On September 19-20, members of the cannabis industry descended on downtown Toronto as the popular Hall of Flowers Canada 2023 B2B trade show opened its doors to invite-only attendees. The buzz from attendees and exhibitors alike was palpable at the Enercare Center as cannabis brands and retailers came together to strengthen connections and find the latest innovations.
“There’s a certain energy in the room, and I can’t quite figure out what it is—but I love it,” said Jon Wong, marketing manager at Vancouver-based West Coast Gifts, a well-known glass pipe and bong wholesaler. “We can’t keep anything in stock when we come to Toronto; retailers snatch it right up!”
The energy and excitement Wong speaks of is very real. Despite a difference in size from its California and Nevada sister shows, Hall of Flowers Canada offers unparalleled access for brands and retailers to connect and develop business deals. “When you’re selling in a state or province where the regulations are working in your favor, deal-making and money flow is inevitable,” says Oliver Higgs, CEO at Higgs Cannabis, a popular Californian company that recently launched in Canada via a partnership with Newfoundland’s Oceanic Releaf.
As attendees walked the rows of brands doing their darndest to stand out and lure potential customers, they were treated to bright colors reminiscent of the 1980s, a lot of swag and brands vying for their “X” factor to be seen and purchase orders placed. “At this point in the industry, all-flash aside, it’s about activating budtenders,” says Jaime Lipowitz, CEO at HighBudsClub, Canada’s LinkedIn for budtenders. “The Budtenders were thrilled to be included in this exclusive group and came out in droves to meet LPs, participate in industry day, and learn more about upcoming innovations.”
Florida-based Wacky-Backy drew attention with its Bud & Doobie products. Similar to the collectible Bearbricks, but targeting the cannabis industry, the dolls were made in a limited run with the intention of becoming collectibles. “Bud is an art toy that doubles as a display for your pretty bud: It’s airtight, has a magnifying glass and LED to really showcase the nug,” says Becks Gilling, owner and creator of Wacky-Backy. “In this iteration, we produced only 1000 pieces that are signed and numbered. Bud’s counterpart, Doobie the dog, lands at the end of the year.” Over the course of the weekend, the Bud & Doobie booth was always busy, signaling that despite being tired, the industry appreciates outside-the-box, creative thinking and loves a brand with imagination.
The Canadian Cannabis Tradeshow Landscape
Activation and flash aside, does Canada have the desire—or energy—for more cannabis tradeshows? This was an important question floating around the aisles at Hall of Flowers Canada, with a very nuanced answer: It’s not a no; well, more of a tired yes.
While the industry relishes the opportunity to connect and move forward collectively, the lack of Government-related change around excise taxes and supporting the profitability makes it hard for brands to survive, let alone spend five figures on presence at a tradeshow. That in itself is an exhaustive fight that many simply couldn’t survive, and the ones who can make it happen are stronger, smarter and more pragmatic about their moves. The energy, though not as over-the-top as normal, was still pulsing, and deals were still taking place, regardless of the ongoing battle with policy reform.
Strong Spirits Persevere
Walking around the show, weaving from one vendor to another, it’s easy to be reminded that despite being an ongoing struggle, many of the brands are proud to simply be in the room. It’s a sign of tenacious perseverance, winning against all odds, refusing to get knocked down. Every exhibitor has, one way or another, weathered all the issues thrown at them and are still standing, smiling, ready to shake hands and offer up their samples to potential buyers, proving that they’re here to stay and demand to be taken seriously.
“I’m telling you, we’re just getting started,” says Dani Diamond, CEO at Hall of Flowers. “Canada is still getting its bearings in the industry; things that could ‘never’ happen, we have made happen. It’s not even a question of if, but always when; we’re fostering growth in the industry and I am proud to be part of it.”