No segment of the cannabis industry is growing faster than pre-rolls, but with an average shelf-life of just 4-7 months for new products, it’s a constantly evolving sector that is driven by innovation and experimentation.
While potency still reigns supreme for many buyers, it takes more than just a high THC percentage to cut through the noise and keep consumers coming back.
To stay ahead of the competition, pre-roll producers must constantly keep an eye on the latest buying trends and changes in the market. From the move toward infused pre-rolls and the addition of flavors to the rise of multi-pack sales, new sizes of pre-roll cones and use of premium add-ons like glass or ceramic filter tips or customized filter tips, here are the latest trends and predictions for the pre-roll industry.
While pre-rolls are driving growth in the industry at large to the tune of 12% year-over-year growth in the US and 38% growth in Canada from November 2021 to 2022, it’s infused pre-rolls that are currently powering the segment’s overall numbers, according to a recent white paper on The State of the Pre-Roll Industry.
In Canada, in particular, infused prerolls have shown massive growth. Bolstered by a clarification of regulations by Health Canada, infused or “connoisseur” pre-rolls led all categories in 2022 with an astounding 1426% year-over-year growth rate.
In the United States, infused pre-rolls, which add a cannabis concentrate to the ground flower to create a more potent pre-roll product, grew at a year-over-year rate of 22%, continuing a years-long trend. In 2019, for example, infused pre-rolls represented only a small portion of overall pre-roll sales and averaged about $5 million in sales per month. By 2023, prices had steadily fallen, and infused pre-rolls have grown to the largest pre-roll segment, jumping to about $70 million in sales per month, partially driven by developments in infused pre-roll machines.
Pre-Roll Automation and the Move toward Mixed Strain Pre-Rolls
In U.S. Markets, mixed-strain pre-rolls – featuring multiple types of flower rolled in a single pre-roll cone – saw the highest year-over-year growth of any cannabis retail segment at 63%. In Canada, that number jumps to a massive 440% growth, though it is second to “connoisseur” or infused pre-rolls. The blending of multiple strains allows for different flavors to come through, providing unique smoking experiences.
Much of the growth in the mixed strain category is due to new machinery that helps automate the pre-roll process. One of the difficulties of using automated machinery for pre-roll manufacturing is the varied nature of cannabis, the properties of which change with each strain and even within the same strain depending on growing and drying conditions.
However, by blending multiple strains, producers can create a more consistent input for these machines, allowing them to produce at scale and providing a product that consumers seem to want, leading to more and more mixed strain pre-rolls on the market, like the top-selling “35’s” made by Lowell Farms in California.
There have also been advancements in table top and semi-automated pre-roll machines that are now being made with higher-quality materials, have become more efficient and are offering more attachments and options to support a wider range of cone sizes and paper options, as well as technical advances like adding folding or twisting closures to pre-roll cones, further cutting back on the manhours involved in creating quality pre-roll joints.
While the single pre-roll remains the No. 1 add-on item at cannabis dispensaries, consumers are also flocking to multi-packs, featuring multiple pre-rolls in a single package. Since 2021, there has been nearly 400% growth in multi-packs that have a volume of 2 or 5 grams, as well as steady growth across most other sizes. By 2023, multi-packs make up 47.62% of the market.
New packaging options, like glass jars, multi-pack boxes or push-packs with spaces to include matches or other accessories or with built-in strike pads or even simpler items like wider pre-roll tubes, all fully customizable with brand logos and colors, are helping draw consumers to these products. Designer pre-roll cones that are pre-printed with colors or markings like denoting “Indica,” “sativa” or “hybrid” and packed together in multi-packs are also great ways to appeal to the sense of variety cannabis consumers have come to expect in their pre-roll options.
Customers are also flocking to new pre-roll size offerings, particularly the Dogwalker, or mini-cone size that grew in popularity during the pandemic. Though the 1-gram size is still the most popular, shoppers continue to reach for these smaller, personal pre-rolled joints that average between 0.25 and 0.25 grams per cone, particularly when packed together in multi-packs.
Premium filter tip options
Filter tips help cool the smoke prior to inhaling, creating a more premium item for consumers. For many brands, wooden tips provide an excellent and inexpensive way to level-up your pre-roll cones. But for a more high-end option, glass and ceramic filters have natural properties that help cool the smoke further, enhancing the flavor of the flower for the smoker, uplifting any smoking experience. In addition, the mesh screens built into the glass filters and the holes drilled through the ceramic prevents cannabis particles – or “Scooby Snacks” – from passing through, creating a better smoke. The addition of customized cigar bands featuring glossy or holographic printing can make these additions even more premium for sellers and buyers.
This year, leading pre-roll supply company Custom Cones USA has seen a major uptick in sales of glass and ceramic tips. One multi-state operator that they work with, for example, ordered 10,000 of the tips as a trial run and within two months increased their order to 240,000. But it is not just large producers that are setting themselves apart with these premium pre-roll add-ons. A smaller, single-state client started with a run of 5,000 filters only to order 50,000 as their sales picked up.
Custom pre-roll cones
Producers have a wide range of customization options, beginning with the decision between pre-roll cones or pre-roll tubes, a whole range of sizes from mini “dogwalker” cones that hold about 0.3 grams to standard ½-gram, 0.7-gram, 1-gram sizes and even 2-gram tubes – they can also choose between a variety of rolling paper types. Companies that promise sustainability or eco-friendly products as part of their brand promise may be more interested in natural brown rolling papers or organic hemp options, for example. Pre-roll blunts, which are also available in multiple shapes, sizes and paper types, are also an attractive alternative for many brands and consumers alike.
Beyond the basic choices, customization can ensure no one mistakes your pre-rolls for someone else’s. From the ability to print any logo or brand name on the filter tip of your pre-roll to in-stock designer options like colors, rolling paper choices, holiday and charity cones, as well as fully customized packaging, like branded labels and Pantone matched colors or customized push-packs, tins and even display boxes with customized dielines, you can guarantee your product makes a big an impact as possible.
PRE-ROLL SECTOR PREDICTIONS
Pre-roll sales continue to grow and we see no indication of them slowing down. In Canada, pre-rolls reached a 31.5% market share in May 2023 and trends indicated they are poised to overtake flower as the top product category in the industry in the near future. In the United States, pre-roll sales grew 38% year-year-over-year in 2022 and we predict the cost and portability of the product will push it past vaporizers to become the No. 2 category in the country.
There are now pre-roll brands at every price point and potency, with different flavor, size and paper options to suit every taste. But there is still room for innovation.
First, we see additional sizes and rolling paper types making their way to the market, with new pre-roll blunt options and flavor profiles like botanical pre-roll wraps or eye-grabbing colors.
As the price of flower continues to drop, it will become more economical for producers to use full-flower in their pre-rolls, leading to better products at lower price points and even further interest among consumers.
The addition of premium add-ons like wood, ceramic or glass filter tips to helping pre-roll brands differentiate themselves as higher-quality products will also continue, with additional options to help cool the smoke and enhance the flavor making their way into retail shops. We foresee these premium add-ons only growing in popularity as more options make their way to the marketplace and more smokers try them.
We also predict the current trend toward automation will not only continue, but lead to changes in production and sales as well.
Not only do automatic pre-roll machines make it easier for companies to produce mixed-strain pre-rolls and leading to a surge in those SKUs, we predict that automation will alter the infused pre-roll landscape as automated pre-roll infusion machines become a must-have addition to any profitable business.
With the growth in infused pre-rolls, we not only predict more companies launching infused products, which speak to consumer trends for potency and pre-rolls. However, we see consumers moving away from pre-roll cones that infuse on the outside, by painting in oil and rolling in kief or by wrapping resin around the outside. Infusing pre-rolls with concentrates placed inside produce a much more user-friendly experience and we expect to see consumers gravitating toward those products as automated pre-roll infusion machines that heat and inject oils at a rate of 20 at a time – up to 800 per hour – become more prevalent, driving down prices in the entire category.
Customers are also expecting pre-rolls to be a quality item. Because of that, pre-rolls are also getting fresher, with brands looking to ensure that their products do not dry out while on store shelves. We expect to see a move toward air-tight packaging and the inclusion of humidity packs as this trend continues into the future.