Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) has had plenty of slogans throughout its long history. One recurring theme dating back to 1969 is "It's the real thing." Now a potential deal with Coke could make a top Canadian marijuana grower the real thing, too.
Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB) is in serious talks with Coca-Cola to develop cannabis-infused beverages, according to a report by BNN Bloomberg TV. Could a deal with Coke and Aurora be even bigger news than Constellation Brands' (NYSE:STZ) partnership with Canopy Growth (NASDAQ:CGC)?
There are some important differences between the potential deal between Coca-Cola and Aurora Cannabis than the one between alcoholic beverage maker Constellation Brands and Canopy Growth. One biggie is that the kind of cannabis-infused beverage Coke is contemplating might not be the same as what Constellation and Canopy are envisioning.
BNN Bloomberg reported that Coca-Cola wouldn't comment on any discussions with Aurora. However, a company spokesman stated in an email to BNN Bloomberg that "along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD [cannabidiol] as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly."
Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton has said that his company and Constellation plan to launch cannabis-infused beverages including zero-calorie drinks with mixtures of cannabinoids. He told CNBC's Jim Cramer in an interview this summer, "We're talking about going into a bar and having a tweed and tonic."
Coca-Cola, on the other hand, appears to be interested in more-therapeutic cannabis-infused beverages targeting relief of cramping, inflammation, and pain. A source told BNN Bloomberg that Coke is looking to develop cannabis-infused beverages in the "'recovery drink' category."
Also, Constellation Brands made two significant investments in Canopy Growth. In October 2017, Constellation partnered with Canopy and bought a 9.9% stake in the marijuana grower for around $191 million. Last month, Constellation invested another $4 billion in Canopy, upping its stake to 38%. It seems more likely that Coca-Cola would form a joint venture with Aurora instead of buying a big chunk of the company like Constellation did with Canopy.
A huge impact
No matter how you look at it, a deal with Coca-Cola would be huge for Aurora Cannabis. It would also be tremendously important for the cannabis industry overall.
After the Constellation-Canopy partnership was first announced last year, many (including yours truly) thought that it was important in large part because it helped further legitimize the cannabis industry. And when Molson Coors later picked its cannabis partner, I thought that was another step toward legitimization of the industry.
Like many others, I figured that the floodgates might open for other major companies to form alliances with marijuana growers. That appears to be what is happening. Reports have surfaced recently that Guinness brewer Diageo might be next among alcoholic beverage companies to forge a cannabis partnership. There's speculation that big tobacco companies could jump into the fray as well.
But if Coca-Cola partners with Aurora, it would raise the level of legitimization of the cannabis industry more than any of the other deals, in my view. Coke is one of the most well-known and respected brands in the world. A Coca-Cola deal would also increase the likelihood that even more beverage makers, of both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, could establish partnerships with marijuana growers.
One especially applicable Coke slogan
There have been many slogans for Coca-Cola through the years. I think that one of those slogans is especially applicable in the discussion about a potential deal with Coke and Aurora: "Make it real." I bring up that old Coke slogan from 2005 for a couple of reasons.
First, there isn't a deal yet. BNN Bloomberg reported that Coca-Cola met with another top Canadian marijuana grower, Aphria, a couple of months ago, but those discussions didn't go anywhere. It's possible that talks between Coke and Aurora could fizzle out as well. It's not real until a deal is done.
Second, for investors considering Aurora Cannabis or other marijuana stocks, make it real when you evaluate these stocks. It's easy to get caught up in the giddiness of big deals with big companies and the rapid growth of cannabis markets across the world. But remember also that marijuana stock valuations reflect a lot of this growth. Some might argue that the stocks reflect a lot more growth than is likely to be experienced over the next few years.
However, shares of Aurora Cannabis soared on the news about the possibility of a partnership with Coca-Cola. And for good reason. It looks like the Coca-Cola slogan that's most relevant of all might be this one: "Have a Coke and a smile."