In an era where alcohol sales numbers are on a steady decline, the spirits industry is recognizing the need to adapt to evolving consumer preferences. Keeping in line with this strategy is Wherehouse Beverage Co (WHBCo), now offering a hemp-derived THC-infused seltzer called WYNK.
A User-Friendly Introduction to Cannabis
“WYNK is a seltzer with ‘just a wynk’ of THC,” says Phil McFarland, General Manager, THC Beverages at WHBCo. “Due to the 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, the effect is a light, balanced high that is perfect for social gatherings.”
The light high effect allows consumers to have more if they want and stack the effects according to preference. With a typical onset of 10-to-15 minutes, very little is left to chance.
Unlike some edibles that have an intense and delayed onset, McFarland says this low-dose THC beverage provides a controlled and enjoyable experience. “WYNK offers a user-friendly introduction to the world of cannabis and infused beverages,” he notes.
Founded in 2023, WHBCo is also the curator of another THC beverage brand called Countdown.
Navigating Cannabis Distribution
To help spread the good vibes, WHBCo recently announced distribution deals that will make WYNK available on the shelves of traditional beverage retailers in:
- Chicagoland (Cook and the Collar Counties) starting November 13
- New Jersey (major metro markets such as Jersey City, Hoboken and Cherry Hill) starting mid-November
- Massachusetts starting in December
- Connecticut starting in December
- Ohio (major metro markets such as Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus) starting in January
The THC-infused beverage is already available in over 100 stores in Minnesota and shipping direct to consumers in over 30 states, the company states.
McFarland explains that education is key in navigating the evolving landscape of the cannabis beverage industry. “There’s often a lack of clarity surrounding the guidelines and legality of hemp products, and a significant part of our job involves breaking that down for our audience and distributors so they understand what’s allowed and what’s not,” he says.
What makes distribution deals like WYNK possible is the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp and hemp-derived cannabinoids from Schedule I. Because there are still so many unknowns in the industry, education is the catalyst for partnerships, according to McFarland.
“Our current partners are independent beer distributors who often have a craft-oriented focus, but they don’t know all the ins and outs of the hemp sector,” McFarland notes. “It’s our job to provide our partners with regulatory resources and information about age-gated marketing and retail, so we can continue providing consumers with safe, reliable products.”
As the infused beverage industry and hemp-derived category gains momentum, McFarland says WHBCo is seeing interest grow organically. It also helps that the company remains adaptable to changes in regulations and guidelines.
Breaking new ground is tough, but as McFarland puts it, “It’s also an exciting journey, redefining the norms in the beverage industry.”
Distributing THC is a Different Rodeo Than Liquor
McFarland says the distribution process with WYNK was more difficult than increasing distribution with another beverage. While the traditional frameworks for adult-beverage distribution are well-established, navigating this industry presents unique challenges.
“We are essentially carving out a completely new adult beverage category from the ground up. The introduction of a hemp-derived THC beverage adds layers of complexity,” says McFarland. “In addition to the new category WYNK lives in, the introduction of synthetically derived cannabinoids such as delta 8 and delta 10 in some markets causes a lot of confusion.”
WHBCo’s distribution strategy takes into account a variety of factors shaped by the regulatory landscape and its exciting relationships, according to McFarland. Essentially, it’s a matrix where they start with a broad scope and narrow it down based on regulatory feasibility and partner willingness.
“Chicago, in particular, was a significant and intentional move for us,” McFarland states. “We are excited to be the first of our kind in the major metropolitan area.”
Naturally Occurring Cannabinoids vs. Synthetic Cannabinoids
Because WHBCo only works with naturally occurring cannabinoids, rather than synthetic cannabinoids, it helps create another level of trust with its partners.
Over the years, a number of synthetic cannabinoid products have been produced. They are similar to those of natural cannabis, but these drugs can be more potent and have been associated with a number of adverse effects, as stated by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
Synthetic cannabinoids are molecules designed to mimic the effects of THC. Similarly to THC, these synthetic cannabinoids target the cannabinoid type 1 receptor (CB1R) in the brain, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of THC in cannabis, according to ADF.
The Future of THC-Infused Beverages
Looking ahead, McFarland believes that 2024 will be a breakthrough year for THC-infused beverages, propelling them into the mainstream.
According to the latest Evergi Wellness Trends reports, Gen Zers are using cannabis as a replacement for alcohol. Of consumers that said they were drinking less, about a third of Gen Zers are reaching for cannabis as their primary alcohol substitute.
“We anticipate a broader acceptance of this existing new beverage category,” McFarland says. “We envision a future where THC-infused beverages become a normalized and celebrated part of social experiences, transforming the way consumers approach cannabis. As the market evolves, we’re excited to be at the forefront of this cultural shift, offering a variety of options that cater to the growing demand for a refined and enjoyable experience.”