Cannabis-infused balms, lotions, and oils are reaching an increasingly diverse audience. While we all refer to the category broadly as “topicals”, innovations in formulation,... A Healthy Upside for Topicals

Cannabis-infused balms, lotions, and oils are reaching an increasingly diverse audience. While we all refer to the category broadly as “topicals”, innovations in formulation, application, and delivery have resulted in an interesting array of products available to consumers. For example, THC-free topicals can be found in CBD stores, and dispensaries offer a range of formulations, from 100% THC, and all manner of CBD:THC ratios. The category as yet remains niche but has a high ceiling for growth particularly given the appeal to Boomers and others with chronic pain and soreness, signs of promise in treating skin conditions, and the booming popularity of CBD products in general. (The adventurous have been taking topicals into the bedroom as well.)

Not that CBE readers need convincing, but for any skeptics doubting the interest in topicals by the mainstream market, consider that even mass market outlets like Shape (in ’17, no less) have commented on the category. (The New York Times caught up a year later in an article on CBD oils this January and revisited the topic a few weeks ago.) Of course, coverage by the mainstream isn’t always unequivocally positive. Vox‘s take last week – on CBD in general, not just topicals – was titled “CBD is everywhere. But is it a scam?

Regardless, or perhaps in part because, of the noise in the press, consumer interest in topicals is there. Further, feedback from current users shows promise for loyalty and thus long-term engagement with the category. In a whitepaper released by High Yield Insights in October, only 16% of current cannabis users reported having tried topicals. (“Current” defined as having used any cannabis product in the past three months. While a subjective definition, even three months is on the generous side when attempting to define a current user.) Sixteen percent is clearly not in the same realm as edibles, flower, or any of the other widespread categories. Interestingly, however, nearly a fourth of those who have tried topicals prefer topicals to all other products.

Of these topicals superfans, what did we find? First, the unsurprising: users who gravitate to cannabis more for various medical purposes are more likely to use topicals. Same for preferring topicals to other products. However useful it might be to quantify those intuitive findings, the data also includes some additional points that add definition to this diverse category. For example, of those who prefer topicals, what are the product types of choice?

Speaking to the headroom for the topicals category, when asked about using various products, fewer than 40% respondents replied with “throughout the day”, “after exercising”, or “in the morning”. Reflecting the positioning of many products, most users (65%) cited bedtime when asked “when do you normally apply topicals”. For sake of brevity, let’s not get into the weeds (pun unintended) on the data here but the spread across the responses was interesting.

As for opportunities, appealing to the merits of all-day use, and designing appropriate products, may be among the more actionable steps. For a more lifestyle-oriented brand, the connection to physical activity, both in performance and recovery, also presents an approach that will resonate with certain consumer segments. The premium for topicals will be to maintain and expand the early signs of a loyal following: in a sense, the category is inherently approachable – most topicals are direct corollaries to products found on the shelves in multiple retail channels – thus the bar to trialing is already lower than some other cannabis products. The creativity possible in the category should enable industry players to convert new users of topicals – of which there are many – to loyal ongoing fans enjoying the many benefits of the diverse products available today and future innovations.

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