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Tilray Brands, And the Balance Between Cannabis and Beer

Tilray is both a cannabis and beer producer
Written by Sarah Friedman

Like most big brands, cannabis company Tilray has had a difficult time. At least on the weed front. But unlike other brands, it’s not only invested in the weed industry; its also invested in the alcohol industry. In fact, Tilray Beer Brands, its division of craft beers, just reached #9 in sales volume for small and independent brewers. Here’s a bit about how the cannabis giant burns the candle at both ends.

Meet Tilray, the cannabis company

Tilray is currently one of the giants of the cannabis industry. It’s often considered a Canadian company, and does have large operations out of Canada. In reality though, the brand itself was formed in the US in 2014, and is based out of New York.

Regardless of specifics, its Canadian arm is extensive, and after its 2020 merger with fellow Canadian company Aphria, it became the biggest cannabis company in Canada.  Tilray Canada was one of the first licensed producers in the country; it was also the first company to perform medical trials which were approved by Health Canada. It was the first company to export medical cannabis out of Canada, and into the US.

Tilray was the first company to enter a US stock exchange, which it did in 2018 when it joined Nasdaq. It’s original share price was $17, and peaked in 2018 at $214. This wasn’t long-lasting, however, and it came back down the next year to $29. Since then, it’s been sliding down in value over the years.

Cannabis market
Cannabis market

Unfortunately, one of the more consistent stories of late, is the massive issues in the current cannabis industry. Tilray is no exception here, and the cannabis empire it built, is now on shakier and shakier ground. This was made clear in different ways. For one, in early 2023, Tilray announced it would cut a quarter of its staff in its medical cannabis production facility in Cantanhede, Portugal. This accounted for 49 jobs.

And this makes sense. Tilray has had some big losses. Tilray reported a $61.6 million net loss for the quarter which ended on November 30th, 2022. It’s stock price has seen a consistent lowering in the past few years, with a price of $2.73 on May, 9th, 2023. This is a long way from the days of $214 a share, or even $17. This trend is not unique to Tilray, and is currently a recent standard of the legal cannabis market.

Tilray trades on Nasdaq under TLRY, and comes in fourth as of May 9th on the companiesmarketcap list of top cannabis companies according to market capital. It’s Canada’s highest entrant on the list, behind Curaleaf, Innovative Industrial, and Green Thumb Industries, respectfully. Despite the hard times its having, the company announced in April that it plans to acquire fellow Canadian cannabis company Hexo Corp., to help keep its place on top. The acquisition is for $56 million. Hexo is seeing its own decline over the years, so we’ll have to watch to see what transpires from this deal, in this current weed economy.

Tilray craft beer

Perhaps it bodes well for Tilray that it has its hand in more than one pot. What is this other pot? Well, not pot…but beer. Over the past few years, along with cannabis, Tilray has been building a craft beer name for itself. This started before its merger with Aphria. It was reported in 2018 that Tilray’s Canada branch and Anhuiser-Bush, the maker of Budweiser, were going into business together. The idea was for both companies to invest around $50 million, to create a new brand called Fluent Beverage Co. It didn’t go well, and in early 2022 it was reported that the partnership ended.

This, however, was only the beginning for Tilray and beer. During the time it was brokering the deal with Aphria, and with Aphria’s help, Tilray bought SweetWater Brewing Co. for $300 million in 2020. It was, in fact, Aphria’s deal in the first place. A year later, it was reported that Tilray spent $102.9 million to buy Breckenridge Distillery based out of Colorado.

At the time, Tilray CEO Irwin Simon had this to say about it: “We see tremendous potential for Breckenridge and our existing SweetWater brand to complement each other, expanding their respective reach and driving further profitable growth in our beverage alcohol segment.”

Cannabis and beer
Cannabis and beer

Not much more than a week later, Tilray was at it again. It acquired two more craft beer brands out of California: Green Flash Brewing Co., and Beer Co., for $5.1 million in cash and stocks. Of this deal, Simon stated:

“Right before year-end, SweetWater announced the acquisition of Alpine Beer and Green Flash, iconic West Coast craft beer brands to be brewed in our new Fort Collins facility for West Coast distribution, all which complements SweetWater’s existing product offerings and give us a strong foothold in California and the west part of the United States, the largest state economy in the U.S. and the largest legal cannabis market in the world.”

About a year later, Tilray made another purchase, this time acquiring New York-based Montauk Brewing Company. Said Simon of this acquisition, “Montauk Brewing is an iconic brand with leading market share and distribution in the northeast. Tilray Brands intends to leverage SweetWater’s existing nationwide infrastructure and Montauk Brewing’s northeast influence to significantly expand our distribution network and drive profitable growth in our beverage-alcohol segment.”

Latest Tilray beer news

In just a few years, Tilray has moved up the ranks in the craft beer world. This year the Brewer’s Association (BA), a not-for-profit association meant to promote independent American craft brewers, reported Tilray and its beer brands as 9th out of the top 50 craft brewing companies. This according to its Annual Craft Brewing Industry Production Report for 2022. The report was released on April 18th, and goes over different production statistics for the craft brewing industry of the US for the year.

According to the report, the craft brew industry (made up of small and independent breweries) produced a total of 24.3 million barrels for the year. These numbers were close to 2021 numbers, with a small rise in overall market share from 13.1% in 2021, to 13.2% in 2022. Jobs went up 9% last year for craft brewers, accounting for 189,413 jobs. Despite this, the entire beer market was estimated to have shrunk by about 3% by volume in 2022.

Bart Watson, the Brewer’s Association chief economist, put it this way, “2022 presented small brewers with a number of challenges, including rising operating and material costs and increasing competition, particularly in distribution. In this maturing and competitive market, collective growth for the category is hard to come by.”

Tilray ranked 9th among craft beer brewers in US
Tilray ranked 9th among craft beer brewers in US

As a part of the annual report, the BA released the top 50 craft brew companies, measured by beer sales in volume. Tilray and its craft beer brands came in at number nine on the list. The top five on the list, are D. G. Yuengling and Son Inc, Boston Beer Co, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Duvel Moortgat USA, and Gambrinus Company.

When looking at the biggest beer brands in general by sales volume, the top five are: Anheuser-Busch Inc, MolsonCoors, Constellation, Heineken USA, and Pabst Brewing Co. Interestingly, Tilray Beer Brands gets the 18th spot on the list. So not only is it a top craft producer, it’s a pretty big producer in general.

As a note, Tilray’s part in both industries are separate. While the idea originally was to make cannabis-infused beer products, that market never took off, leaving Tilray’s beer production as a separate entity. And considering the woes of the cannabis industry, it might end up being Tilray’s ticket out.

Conclusion

Tilray certainly did well in the cannabis industry for a time, and is still making big moves. Right now its technically at the top of the heap, but what that means is questionable. In the future, it could possibly regain its footing depending on other factors, but that’s a bigger issue regarding the industry altogether. Regardless, Tilray has a nice foothold in the craft beer market, not only ranking high among small and independent brewers, but in the entire beer industry. So if Tilray’s legal cannabis companies tank out in the end, it still has beer to fall back on.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.