After several years of success with its wide range of products, Willie Nelson’s cannabis brand, Willie’s Reserve, has taken on its first medical cannabis market with an expansion into Maryland.
Since introducing its first products in 2016, Willie’s Reserve has expanded into six states and has also launched Willie’s Remedy, a line of hemp-based products.
The Willie’s Reserve team was attracted to Maryland largely because of what VP of Brands Elizabeth Hogan calls a “sensible medical rule.”
“The voters in Maryland approved something that makes a lot of sense, and the way that it’s come to market has been that they’ve set out to do it one way and that’s what’s been able to be accomplished,” Hogan tells Cannabis Business Times. “We love what we’ve been able to see from the Maryland market.”
Willie’s Reserve has partnered with Baltimore-based Culta, a state-licensed, vertically integrated cannabis operator, to bring its products to Maryland’s medical cannabis patients.
“Maryland is our first medical market, and it’s been interesting to see how the brand is received there,” Hogan says. “We’re delighted by the opportunity to get to work in more of [a] patient[-based] environment.”
While serving patients may be new for the Willie’s Reserve team, the brand has leaned in to Culta’s experience in the market and has approached customer engagement in Maryland from a new perspective.
“One of the things we were cognizant of in the beginning is that we wanted to engage in our conversation with customers a little differently,” Hogan says. “While we can certainly take a celebratory, freedom-loving approach in our adult-use markets and that really hits the right tone, in a medical market, we shifted the conversation a little bit.”
Willie’s Reserve led with ratio products in Maryland that contain varying amounts of THC and CBD, which Hogan says helped the brand resonate with the market’s patient base.
“Our thinking there was that it would be a good way to engage the consumer or shopper in a conversation about how cannabis works in the body,” she says. “That proved to be a great way to do that and a great introductory point for the brand in Maryland.”
The ratio products have been so popular that Willie’s Reserve now plans to roll them out in other markets, as well.
The Willie’s Reserve team also uses conversations about terpene content to help patients find the right products, Hogan adds.
Last year, the brand partnered with fellow musical artists Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff to further its message by offering not only Nelson’s story, but new stories from different walks of life that consumers and patients might be able to identify with.
Margo Price’s All American Made collection launched in California in early 2019 and has expanded to Maryland in the form of a new concentrate cartridge.
“That collaboration was born from hanging out backstage,” Hogan says. “She and Willie make music together and smoke pot together. From the beginning, she just expressed a ton of interest in what we were doing in the cannabis business. It got her wheels turning [and] it was a really natural extension of that conversation to do this project together.”
Last summer, Willie’s Reserve launched its Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats collection in Colorado under the Nightstache brand, which has also expanded to Maryland.
“They are very involved and outspoken in a number of different causes, and something they got interested in as Coloradans was the impact that the changing landscape of marijuana was having on the local economy and on their experience out on the road,” Hogan says. “They could see different laws and that different groups of people with different access were responding differently to the potential of cannabis, so they really wanted to get behind it as well.”
Culta provides the consistency that Willie’s Reserve needed in a partner in order to launch these brands in Maryland, Hogan adds, and the dispensary does a good job of helping patients to find the products that are right for them.
“I think that shoppers … are really looking for multiple layers of information about the products that they’re going to use,” she says. “What I’ve seen is that providing some science, some first-person account, and some culture and context really goes a long way for helping people navigate. When it comes to normalization, confident shoppers are so important.”
As in any emerging market, supply and demand in Maryland has taken some time to find a balance, but Willie’s Reserve has observed how other brands and dispensaries in the state have navigated market trends, and the team is optimistic about the future.
“I think Maryland is going to be a really important and strong cannabis market,” Hogan says. “We are growing our product line across the brand and always looking to add new products and new experiences.”
Part of these plans include new packaging. The brand’s five-pack tin has been a success among both consumers and design circles, Hogan says, and Willie’s Reserve is now in the process launching a new tin with new artwork to keep things fresh. The brand also plans to implement changes to its packaging lineup to reduce its environmental footprint.
“We’ve found a way that we can eliminate a couple pieces of our signature ready roll packaging for pre-roll joints, and that’s also coming out soon,” Hogan says.
Next week, the Willie’s Reserve team will host a live variety show featuring artists, comedians and chefs to celebrate 4/20 virtually in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the public health crisis has left many with a sense of uncertainty, Hogan says Willie’s Reserve continues to look ahead to additional expansion opportunities in new states.
“One thing we’ve learned over the last couple of years is that Willie’s Reserve has a role to play in a lot of … cannabis consumers’ lives, and we want to keep getting out there, spreading the word and keeping the show on the road in that regard. »