As recreational marijuana moves beyond buds, and countries besides Canada mull legalization, cannabis companies have a lot of potential roads to travel as they seek to grow.
Aurora Cannabis Inc.
, the second-most valuable marijuana producer in the world, is establishing a different path than some of its rivals in the marijuana industry. It has yet to purchase U.S. marijuana assets, as Canopy Growth Corp.
has done, nor signed on a major U.S.-based partner like Cronos Group Inc.
has, nor pushed hard at CBD and hemp, like Tilray Inc.
After Aurora’s fiscal third-quarter earnings late Tuesday and a conference call Wednesday morning, MarketWatch talked with Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley about what the company sees as opportunities in cannabis, and where it’s taking a different approach than some of its rivals. Here is how Battley and Chief Executive Terry Booth, who spoke in the conference call, outlined their thinking on the future.
Entering the U.S.
Booth said in the conference call Wednesday that even if the U.S. were to legalize marijuana federally today, it would take years before the country would be able to ramp supply and solve the issues that Canada has grappled with since recreational pot became legal there in October.
If federal legalization in the U.S. does occur, it would be important to eliminate the barriers moving product between states. “If they don’t erase the state-to-state line, then it’s a very difficult market to operate at scale in,” Booth said in the conference call. “The [multistate operators] have small facilities in various states. That’s not the Aurora way … If they erase the state lines, it becomes a massive opportunity.”
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Booth pointed to Nevada specifically as the best state for a U.S. company to enter, in large part because of its licensing system and the amount of retail product that’s available. Australis Capital Inc.
, Aurora’s investment vehicle, is based in Nevada.
Though Battley stressed that Aurora was not “making news” Wednesday in terms of an announcement to acquire an American business, he reiterated that Aurora is trying to figure out the most appropriate approach to the U.S., with famed hedge-fund manager Nelson Peltz helping out.
Booth did say that some of the American weed companies will have a “first mover advantage” if the U.S. legalizes pot and that “there would be some cherry-picking to do on the [multistate operator] side.” The valuations on those companies would inflate significantly if the U.S. federal government legalized pot, but he said it’s a mistake to value those companies based on their retail presence.
“You can always open more retail stores,” Booth said in the conference call. “The value of the first 25 stores in Ontario is dropping rapidly. We’re quite happy we didn’t jump into that fray.”
Non-flower cannabis products
For pot products such as vaporizers, Battley said Aurora has allocated its resources toward products that the company knows there is a demand for, based on U.S. state-legal data, and where executives believe they can generate the most profit.
Unlike rival Canopy Growth, which has taken a $4 billion investment from Corona beer-maker Constellation Brands Inc.
, Aurora executives say the company is watching beverages closely but has not made a significant commitment to develop beverage products. Battley said it would probably take time, marketing and experience to change consumer tastes and grow the market beyond “something like 2% or under” in the U.S.
Booth said that if Aurora was going to get into beverages in the near future, it would be some kind of wellness drink.
“We think there is a tremendous market potential there,” Booth said in the earnings call. “But on the intoxification side of the fence, with respect to cannabis drinks, the market is just not there, it’s not proven to be a popular item anywhere and [we’re] not able to market it like typical booze companies or beer companies.”
Battley said Aurora already has a vape product on the market in Canada under the medical system, and that in general it’s a strong segment that’s not going to require a lot of development. Executives on the earnings call specifically mentioned gummy candy products and vaporizers as some of the best-selling products in the U.S.
European cannabis market
When asked by an analyst in the conference call about Aurora’s growing operations across the pond, Battley said: “Let me start by telling you how much we love Europe. Europe is a market where there is very little competition, there’s only one producer in Europe right now. It’s one of eight that’s European Union GMP-certified … very limited competition, very limited supply.”
Aurora executives said the company had “boots on the ground” in Italy, Germany, Malta, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and pointed out that there were only three companies that were awarded contracts to distribute cannabis in Germany.
“I lose sleep over being able to supply this global market,” Booth said in the conference call. “The European market is going to go nowhere but up, maybe not this quarter on the hockey stick — but we’ll start shipping to Europe in bulk before too long, we’re the first to sell high-value derivatives in Germany which are starting to get traction with the doctors … they still will take whatever we can give them.”
Booth said that if it was a “pure business decision 20 years in the future, at today’s prices, Aurora might stop selling recreational pot in Canada altogether.”
“But we’re not going to do that,” he said. “We’re Canadians: It’s Canadian medical patients first, medical patients in Europe second, and the adult-use market third.”