Food & Beverage

In These Tense Times, CBD Is Thriving

The all-purpose cannabis compound has carved out a place in millennials’ hearts, and its trajectory looks promising, writes food & beverage analyst Emily Moquin

This is a preview of our latest State of Food and Beverage report. 

Cannabidiol’s associated benefits of pain relief and anxiety reduction have driven its increased usage amid the pandemic, inflation and these uncertain times. Food & beverage brands should consider the occasions for which consumers may be turning to CBD-infused products and whether these create opportunities or competitive threats for their own products.

Download the full report.

1 in 3 U.S. adults, and half of millennials, have tried a CBD product

Before the pandemic, CBD went from a secret compound enjoyed by elites to a nearly unavoidable presence in retail stores across the country. Part of the chemical’s appeal lies in its universal applications: infused sparkling waters, chocolates, bath bombs and, of course, gummies.

CBD’s ubiquity has led to an increase in awareness among U.S. adults, rising 5 percentage points since June 2019 to 65 percent. Usage, meanwhile, increased from around 1 in 4 to 1 in 3 over that same time period, with the share of respondents who have tried CBD products rising across every generation.

Perceptions of legality may play a role in the increasing usage: 73 percent of consumers now say CBD is legal, versus 61 percent in 2019. But a larger factor is likely the pandemic. This usage increase coincides with a period of heightened stress and anxiety stemming from both the pandemic and its economic toll. Amid the ongoing health crisis, consumers are looking for healthy methods to manage their physical, emotional and mental well-being.

U.S. adults are just as likely to have tried THC-infused foods and beverages as CBD-infused products

When looking at foods and beverages specifically, usage of CBD-infused products is similar to usage of such products infused with tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Millennials are roughly twice as likely to have tried both CBD- and THC-infused food and beverage products as adults in general. This generation also leads the way in future interest in trying food and beverage products with CBD and THC: More than 6 in 10 millennials are interested in each.

Regular consumption of CBD or THC food and beverages is still infrequent for most

Those who have tried CBD- or THC-infused foods or beverages don’t tend to use them that frequently, but there is a group of core weekly users, and just over half use these products at least once a month. Millennials are using all of these products more frequently, with roughly 6 in 10 saying they use each at least once a month.

CBD gummies and creams reign supreme, but consumers express similar levels of interest in CBD-infused food

The top methods for consuming CBD suggest consumers want a sensory experience associated with their intake. The least-involved methods — oils or tinctures, powders, and pills or capsules — sit at the bottom of the list. Baby boomers were more likely to express interest in creams or lotions than other categories.

Pain relief is seen as CBD’s top benefit, but mental health advantages enhance appeal for millennials

The health benefit most associated with CBD is pain relief. But millennials — the generation credited with normalizing discourse about mental health — are especially attracted to CBD for its mental wellness benefits, including reducing anxiety, improving sleep and offsetting symptoms of depression, which nearly half believe it can help with.

The pandemic has put mental health in the spotlight: 61 percent of millennials and 52 percent of U.S. adults said in January 2022 that “anxious” described their mood well, while a roughly equal share of U.S. adults said the same in January 2021. With Gen Z taking up the mantle in continuing mental health conversations, CBD (and likely THC) usage should continue to grow.

The growing use of CBD is a telling indicator of consumer mindsets in 2022. In these tense times, consumers are in search of products that can facilitate their mental health goals. Even food & beverage brands that aren’t interested in including CBD in their portfolios can pursue these benefits through alternative products.

Increased usage of CBD may also pave the way for THC-infused products in the food & beverage world, pending federal legality. Interest in THC products is just as high as it is for CBD products, and consumers are especially interested in food and beverage delivery methods. Further research and consumer education will help brands develop products containing CBD or THC targeted for specific uses, giving consumers more confidence in their safety and efficacy.

Brands, especially those in the adult beverage sector, should expand their competitive consideration set to include beverage products in both the CBD and THC markets. Already, the shares of millennials who have tried CBD- and THC-infused beverages are roughly the same at nearly 3 in 10, and more than 6 in 10 millennials have expressed interest in trying these products.