Food Trade Associations Missing Biggest Marketing Opportunity of the Century: The Legalization of Marijuana


Students of history know that the most powerful idea is one whose time has come.  And that is why some of the nation’s largest food trade associations have entirely missed the boat on an emerging trend which has huge profitability written all over it.

Cannabis can triple the marketThe vast opportunity, the equivalent of the “Go West Young Man” slogan which opened the American West, is the current effort to legalize marijuana.  The legalization efforts would open the doors for many new entrepreneurs and greatly enhance the profitability of key sectors of the U.S. economy.

But sadly, this is not the case for one of the most obvious beneficiaries of pot legalization efforts: the food industry, including the $684 billion (in sales) restaurant industry.  Its no secret, Americans love to eat (about 35% of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and in America, the average household spent $2,678 for dining out, according Plunkett Research.

Specifically, the restaurant, fast food industries and their trade associations have so far been asleep at the wheel, as the greatest boon to caloric consumption in modern times winds its way through various state legislatures.

Anyone who has ever tried marijuana knows that its greatest benefit, side effect or happy event is its ability to make anyone ravenously hungry.  From Cheech and Chong to the National Cancer Institute, smoking marijuana has already stimulated after-hours fast food drive-in window lines at the nation’s fast food outlets.  Why else would two people be driving up to the Wendy’s drive-in window at 2 am wearing sunglasses and ordering a dozen cheap hamburgers?  They certainly were not out jogging.

At the more scientific level, the  National Cancer Institute cites the results of  “trials conducted in the 1980s that involved healthy control subjects, inhaling Cannabis led to an increase in caloric intake, mainly in the form of between-meal snacks, with increased intakes of fatty and sweet foods.“

Sleeping Trade Associations

So given that smoking marijuana and increased caloric consumption is an accepted fact among experienced people, why haven’t the nation’s top food trade associations endorsed the legalization of marijuana?

Strangely, most have never even considered the idea.  So in the interests of journalistic integrity, I sent e-mails to the following food trade associations asking if they had considered endorsing the legalization of marijuana which would be in the interests of their own members. E-mails were sent to the National Restaurant Association, Snack Food Association, Beer Institute, American Institute of Bakers, National Confectioner’s association, and the Organic Trade Association.

Not one responded.

This was entirely expected.

The reason:  trade associations are among the most reactionary organizations in Washington.  Their stated purpose is to look after some of the interests of their own members.  But those interests are all carefully aligned with the most mainstream and conservative ones. They are foremost lobbying organizations and at best, rarely dabble in anything as controversial as reform, even if it is for increasing the minimum wage, which clearly benefits the entire nation.

His one good idea: Increase the minimum wage
Henry Ford: His one good idea: Increase the minimum wage

That idea is so outside of their thinking, that they would be startled to find that Henry Ford, a Nazi sympathizer, anti-labor industrialist, advanced the $5 day for eight hours of work in January 1914 because he wanted his assembly line workers to be able to buy the cars he was making. The New York Times said this wage created “a national sensation.”

Business trade groups are not that progressive. They cater to the least common denominator.  For instance, if there are three members in Nebraska who would object to something, the trade group opts to delay and do nothing.


A major reason for this break between trade associations and their own constituencies and the general public comes from a new report, Testing Theories of American Politics:  Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, of Princeton University and Northwestern University, respectively.  In their extensive study using about 1,800 variables, they asked this simple question: Which group of Americans—average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest or business-oriented interest groups─have the most influence in shaping public policy?

Their sad conclusion is this: “Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.”

So where does the power to influence U.S. policies reside?  Again, the report found that it is concentrated among the few.  “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Among those business-centric economic groups would be trade associations, and their extensive lobbying machines.  The study found a “surprising result (that) could reflect the self-interests of businesses which lobby for more government spending in areas which benefits their members,” such as trade associations.  But even these trade associations do not represent the interests of the general public (i.e. average citizens), nor even all of their members.

Take the case of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which represents 500,000 restaurant businesses.  And from their web site, here is what the NRA says it does and conversely, why it is missing its greatest marketing opportunity ever.

In their own words, the NRA says:  “In partnership with our state restaurant associations (SRA), we work every day to empower all restaurant owners and operators to achieve more than they thought possible.”

Response:  Legalizing pot would certainly allow their members to sell more food than ever before, certainly “more than they thought possible.

In their own words:  “We represent and advocate for foodservice industry interests with state, local and national policymakers—taking on financial and regulatory obstacles before they hit our members’ bottom line. We provide tools and systems that help members of all sizes get significantly better operating results.”

Response:  the legalization of marijuana would directly improve bottom line restaurant results without adding anything to overhead. All they would have to do is come up with the right munchies menus offered at normal or extended hours.  No expensive restaurant remodeling needs, just the enhanced potential to get “significantly better operating results.”

In their own words:  “We save our members time, money and headaches by helping them take on what matters most for their success and growth—whether that’s protecting their economic interests, sharing best practices, or getting them in front of emerging trends.”

Response:  If this is not a powerful emerging trend, nothing is. It is also a no-brainer to see how it would improve their “success and growth.”

In their own words:  “We strive to move our industry forward by finding answers to the tough questions, distilling complex information into practical knowledge and helping our members navigate the issues that can leave them in the weeds (sic). And that makes us the go-to resource for smart, relevant intelligence that helps our members run their businesses better.”

Response:  Aside from the NRA’s prescient reference to being “in the weeds,” the NRA should read their own corporate mission statements to see how they can help provide the “relevant intelligence that helps our members run their businesses better.”

It also helps that the NRA is in the weeds. Now, they should work on turning those (smokeable) weeds into new profits for their restaurant members.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here