Bethany Gomez of the Chicago-based consumer insights company Brightfield Group observes that the cannabis industry, and particularly the hemp-derived cannabinoid sector, is wild, crazy and ever-emerging.
“It’s a living, breathing thing – the only constant is change,” said Gomez, Brightfield’s co-founder and managing director.
Brightfield was founded in 2015 to address the scarcity of data in the rapidly growing cannabis industry.
“There were no good data options for companies to make strategic or investment decisions,” said Gomez, who previously worked at Euromonitor International in Latin America. “We saw a lot of opportunity.”
Over the last seven years, Brightfield has worked with most of the large CBD companies in the United States and Canada, Gomez said, as well as large consumer packaged goods companies looking to get into the cannabis industry. Government agencies also use Brightfield data to inform their decision-making around regulatory issues, she said.
Brightfield’s main offering is a SaaS platform that allows clients to access subscription data packages, such as CBD consumer insights. The data is gleaned from integration of survey data with social media and populates a self-serve dashboard, where clients can choose from a variety of consumer, social insights and market data.
The company’s website features free reports, including one that posits two scenarios for the growing CBD industry, one with and the other without FDA guidance.
Gomez says one of the company’s strengths is in “social listening,” a strategy that involves pulling data from key social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Reddit in particular areas of interest to clients. Brightfield uses machine learning techniques to analyze the conversations and to measure the volume of talk in each area, such as CBD, the hemp-derived cannabinoids D8 and D10, and attitudes toward various brands. This social listening tracker can be used to help guide clients to better marketing or product decisions, Gomez said. Brightfield also gathers information about people’s reasons for using certain products, such as to help with pain and insomnia.
“Social media is really the world’s largest focus group,” Gomez said. “There is so much data created by social media.”
Among Brightfield’s data packages for clients is the brand health tracker, which shows how consumers react to each brand in a category. The data can demonstrate which brands consumers recognize, what products and brands consumers are purchasing, and how loyal consumers are to those brands, among other things. Clients receive a scorecard that shows how their brand is viewed by consumers and how it stacks up against the competition. Clients also can also learn their typical customer’s demographic and psychographic profile and how that customer would describe the brand.
While Brightfield has been conducting consumer insights in cannabis for years, Gomez said Brightfield first launched brand health tracking services in the CBD space, then moved on to the Canadian cannabis space and is now analyzing U.S. cannabis markets.
“It’s challenging to do in a state-by-state industry,” Gomez said, explaining that the U.S. cannabis industry is fragmented — and that Brightfield provides a valuable service in aggregating the information for clients.
More recently, Brightfield’s evergi platform, launched in 2021, looks at the general population audience to discern emerging products and trends. Brightfield can see overall trends in the CBD space, how cannabis and CBD fit alongside other emerging products such as psychedelics and nootropics, and how cannabis and CBD compare to other health and wellness products and trends, Gomez said.
Gomez reports that the hemp-derived cannabinoid space, especially CBD, has transformed in the last 12 to 18 months. Companies have had to pivot, she said, as consumers have moved from buying products such as expensive tinctures to those CBD products more in line with vitamins and supplements. She noted that the price of CBD has come down dramatically.
She also remarked that associations with cannabis were no longer a problem for the hemp-derived CBD industry segment.
“Back in 2019, when the market was starting to explode, we saw so many companies trying to sanitize CBD — hide the hemp leaf, hide cannabis references, and try to divorce CBD from cannabis,” Gomez said. “That worked for a while, but what we see now is that the consumers have shifted dramatically … now the majority are also using cannabis products.”
According to Brightfield’s analysis, CBN, D8 and D10 are the most successful of the minor cannabinoids, with consumer use growing rapidly, Gomez said.
“Some industry watchers underestimate the category and think it’s only for younger consumers – the smoke and vape crowd – but we are actually seeing growth across other consumer segments,” she said. “There is also more combining when THC is available. CBD and THC can complement each other. Some people use CBD in the morning and then THC in the evening, and still control pain while not having the THC during the day. Some want the effects of THC all the time, some do not.”
Gomez also discussed the shrinking CBD e-commerce space.
“E-commerce is shifting,” she said. “People are going back out to stores. The percentage of consumers buying CBD online has plummeted in the past two to three quarters, which has impacted the companies in the space significantly.”
According to Brightfield’s data, 40% of CBD purchases were made online in the fourth quarter of 2021. In the third quarter of 2022, that number was down to 18.7%, with most purchases made at smoke and vape shops.
“It’s really incredible to have had a front row seat over the past few years,” Gomez said.