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Is NY’s Craft Beverage Industry a Model for Cannabis?

Featuring Eddie Brennan - President & Co-Owner @ Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards

- Beak & Skiff 1911: Apples and So Much More (0:37)

- How Important is Vertical Integration? (5:49)

- Is Cannabis the New Alcohol? (12:38)

- Getting Your Craft Brand to Consumers (15:13)

Behind the Scenes of ESoC on site @ Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards

On the latest episode of the Empire State of Cannabis, Kaelan was joined by Eddie Brennan, CEO of Central New York’s most recognizable craft cider brand, Beak & Skiff’s 1911. The family business has been in operation for over a century and includes hundreds of apple acres that visitors flock to during the fall where they can also enjoy food, hard cider, apple wine, and even whiskey made on site. Now, Beak & Skiff has entered the cannabis industry through construction of a state-of-the-art extraction and finished product manufacturing facility – with their eyes on the adult-use cannabis industry.

Beak & Skiff 1911: Apples and So Much More (0:37)

1911 was founded, as the name suggests, in 1911 by Eddie’s great-great-grandfather. Originally an apple orchard where people could come to pick apples with their families, they have since expanded into creating ciders. Though initially concerned about the integration of alcohol into a family experience, it proved successful, allowing them to incorporate more adult-focused attractions into their business. Since then, they have developed dozens of cider flavors, and have expanded into other types of alcohol such as gin, vodka, and bourbon, while still maintaining that family atmosphere with their apple orchard, which is in the running for the third year in a row as the number one apple orchard in America. Now, they are looking to push themselves even further by entering the adult-use space. They’ve already entered the legal cannabis space, crafting a CBD seltzer that is one of the top sellers at Wegmans. Eddie and his predecessors have had to adapt throughout the 100 years they’ve been in business, but he believes that his great-great-grandfather would be proud—and perhaps a little perplexed—at the thriving business they’ve created.

How Important is Vertical Integration? (5:49)

When asked what attracts customers to a craft brand like his, Eddie believes that vertical integration has been a huge factor in his success. According to Eddie, the entire process is completed on premise. Apples are picked from the orchards, then processed and canned right on premise—and the customers love it. They appreciate the hard work and authenticity that goes into making these drinks, and they are willing to pay premium prices for a premium experience. He mentions how it would be possible to buy concentrate from China, but the consumer can tell the difference between concentrate bought even just a few days ago, versus the taste of a fresh product that was made on premise the very same day. The ability to control every aspect of production allowed Eddie to distinguish his brand from others, creating an exceptional, and, more importantly, 100% unique product.

Is Cannabis the New Alcohol? (12:38)

Kaelan raised an interesting concern, asking if Eddie was worried about what introducing cannabis into his family-experience model would say to his customers who might not be as comfortable with cannabis as others. While Eddie confirmed that it was a serious concern, he pointed out that long ago, they were just as concerned with introducing alcohol into their apple-picking experience. They were worried it would divert from the family aspect, but instead, they found that it didn’t divert from anything, but instead added another attraction. Now, folks can come with their families, bringing their children to enjoy apple-picking as well as other more age-appropriate activities, while the adults enjoy a wine or cider tasting event or even a beer during a concert. Eddie is hopeful that introduction of cannabis to his brand will widen the appeal to the public, without making anyone feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, he said that for anyone who does feel uneasy about cannabis being a potential aspect of the experience, the key to overcoming that fear is education. Many people who are against the use of cannabis are simply unaware of the potential benefits and may have never been exposed to it in a proper, safe manner. As the CEO of a multimillion-dollar company, Eddie believes that education begins with him smoking every day, and then having the opportunity to help educate those who may not be aware through his business.

Getting Your Craft Brand to Consumers (15:13)

One of the hardest challenges for a craft brand is getting it to the consumer. Without a large distributor, or substantial capital to do so yourself, it’s nearly impossible to create the kind of widespread recognition that some larger brands have. For Eddie, he recalls that trying to break into New York City, a place where there are thousands of brands, was extremely difficult, even with the help of distributors. Eddie believes that his product’s quality spoke for itself, and that is what allowed it to grow to the point that it has. His rule now is that you must “own your 50.” By this, he means that you must dominate the 50-mile radius around you, being the most present and locally known brand. However, he argues that as much difficulty as craft beverage brands have had, craft cannabis brands will have even more trouble getting their product out to the stores, and eventually to consumers. He points out that craft cannabis brands will have the same challenges, plus the added disadvantage of not being able to use certain platforms, such as Facebook, to promote their brands. If it goes the same way as hemp and floods the market with over competition, then things would be even worse for the smaller brands. However, he maintains that, at the end of the day, the most important thing is the product. If it is consistently of good quality, then you always have a chance.

Eddie’s craft brand has not only survived, it has grown into a well-recognized brand with over a century under its belt. As they make their transition into adult-use cannabis, they will certainly be one of the entities to watch as we continue to push the marketspace forward.

To hear the full conversation, check out the Empire State of Cannabis podcast on all platforms where podcasts are available, or watch the full video on YouTube or Facebook.

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