Harrison Bard discusses why pre-rolls are driving the cannabis industry forward
Prior to starting Custom Cones USA in 2017, Harrison Bard was working with Amazon in the e-commerce sector working with large vendors up in Seattle.
Now, as CEO and Co-Founder, his expertise lies in the pre-roll sector of the cannabis industry. In his role, he tends to wear many different hats leading the marketing team, spearheading HR initiatives, managing the website, and working in the new product development space.
Founded in 2017 by Fredrik Rading and Harrison Bard, Custom Cones USA is a leading pre-roll resource in the cannabis industry. The team has a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of pre-roll manufacturing and the entire pre-roll sector of the cannabis space. From custom-branded pre-rolled cones and wholesale bulk cones to completely customized pre-roll packaging projects and pre-roll machines, they offer expertise and solutions to companies big and small in all sectors of the pre-roll space. Compared to other packaging companies that sell pre-rolled cones as one of thousands of products, Custom Cones focuses only on the pre-roll sector of the industry, which allows them to offer the widest variety of pre-roll products. Equipped with in-depth understanding of pre-roll manufacturing equipment, they can better understand how their customers run their businesses and helps to troubleshoot issues they may experience along the way. Custom Cones USA wants to help customers operate with relative ease and ensure both the companies and their customers to have the highest quality smoking experience.
Custom Cones puts an emphasis on the importance of being compliance-focused and thoroughly vetting their supply chain and industry partners. As a company, their products are held to the strictest standards – testing every component and finished product for heavy metals, pesticides, and microbials. To do this, they use material data safety sheets, food grade statements, and any other documents a compliance team may need in getting new pre-roll products approved and sold in tightly regulated markets. By promoting truth, transparency, and compliance, Custom Cones hopes to help people make informed decisions and have a positive experience with cannabis.
Pre-rolls are extremely important in the cannabis industry, as they continue to remain the fastest-growing product segment today and stand at the 3rd biggest product segment behind flower and vape pens.
“In a white paper, we recently published in partnership with Headset, we found that pre-rolls are growing 12% year-over-year (YoY) in the US and 38% YoY in Canada. We also found that pre-rolls are often the most “attached” item in a shopper’s cart, meaning if they primarily buy one type of item, pre-rolls are often the most attached or second most attached category of item. Pre-rolls are added to purchases at such a high rate because they are the perfect impulse buy and convenient format for the customer to spark up as soon as they leave the store or get to where they are going. In fact, budtenders often report that pre-rolls are the way a customer will try a new brand or strain.”
Driving that growth and making these pre-rolls so important is the price decrease in flower and advancements in automated machinery. When Fredrik and Harrison researched how to make cones seven years ago, there were no automated machines to do it for you. Today, manufacturers can make these pre-rolls at a high volume, and sell them at a low price. As the quality of pre-rolls continues to improve, sales of pre-rolls will continue to rise and may eventually surpass both vapes and flower to be the number one category in the industry.
What sort of year-over-year growth trend are you seeing with pre-rolls in the US and Canada?
We found that pre-rolls are growing 12% YoY in the US and 38% YoY in Canada. We found through our research that consumers shifted their spending from flower, which was down 8% in the US and 10% in Canada, to pre-rolls, vape pens, and edibles/beverages. If you dig a little deeper and look at which sub-categories are driving the growth, pre-rolls were 2 of the top 3 fastest-growing categories in both the US and Canada. In the US, mixed strain pre-rolls were the fastest growing category, with 63% YoY growth, with all-in-one disposable vape pens second at 60% growth, and infused pre-rolls coming in 3 rd with 22% YoY growth. In Canada, infused pre-rolls were previously not allowed, so we saw an explosion of growth into infused pre-rolls, where they grew at 1,426% YoY. Mixed stain pre-rolls were the second fastest growth category in Canada at 440% and all-in-one disposable vapes 3rd with 160% growth. Besides infused pre-rolls driving a ton of growth within the industry, we are also seeing pre-roll multi-packs help drive this strong growth. Back in 2018, multi-packs of pre-rolls only made up 27.7% of all pre-roll sales, whereas now multi-packs make up 47.62% of all pre-roll sales. The growth of multi-packs further solidifies the assumption that part of the pre-roll allure is the convenience factor.
How can Missouri Cannabis companies capitalize on this trend and how have the other markets already done so?
New markets, like Missouri, should capitalize on the pre-roll trend by jumping in and either adding these to their product mix or adding more options if they already sell pre-rolls.
Compared to growing flower, extracting oil, or making edibles, which are all very capital-intensive processes, manufacturing pre-rolls is relatively inexpensive in terms of the equipment and space needed. Also, you do not need to grow your own flower, as you can easily purchase quality flower on the wholesale market for an inexpensive price. Incorporating pre-rolls into your product portfolio is attainable and affordable. Another way Missouri cannabis companies can capitalize on this trend is by adding variety to their pre-roll line by offering different sizes, paper types, and flavors, expanding their product mix of SKUs.
One market to look at is Arizona, which has had a recreational market since January 2021. According to Headset and AZ Government data, cannabis sales peaked in 2022 at almost $18 million in December. More specifically, infused pre-rolls went from $6.2 million in sales during Q1 of 2022, to $26.7 million in Q1 of 2023. Today, that number stands at almost $30 million in Q2 of 2023. Pre-rolls are dominating the market in Arizona, and these Missouri cannabis companies can use this as an example to succeed.
Why do you think pre-rolls are such a staple in the current industry?
The pre-roll category is a staple in the market because they are low in cost, high quality, potent, and easy to smoke. Pre-rolls also fit well with the growing recreational market. In our white
paper, we determined that “recreational” categories, such as flower, pre-rolls, and vapes are driving the market, whereas “wellness” categories are shrinking. Pre-rolls fit into the day-to-day, making it easy to leave a dispensary, and be ready for any hike, concert, party, etc. If you look at demographic data, pre-rolls are equally as popular and a staple amongst all generations. For instance, pre-roll spending ranges from 12.8% in Baby Boomers to 14.5% in Millennials. With every other category, you see the share of spend grow or shrink with age, for example, Baby Boomers allocate 42.5% of consumption to flower, but this number shrinks with each generation until it falls to 33.3% of the share amongst Gen Z consumers. Vape pens have the opposite trend, being the strongest amongst Gen Z shoppers, making up 33.6% of spend, but shrinking amongst each generation until it falls to 14% for Baby Boomers. The pre-roll category is the most stable amongst all the generations and this goes to show you this consumption method is extremely popular and a generational classic.
What are ways Custom Cones USA has contributed to the boom of pre-rolls in the industry?
Something that we as a company find to be very important for the industry is variety. We strive to help companies increase the number of SKUs that they carry, stand out in the marketplace, expand their business, and scale their pre-roll lines. Custom Cones USA offers various tips, paper types, and sizes to accommodate each of our customer’s needs. In fact, we were the first company to offer bulk hemp wrap blunt cones. We also offer many types of pre-rolled cones, pre-rolled tubes, and pre-roll blunts that no other company has, such as tubed shape pre-rolls and blunts that have wood, glass, or ceramic tips.
In addition to paper products, we also pioneer the latest and best pre-roll manufacturing equipment. As the industry is so young, many of the tools pre-roll manufacturers need didn’t exist a few years ago. As the preeminent leader in the pre-roll space, equipment manufacturers trust us in helping them develop new pre-roll machines and help launch their technology. As a company, we also helped launch the first automated infused pre-roll machine, which helps companies not only produce more infused pre-rolls but create higher quality infused pre-rolls at a lower cost.
As a B2B company, we work with many large companies that need high-volume bulk orders.
However, we also offer the smallest minimum order and have items already in stock so the customer does not need to deal with long wait times. This is super helpful for those smaller shops that are just kicking off. Custom Cones USA also has the widest ability to custom brand both the pre-roll, the packaging, and even the pre-roll machine if your company creates a totally customized shape or size of a pre-roll. As a company, we are contributing to the pre-roll boom by offering a unique product variety to our customers that other categories do not have.
How can Missouri keep the ball rolling with pre-rolls in the market?
I recommend Missouri companies jump into infused pre-rolls and pre-roll multi-packs, as these are the hottest-selling pre-roll formats on the market. It’s tempting for some farms to put their trim and shake into pre-rolls, as a way to get rid of this low-quality flower material, but this only makes sense if you are trying to produce the cheapest, budget-focused pre-rolls. Pre-rolls are now a staple product, so consumers will know if they are made with low-quality ingredients and drop your brand with one bad experience.
I always recommend companies foster deep and meaningful connections with budtenders, as they are the gatekeeps to your customers. Spend time dropping off samples, educating, and connecting with budtenders – if they get behind your brand, they will recommend you to customers. Even experienced customers often ask budtenders for advice, as they are always looking to try new strains/brands. California tends to be a trendsetter, so I would keep an eye 2on what is working out there and bring those trends to Missouri early. The next big trend is the premium filter tip – we are seeing companies expand into wood, glass, and ceramic-tipped pre-rolls with both hemp wrap and rolling paper. These premium tips help offer a more premium smoking experience and further differentiate your brand.
At Custom Cones USA, we partner with charities across a variety of causes on our Cones for a Cause line of designer pre-rolled cones. These cones come pre-printed with a design on the filter tip. For example, the Breast Cancer charity cones feature a pink tip with pink ribbon, and the Pride cones feature a rainbow flag printed on the tip. We also just launched our USA flag cone, which supports veterans-related cannabis charities. We donate 10% of profits to each cause and encourage the brand buying these to also create their own campaign and donate as well. These pre-printed tips give customers the opportunity to enhance their pre-rolls without paying the higher costs for custom orders, which also have higher minimum order quantities and longer lead times. We also have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hannukah-themed pre-rolled cones as part of our designer line of cones, which also help small businesses create unique, seasonal pre-rolls for fractions of the cost of full custom branding!