Dispensaries were carrying mostly flower that was high in THC. Very few had low-dose products that were not smokable. So I began working on a women’s brand in late 2019 with the hope of closing this gap. At the same time, my business partner, Joe Reynolds, saw the same outage in the Michigan market and began working on a microdose beverage inspired by his wife and designed for women. Our paths merged after I left Grassroots in late 2020 and Happi was truly born. We designed the product with all-natural ingredients and a low dose of THC per can so it could be approachable and comfortable for women. At Happi, we believe that health and happiness go hand-in-hand and that all of life's moments deserve to be celebrated.
Let's discuss writing a good cannabis beverage launch plan: what should the checklist be?
Always begin with a strategy, know your target consumer and your points of difference as a brand. Creating a clear brand identity and carving out your niche within the cannabis beverage industry should be at the top of the checklist for any brand. Given the complexity of the Michigan market, combined with my background, we approached the launch of Happi as we would a CPG product - by creating a very distinct and clear brand ethos, built holistically. We know who our target audience is – women who want to replace their glass of wine, sleep better at night or just relax after a long day. And we know what matters to our consumers – great taste, a consistent sipping experience, all-natural ingredients, and an end effect that leaves them feeling happy. By differentiating ourselves from other products on provisioning center shelves, Happi has become more than just a product; it’s an experience.
The ability to remain adaptable and flexible is also key for other brands looking to launch a cannabis beverage. In an industry that’s constantly evolving, we’re gaining insights from consumers and fellow brands alike. Starting small and testing is the key. We spent many months in beta testing in Michigan to understand our consumers, the market, the flavors, dosages, and the experiences consumers want. All of this has informed our products, our innovation pipeline, and our launches. Applying those learnings and remaining nimble with your distribution and production partners and building strong relationships with provisioning centers are all part of the process.
Walk us through your experience with Happi, what marketing worked and what did not work at launch?
When we first launched Happi, we wanted to look at the alcohol replacement category. Our marketing was very focused on advising the consumer to switch from alcohol to Happi. At the time, we were the only company offering a THC-infused beverage that could replace a glass of wine or beer in Michigan. We were determined to make Happi well known within our home state, through strong, regional marketing and PR efforts. We quickly learned that Happi can be more than just a social beverage. As we evolve, we see Happi as the go-to beverage meeting multiple consumers' needs, such as sleep and relaxation. We have some very exciting new product launches on the horizon, which will solidify Happi as more than just a social beverage. This new direction, which is untapped at the moment, gives us the opportunity to tell our story on a national level as we are filling a much-needed gap in the cannabis beverage market. We truly believe there is a Happi for every occasion and many of these are not just social occasions.
Image Source- Happi
What tips do you have to create buzz pre-launch?
Happi was fortunate to be the first THC-Infused beverage to launch in the state of Michigan, and it’s true what they say- there is value in being first. The demand and buzz for this type of product were there from the start. We had a lot of fun making the most of that pre-launch market excitement by utilizing our Happi Camper, a souped-up VW trailer designed to look like our Lemon Elderflower can. Throughout summer
2021, we toured our home state of Michigan, visiting farmer’s markets and other events to provide THC-free samples of Happi. This allowed consumers to see, taste, and interact with Happi in a real way. The buzz from the Happi camper drove traffic to our dispensary partners, created visibility, and sent people to the Happi website and our social media channels. Not to mention we loved having the opportunity to hear feedback in real-time from future consumers.
Which cannabis beverage brands do you think nailed their marketing?
We admire what Cann has been able to do through its marketing efforts. They have a clear, consistent, and strong tone of voice that resonates well with the social occasion consumer in California. Likewise, we’ve been able to achieve similar success in the Midwest; focusing on women interested in having a Happi in hand for all of life’s occasions. In the coming months, our marketing is going to expand beyond just social occasions, meeting consumer demand for functional beverages that address multiple need states.
Provide 2-3 business challenges you faced when growing Happi and at launch, how did you overcome them?
Being the first of our category to launch in the state of Michigan means there wasn’t a blueprint in place for production, formulation, or state approvals. Consistency of dosing and navigating state regulations were two initial challenges that Happi was able to quickly overcome. We were able to pave the way for the process, carving out our unique formulation and production that differs from most cannabis beverages on the national market. We were lucky to have the support of our manufacturing partners and the Cannabis Regulatory Agency of Michigan, and we continue to define our path for growth through new and innovative production plans. We’re currently piloting an innovative dosing technology as part of our canning line that would allow for very precise dosing of each can, something difficult to achieve in THC beverages.
On the regulatory side, ensuring we are building Happi for the future and meeting Michigan’s strict regulations was another opportunity. We’ve concentrated on building standards to meet GMP / FDA requirements, thoroughly vetting our formulations with top food scientists and consultants in Michigan, documenting SOPs for best manufacturing processes, and putting in place tight quality control and quality assurance processes even before Happi goes to the lab for state-level testing. This vigorous testing process not only ensures customers are getting the best product but sets Happi up for success as we scale and look towards multi-state expansion.
What trends do you see in the cannabis beverage industry?
As the cannabis industry is still in its infancy, the beverage market hasn’t developed as quickly as many companies originally expected. More and more, we’re seeing brands pivot to meet the market where it is. Higher THC beverages are trending in many states. And the intersection of cannabis-infused beverages with adaptogenic or functional beverage ingredients and formats is also a trend we continue to see building. Whether it’s adjusting the dosage, shifting product categories, or launching new consumption formats to meet specific needs, cannabis companies are learning to read the market and provide for the consumer, all while staying true to their brand. Happi plans to launch a new, 5mg beverage and additional functional beverages that include minor cannabinoids like CBN and CBG in the coming months. We know where the market is, and we’re ready to meet it.
Interviewed by Sid Patel, Beverage Trade Network