Photo for: Sierra Elaina On How To Grow Cannabis Drinks Category



Sierra Elaina On How To Grow Cannabis Drinks Category

Meet Lehua Brands, Chief Executive Officer, Sierra Elaina who talks about Cannabis Beverages.

Your Place Of Work

Lehua Brands

Tell us a little about your background and journey into Cannabis

I started in beer and spirits at the distributor level and worked agency side and then direct as a supplier rep on a national level. I came into cannabis personally when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's. I see firsthand how the edibles I would take him to NC helped ease his pain. Coda Signature, an amazing brand was looking for someone to launch CA for them and I immediately was impressed with their Chef, Lauren Gockley, and CMO, Marji Chimes. 


What trends do you see in cannabis beverages?

As cannabis moves into a more CPG mindset, people are entering without the stigma. Therefore, while high-dose shots and drinks are still very popular I find 10 mg and less are the dose levels that are attracting new consumers and growing the category. Also, functional attributes are becoming more popular.

What tips do you have on growing the category when it comes to product development?

It starts with the formulation. Invests in flavors that resonate with people, lower the sugar and calories, and invest in marketing that shows the acceptability and sociability of beverages. Smoking is still the most popular way to consume BUT that is changing. People want different ways to enjoy cannabis and let's face it, beverages are an easy way to do so.

What are the 3 things that we can educate end consumers more on in growing end-consumer awareness?

The benefits of the plant, for myself, I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for a great deal of my life. I have had physical aches and pain from injuries and I like to be social without being out of control. Guess what? Cannabis serves all my needs. Name one other medicine that does that. It is an amazing plant and she can help so many people in so many ways.

Which states or markets do you think present good growth opportunities for cannabis beverages in 2023-2024

East Coast markets, the 95 corridor interests me.

What do you think are the current challenges in the cannabis beverage category

Buyers still think of it as an afterthought and don't realize it is the category with significant growth YOY and the "weed taste" drinks have been replaced by some wonderful new flavors! We as a category need to build awareness and position ourselves as an alcohol alternative.

Lehua Brands

If you were to give advice to a first-time cannabis beverage consumer, what tips would you give?

Control your dose to go slow and low until you get a sense of what your body can handle. 

Your favourite cannabis beverage brands?

Olala, Voila, Mari y Juana, Keef, and Mary Jones to name a few.

What do you look for when you purchase a cannabis beverage brand?

I read the labels! Dosage, sugar content, calories, and flavors. Being a marketing executive, packaging and design are important to me.

Any out-of-the-box ideas you have for bud-tenders in promoting and educating the cannabis beverage category?

Keep engaging them! Budtenders can jump shop to shop. I make it a point to create programming that validates their importance as the gatekeepers AND creates engaging organic loyalists out of the front-line folks. They are the ones who make It happen!

If you were to make a new cannabis beverage today? What sort of product would you make and why

We have a few things up our sleeves but I will say sociability, lowering sugar content, and great taste in addition to the wellness attributes. It truly is an alcohol alternative and can provide many benefits with minor cannabinoids. 

If you were to market and distribute that cannabis beverage, what would be your top 3 areas you would focus on?

You build brands at the local level so get engaged in the communities. Get to know the folks in the zip codes, plan geographic strategies, and sample, sample!