Cannabis industry reports

Are Cannabis Strains Still Important? Digging Into Strain Sales Data

March 31, 2020

Executive summary

This report looks at strains, the cannabis industry’s unique way of categorizing and marketing its products, in terms of sales data. It shows top strains for each state, the overall popularity of certain well-known strains, and strain rankings within product categories, among other important data points. It also offers insight into the phenomenon of non-strain-specific products. It will be especially interesting for people producing and marketing Flower or Pre-Roll products, but also for anyone who works with strain-specific products

Introduction

Strains are one of the most confounding aspects of the cannabis industry. They are simultaneously sacred, being the oldest and most trusted method of categorizing cannabis, and scientifically dubious, as there is little in the way of peer-reviewed research showing that one strain differs meaningfully from another. Regardless, they are a deeply entrenched part of the cannabis industry and have been, since even the old days of the grey/black market, where vendors would show up in dispensary lobbies with duffle bags of full of cannabis.

However, with the advent of medical cannabis and dispensaries, where cannabis could be presented in a more traditional retail environment, strains went mainstream. Instead of a strain simply being an excuse for your dealer to charge you more, it became a way to understand what the experience or effects of a given phenotype of cannabis would be. Under legal cannabis, the number of strains bred, cultivated, and sold has ballooned even further. The most famous strains still hold strong — Blue Dream, Gorilla Glue, Green Crack, etc. — but have been joined by a seemingly unlimited number of newcomers and crossbreeds.

While, again, there isn’t science to support the claim that all these strains do actually have unique effects, there is science that suggests strains do make a significant difference in the molecular composition of cannabis. According to testing data, Charlotte’s Web, a famously high-CBD strain, reliably falls within a specific range of CBD and THC content. This is all to say that strains, as confusing as they can be, are serious business for the cannabis industry.

Indeed, our data reflects that. We examined the most popular strains by state, category, and generation, and an interesting picture has emerged. While certain well-known strains still dominate the market in places that have lower product diversity overall, the legendary strains are often edged out in places with more mature and diverse markets. 

Even more interesting is the phenomenon of non-strain-specific products — products labeled only by their broad category, like indica, sativa, or hybrid — something that definitely developed after recreational legalization became more widespread. The data indicates that these products may be overtaking traditional strains in sales, suggesting that newer, more casual cannabis consumers are not as interested in nerding out. It may be that consumers are trusting brands to simply sell them a good hybrid, rather than spending the time to research individual hybrid strains on their own. Somewhat related to that, we’ve looked into the relationship between brands and strains, examining how the number of brands selling a given strain affects that strain’s sales rank.

Strains are without a doubt one of the most unique aspects of the cannabis industry. While one can dive infinitely deep into the world of craft beer or even specialty teas, there is no other consumer product that is sold based on such a nebulous labeling system. Beer and tea both have well-defined styles, from oolong to oyster stout. Strains are an unlikely combination of lore, taxonomy, and simple marketing savvy, with no clear rules about what is and isn’t a given strain. Regardless, understanding them is vital to success, and we hope this report will help.

Methodology

Data for this report comes from real-time sales reporting by participating cannabis retailers via their point-of-sale systems, which are linked up with Headset’s business analytics software. The data included are for 2019, except where noted. Strain names were obtained by scraping product titles in categories including Flower, Pre-Roll, Concentrates, and Vapor Pens, which yielded over 3400 unique strains. All inhalable products including any of these strains in their name were then tagged with the correct strain, with about 80% of all inhalable products in our dataset having a positive match. Products with names that included terms like ‘hybrid’, ‘indica’, or ‘sativa’ were included in the Sativa Dominant, Indica Dominant, and Hybrid Dominant categories, respectively.

Headset’s data is very reliable, as it comes digitally direct from our partner retailers. However, the potential does exist for misreporting in the instance of duplicates, incorrectly classified products, inaccurate entry of products into point-of-sale systems, or even simple human error at the point of purchase. Thus, there is a slight margin of error to consider.


Strains by state and province

This chart shows all of the top selling strains for each state and province that Headset tracks. It’s interesting to note that Blue Dream, by far the most famous strain, only comes in at the top of two markets: Alberta and Colorado. The other top-selling strains are kind of a mixed bag, with only Oregon picking a classic in Jack Herer. Washington State has gravitated towards the relative newcomer that is Wedding Cake, an indica-dominant hybrid, and is joined by the remaining states in preferring indica or indica-dominant strains. That said, this graph does not include products that are labeled simply by indica, sativa, or hybrid. Only actual named strains are shown.


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