Investors have jumped into the cannabis industry with enthusiasm, and stocks that have ties to marijuana have done extremely well in 2019. That's helped bring cannabis cultivators and related companies to the forefront, and many of their shareholders have come to believe in the long-term growth potential of the cannabis market worldwide.
The opportunity for growth in marijuana has been attractive to many consumer companies looking to reignite their mature businesses. Already, companies such as Constellation Brands and Altria Group have made major investments into cannabis stocks. But they're not likely to be the last, and in particular, the following three stocks could stand to gain from making marijuana moves of their own.
Of these three companies, Heineken (NASDAQOTH:HEINY) has already taken the biggest steps toward cultivating a cannabis business. Last July, the company launched a cannabis-derived beverage at dispensaries in California. The drink, dubbed Hi-Fi Hops and carrying Heineken's Lagunitas craft-brew brand, has no alcohol, but it's made with sparkling water, hops, and cannabis-derived chemicals.
Lagunitas brewmaster Jeremy Marshall described the idea colorfully:
We've often dreamed of hops and their cannabis cousin partying together at the family reunion. We wanted to bring this party to life in a beverage. It's high-time that good bear inspired a provocative yet refreshing non-alcoholic alternative -- with a smidge of California sun-grown cannabis in every sip.
Two forms of the beverage were available: one containing only the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and one containing a mix of THC and cannabidiol. Initial sales of the drink have been strong.
It's unclear what Heineken will do from here. As CFO Laurence Debroux explained in November:
There are still very few markets where the recreational consumption of cannabis is legal, so it's too early to see what impact it will have and how big an opportunity it will be. ... Lagunitas has always been quite innovative and then going off a bit in track and that's what they're very good at. So we're really watching and letting do what they do very well, which is innovating and looking at new areas.
Given the limited scope of the California market, Heineken isn't making general conclusions about the cannabis opportunity more broadly. However, many investors hope the beer giant will pursue marijuana more aggressively and take further steps in the near future.
Diageo (NYSE:DEO) has been on the short list of companies that many believe should look to partner up with a marijuana company. Ever since Constellation Brands made its massive cannabis investment, many investors have looked for other beer and spirits companies to follow suit, and Diageo in particular had rumors swirling last year about its potentially looking at three different companies in the marijuana space. So far, though, nothing's come of it.
CEO Ivan Menezes explained his company's take toward cannabis last summer:
We're tracking it very closely. As you know, it's not federally legal in the U.S. right now, and the trends to date, I'd say, don't suggest any huge shift that impacts spirits yet. However, it's a development which we're going to stay very closely focused on and watch the trends. And our approach also is, we believe it needs to be regulated very much like alcohol in the case of the U.S. ... but [we see] no immediate disruptive threats to the [beer and spirits] business.
That's not to say that Diageo won't make a marijuana move in the future -- especially if Constellation's experience continues to be positive. But as more time goes by, Diageo might well lose its opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the cannabis industry and eventually find itself having to catch up to first-mover competitors.
Finally, PepsiCo (NASDAQ:PEP) has been a candidate for getting more involved with the marijuana industry. With its dual threat in beverages and snacks, PepsiCo could unite two interesting specialties in marijuana: cannabis-derived beverages and cannabis-containing food products. Already, niche companies have experienced high interest in edible cannabis, and with PepsiCo's manufacturing and distribution assets, it could ramp up volume in these areas quickly.
At this point, marijuana seems not to be a big consideration on PepsiCo's radar. Last October, then-CEO Indra Nooyi responded to a question about cannabis with a simple "I don't have anything to say." CFO Hugh Johnston followed up with a slightly longer comment:
I think it's fair to say we look at everything. But I think the difficulties in investing in that category, particularly in the U.S. where federally these things are still not legal, are quite a considerable challenge. So we look at everything, but certainly no plans at this point to do anything.
Keep your eyes on these companies
For marijuana investors, one key consideration in choosing cannabis stocks is seeing which companies are most likely to be good targets for collaboration and investment from major consumer brands. PepsiCo, Diageo, and Heineken might well do nothing more than they've already done in moving toward marijuana. But if their rivals are successful with their efforts, then the pressure to jump into the space could prompt big moves later in 2019. That makes it worth keeping an eye on these three companies to see if they become more interested in the marijuana market in the future.