For all the hype around legal cannabis, the first adult-use recreational grams fell short of consumer expectations for potency, quality, and price. UP Cannabis, now part of the HEXO brand portfolio, actively listened to consumer feedback and pivoted their approach to cannabis cultivation accordingly. Today, all cannabis from the UP brand is 20% THC or higher, with a relentless commitment to putting fresher products on the shelves.
“The industry had to scale and grow quickly out of the gate. Moving too fast without understanding the mastery it takes to grow quality cannabis resulted in many licensed producers dropping the ball,” says Jordan Smith, Vice President of Product Management at HEXO. “Consumer feedback was really the driver behind the development of our products and the relaunch of the UP Cannabis brand.”
As time passed after legalization, licensed producers began to understand all the nuances involved in delivering what the market and consumers want. Finicky to grow, difficult to scale, and requiring an involved process to get packaged and shipped from the producer to retailers all across the country—cannabis presents some formidable challenges. Of course, consumers don’t care about any of that, nor should they—they care about price, quality and consistency.
Hua Zhang, head of cultivation at HEXO, who has a degree in horticulture and 22 years of greenhouse experience, says that each bud produced at HEXO’s two million square foot Centre of Excellence has to meet his satisfaction before bearing the UP label.
“I take the importance of my job very seriously and that’s why it’s personally rewarding when consumers are able to see the proof,” says Zhang, adding that his canopies are all one height and that in certain instances, he’s sacrificed yield in favour of potency, something that never would have happened in the legal industry back in the rush-up to 10.17. “Every plant talks to you about what they need and as a cultivator, you listen and make your adjustments. It's like taking care of babies!”
That level of homegrown pride is more reminiscent of an artisanal craft cannabis line than a large-scale, publicly traded Canadian licensed producer, and yet it’s the turnaround that HEXO believes its customers deserve. Eliminating the illicit market was one of the goals of the Cannabis Act and, in order to achieve that, cannabis companies know that they must compete on all fronts: price, availability, consistency, freshness and quality.
Angela Lariviere, Senior Vice President of Marketing at HEXO, has been overseeing the UP brand relaunch. “Branding is not a logo or tagline, it’s a perception of what people feel, recall and trust – and in this case, it was a whole company commitment and realignment, from seed to sale to rebuild this brand,” says Lariviere, whose team, along with Smith and agency partner Sister Merci, proposed a quintessential Canadian response to the original legal weed situation: we’re sorry.
“We knew UP had incredible traction with the consumer, rooted in Canadiana, so taking the high road to say sorry on behalf of the entire industry was right and fitting—we know we can do better, and we have,” she adds. “Consumer loyalty was already built into the UP brand, and we’ve reset the business, system and processes to deliver on a product we know the country is ready to love.”
The team at HEXO can now make the promise that every gram of UP20TM flower will be fresh, with a 20% THC or higher guarantee (with much of it falling closer to 24%, according to Hua Zhang). To start, UP20TM flower is offered in three sought after cultivars—Northern Berry, Cold Creek Kush and Ghost Train Haze—with more to come in 2021.
As for the UP Cannabis team, they’ve got big goals as they head into the future. They’re shooting to be “Canada’s cannabis”—to be around, and loved, for years to come—and this relaunch of the UP brand is only the beginning.