Eye-catching packaging and high-octane variants of non-alcoholic THC-based concoctions have become a game changer for Minnesota retailers. Since it became legal for Minnesota liquor stores to sell THC beverages on June 1, sales have been raging. “We are approaching 10% of our sales being THC drinks,” says Jon Halper, owner of Top 10 Liquors, which has 13 stores in the Twin Cities with another opening in about a month. “It’s taking on a life of its own. This is a great category we’re all over to grow.”
THC beverages are primarily produced locally, and variants include seltzers, flavored teas, lemonades, non-alcoholic cocktails, and wines. The THC dose in a single can typically ranges from 2mg to 10mg. Halper initially introduced two end caps with THC beverages on his retail floors. “Now we’ve expanded to 12- to 20-foot runs plus dedicated cooler space,” he says. “It’s a very small percentage of our floor layout, but our sales have been terrific. We keep looking to increase the product offering in our stores as we continue to succeed.”
Top 10 Liquors stores carry about 150 THC beverage SKUs and markets them with a weekly email to approximately 100,000 customers. “When we first launched the category, the supply chain was a little slow because we went from zero to 100mph overnight,” he says. “Now the supply chain is really solid.”
The three top-selling brands at Top 10 Liquors are Cantrip ($21.96 a four-pack of 12-ounce cans), Happi ($12.96 a four-pack of 7.5-ounce cans), and Surly ($16.96 a four-pack of 12-ounce cans). “Last week the top-selling product item overall was Surly Double Take THC, a two-serving 10mg THC offering ($19.96 for a 12-ounce),” Halper says. “We are quickly seeing the two-serving 10mg THC items are jumping to the top of our sales, which is what we expect to see.”
Sales of single-serve cans are also accelerating at Top 10. The leading single-serve brand is TBD Green Tea Lemonade ($7 a 12-ounce can or two cans for $10). “We introduced it last week and immediately sold a ton of it,” Halper says.
Surdyk’s in Minneapolis offers 66 THC beverage SKUs. “I spend time talking to people in their 70s and 80s as much as I do to people in their 20s and 30s,” says THC beverage buyer Patrick Walsh. “You can go to a barbecue and find people enjoying their craft brews alongside people enjoying THC beverages. I hope it continues to keep people together who might not otherwise be at the same place at the same time.”
Popular brands at Surdyk’s are Trail Magic ($25 a four pack of 16-ounce cans) and Modist Melt ($25 a four pack of 16-ounce cans). Surdyk’s began advertising THC drinks heavily during its summer sale last month. “My theme was low-dose, high-volume beverages,” Walsh says. “It’s hot in the summer, and people here are always spending time outside, so you tend to want to drink a higher volume of cold liquid if you’re imbibing. I focused on selections meeting that criteria — 16-ounce cans with to 3mg to 5mg of THC.”
Two main groups of Surdyk’s THC beverage customers are dosage seekers and the health conscious. “Dosage seekers are looking at dosage for price, and flavor is a secondary decision factor,” Walsh explains. “Fortunately, everything tastes pretty good these days. Other people are looking for lower dosages. They are maybe more health conscious and looking for alternatives to alcohol. I spend a lot of time educating customers about all of the differences and what you can expect from a THC beverage or one that has CBD in it, too.”
Sales of THC beverages are good and growing at Haskell’s The Wine People, a 12-store chain in Minneapolis. “I’m getting phone calls from companies in California, Oregon, Illinois, and all over the place trying to get their THC drinks here,” says Haskell’s president Ted Farrell. “We wanted to focus on what’s working rather than suddenly have 400 new items and only 20 of them selling. Most of the brewers here in town realized they could make a THC seltzer really quick.”
The three top-selling brands at Haskell’s are Clr!ty ($22.49 a four-pack of 12-ounce cans), Blncd ($5 a 12-ounce can), and Lupulin ($33 a four-pack of 16-ounce cans). “We want to hold steady and make sure we have a nice controlled flow into the stores,” Farrell says.
The wildcard for THC beverage sales at alcohol retailers will be when cannabis dispensaries open in Minnesota next year. “We are riding this trend as well as we can until dispensaries in Minnesota open next year,” Farrell says. “We might see a bit of a decline in the THC beverage sales. The jury is out until once the dispensaries open. It’s a big question mark.”
Regardless, it looks like THC beverages have a promising long-term future in Minnesota. “The strongest brands will survive, and the fly-by-night brands will wane,” Farrell says. “There will definitely be a spot for the THC drinks in all of the stores from now on.”