Michigan cannabis companies are developing new ways of categorizing their products for consumers

click to enlarge Cloud Cannabis Co. has launched Cloud Budtender AI, a computer program that helps link customers with products based on their preferences. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Cloud Cannabis Co. has launched Cloud Budtender AI, a computer program that helps link customers with products based on their preferences.

Gorilla Glue? Pineapple Express? OG Kush? Purple Haze? What were they smoking when they named some of these strains? For the uninitiated, navigating the sometimes wacky world of strain names can make you feel like you're already high. In recent years, however, cannabis companies have begun to develop new, more intuitive ways to categorize their products for cannabis newbies.

That was the thinking behind Common Citizen, a Michigan-based cannabis company that advocates for a "people-first" approach to the business. The company created four color-coded "Common States" to categorize its products in a way that makes it easier for new customers to understand.

Common Citizen's chief marketing officer Allison Hornev, who joined the company from Kalamazoo-based craft beer brewery Bell's, says that approach is central to how the company does business.

"It's how we decide to design, and what to grow, and then we do package it," she says. "When you do come to one of our stores, you will have an [employee] there that'll greet you and that'll kind of help you navigate that. Once we talk a little bit and decide what you might be looking for, then we'll send you that way. If you already know what you want, we're not going to get in your way, by any means. But we're there to help you decide what's right for you."

There's "Daily Dose," represented in red. "That one's really about how do you just feel healthier and strengthened [by cannabis], kind of a daily sense of well-being," Hornev says. "Sweet Relief" is blue, representing "products and strains that are designed to soothe aches and pains, and to truly find relief and feel better," she says. There's also "Unplug," in purple, which Hornev describes as being "really all about just kind of leaving the stress and negativity behind, and just unplugging to chill and unwind." And last is 'Time to Shine," coded in gold, "which is about kind of that enhancement of the experience," Hornev says, "you know, hanging out with friends and going to bars."

Hornev says it isn't just about organizing the stores' retail floors — the hope is that it will be used by other retailers. "The products that we ship out that we're sending other retailers are also associated with those Needs States, and are in those colors as well. So we're not just driving that within our store, but out in the greater marketplace," she says. "I think it plays back to that approachability of the brand. There's a lot of intimidation when you walk into some of these stores, and there are thousands of products, and it feels like they're staring at you. So how do we kind of break some of those barriers for consumers and especially new consumers? I think there's a lot of people out there right now that are looking to maybe try and see this thing that they've heard about, you know? And so let's help them. Let's not make it something that's hard or difficult or intimidating. We've got enough of that in the world."

She adds, "Our tagline is 'cannabis for humanity,' and that's something that I think is powerful."

Meanwhile, High Times, the longstanding cannabis magazine, is preparing to open a chain of retail stores in Michigan this year, where it will get into the business of selling cannabis, too. CEO Peter Horvath, who joined the company in May with a background at big brands like Victoria's Secret, American Eagle, and DSW, says that the idea is to categorize products in three tiers: color-coded in white, red, and black — representing good, better, and best price points.

Horvath says he imagines the retail floors arranged like a marketplace like the Eataly chain. Think "a massive food hall that's organized by category — here's the fish section, here's the bakery, here's the bread section, here's the macaron section, here's the cake section — so basically taking that concept to cannabis," he says. The good, better, and best price points would each have their own shelves, with products arranged from sativas, known for their energizing effects, on one side, to indicas, known for sedative properties, on the other.

"What we find is consumers like this way of thinking," he says. "For a 'good' product, that's what you buy when you have a big party and you want to share with all your friends. The 'better' product is what you buy when you've got just a couple of couples coming over, and they're your special friends. And 'best' is maybe for a home alone experience."

He adds, "We think these same things are tried and true, proven in other industries, and now proven in this industry. And we're ready to bring that to consumers in Michigan."

Meanwhile, Michigan-based cannabis chain Cloud Cannabis Co. is taking a more high-tech approach.

The company partnered with developer StrainBrain to launch Cloud Budtender AI, a computer program that uses artificial intelligence to help link customers with products based on their preferences. According to the company, the StrainBrain engine uses millions of data points drawn from hundreds of thousands of user reviews.

Jim Anstey, chief marketing officer of Cloud Cannabis, agrees that the sheer number of strains can be daunting.

"Let's face it, strains — there are hundreds of them, if not thousands of them," he says. "I've worked in the cannabis industry for five years, and I still don't regard myself as a strain expert. It's just really difficult to navigate that well."

Cloud Budtender is accessible via a tablet on the Cloud Cannabis retail floors, but also on the company's website so customers can use it at home.

Anstey guides us through it. First you pick your store, so the program has access to its inventory. It then asks for which desired effects you're looking for. We pick "calm" and "creativity."

Next you can pick flavors — we choose "citrus" and "flowery" — and finally the desired strength. We nudge a sliding bar toward "strong."

"Ahh, the wake-and-bake special," Anstey says. The program suggests Clemenberry, Gelato Punch, and Cherry Punch strains, ranked by how closely the program thinks each strain matches our preferences.

Beyond helping customers find products, Anstey says he hopes the program can help to educate customers and destigmatize the experience of buying cannabis.

"The whole buying experience is very stigmatized and also very confusing," he says. "I think the stigma of cannabis being illegal for so long — you don't know what the products are, the different formats and different dosages. You don't know if you should have flower or vapes or edibles, and what they're going to do is different. And so education is such an important part of it. For us, I think de-stigmatizing, and making people feel at home and welcome there and having good experience, is certainly important, but also I think demystifying cannabis."

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