Coca-Cola eyes cannabis market

Coca-Cola eyes cannabis market

By Jen Skerritt, Craig Giammona

(Tribune News Service) — Coca-Cola Co. says it’s monitoring the nascent industry and is interested in drinks infused with CBD — the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that treats pain but doesn’t get you high.

The world’s largest beverage company may be the next industry giant to jump into the cannabis drinks business.

Coca-Cola Co. says it’s monitoring the nascent industry and is interested in drinks infused with CBD — the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that treats pain but doesn’t get you high. The Atlanta-based soft drinks maker is in talks with Canadian marijuana producer Aurora Cannabis Inc. to develop the beverages, according to a report from BNN Bloomberg Television.

“We are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” Coca-Cola spokesman Kent Landers said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg News. “The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time.” Landers declined to comment on Aurora.

Pot stocks Tilray Inc., Cronos Group and Canopy Growth gained in pre-market trading Monday in response to Coca-Cola’s interest. Tilray jumped 6.8 percent, adding to its 40 percent gain last week; Cronos rose 3.1 percent and Canopy’s U.S. shares climbed 2.9 percent.

Coke’s possible foray into the marijuana sector comes as beverage makers are trying to add cannabis as a trendy ingredient while their traditional businesses slow. Last month, Corona beer brewer Constellation Brands Inc. announced it will spend $3.8 billion to increase its stake in Canopy Growth Corp., the Canadian marijuana producer with a value that exceeds C$13 billion ($10 billion).

Molson Coors Brewing Co. is starting a joint venture with Quebec’s Hydropothecary Corp. to develop cannabis drinks in Canada. Diageo, maker of Guinness beer, is holding discussions with at least three Canadian cannabis producers about a possible deal, BNN Bloomberg reported last month. Heineken’s Lagunitas craft-brewing label has launched a brand specializing in non-alcoholic drinks infused with THC, marijuana’s active ingredient.

Coca-Cola has already been diversifying as consumption of soda continues to decline. The company, with its iconic brands ranging from Coke and Sprite to Powerade, announced it will acquire the Costa Coffee chain for $5.1 billion in August, and has expanded into other products including juice, tea and mineral water over the past decade.

The discussions with Aurora are focused on CBD-infused drinks to ease inflammation, pain and cramping, according to the BNN Bloomberg report. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the chemical in the pot plant often used for medicinal purposes, and doesn’t produce the high that comes from THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. There are no guarantees of any deal between Aurora and Coca-Cola, according to the report.

Heather MacGregor, a spokeswoman for Aurora, said in an emailed statement that the cannabis producer has expressed specific interest in the infused-beverage space, and intends to enter that market, BNN Bloomberg’s David George-Cosh reported.

While marijuana remains illegal at the national level in the U.S., there is growing acceptance of the use of CBD derived from marijuana to treat illnesses ranging from chronic pain to anxiety and epilepsy. The first-ever medical treatment derived from a marijuana plant will hit the U.S. market soon, after regulators in June gave an epilepsy treatment by GW Pharmaceuticals the green light.

(Reporting by Jen Skerritt and Craig Giammona for Tribune News Service)

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