Terms like “premium,” “luxury,” and “top shelf” are familiar to most of us. From fashion to food and alcohol to accommodation, they’re labels that are typically used to denote quality, often at extra cost to the customer.
Cannabis is no different. Indeed, visit your local budtender and you’ll find a growing selection of premium green. One of the brands that you might find occupying these upper echelons is Qwest Cannabis, a BC-based producer situated in the heart of BC’s traditional cannabis country.
Qwest sells some of the most expensive cannabis in Canada through their special “Reserve” range, and they’re proud of it.
But what is it that makes pot premium and is it worth it?
Qwest is intent on delivering the kind of exceptional cannabis that the province has cultivated for decades. To that end, they’ve launched a premium range of products including their Qwest Reserve Collection that brings together exemplary rare breeds and sought after strains.
Currently the Reserve Collection includes Ice Qwest— a.k.a. Ice Cream Cake—a critically acclaimed cross of Wedding Cake and Gelato 33 that’s as sweet as the name suggests. There’s also Spirit Qwest—a.k.a. Wedding Breath—a truly unique strain that’s been meticulously cultivated and cured at the company’s Qwest Cannabis Estate in the Creston Valley.
It’s definitely a departure from much of the cannabis you can find on the legal market right now. So at a time when the landscape is filled with LPs attempting to produce as much material as possible, what made Qwest focus on producing a premium product?
“Having a ‘premium product’ or not was never a question for us. I mean what’s the other option? A sub-par product? We’d just shut up shop and go home if that was the vision of the company,” says Mathew Stockton, head of marketing at Qwest.
“Creating top-shelf cannabis is in the fibre of our being. We are cannabis enthusiasts and will only make what we’d want to consume ourselves. And that word is important—consume. People inhale cannabis, eat it, drink it, rub it on their skin. Nobody wants to do that with a sub-par product, they want to do it with the best product available.”
That certainly makes sense, but in an industry where the illicit market served consumers for so long, are people today willing to pay that premium?
Stockton, who’s previously worked with luxury liquor labels like Johnny Walker and Ketel One Vodka, certainly thinks so. He sees a lot of parallels between cannabis and his previous career.
“The demand for premium products is already here, and it will continue to grow,” he explains. “Take a look at the premiumization in the spirits, wines, and beer industries. It will be the same. Think small batch whiskey, craft beer, reserve wine. Yes, some people will be ok with the plonk, but many look for quality, rarity, and craft.”
I just bought QWEST (x2) 1gram prerolls for $53.00 before tax from City Cannabis in Vancouver 🤣 I had to see what $26 1gram prerolls taste like. Cultivar is Ice Qwest
— Grizzwaldz (@grizzwaldz) April 16, 2019
An elevated experience
So what exactly makes cannabis premium?
“In the end it’s about the holistic experience that the cannabis user has with the product. The taste, the aroma, the look, the effect,” says Stockton.
That begins with great genetics and rare cultivars, but it also extends to every aspect of the plant’s lifecycle, from where it’s grown to the water that’s used, and even the way it’s cured and trimmed.
Premium is in the details, and according to Stockton, that’s a long way from the approach that many of the more famous LPs are taking to producing cannabis.
“We actually loathe the term ‘LP’ because it groups us in with these companies that have billion square foot cannabis factories shoved between an airport and a highway,” he explains.
“We are craft growers, who happen to have a license. We have 10 small batch grow rooms at the Qwest Cannabis Estate in Creston. We hang dry, hand trim. We have amazing cultivars—unique strains and rare phenotypes. We water our plants with pure glacial mountain water that runs naturally through the estate. We couldn’t be more different than what people perceive an ‘LP’ to be.”
Is it worth the price tag?
Prices vary depending on where you’re buying your bud, but at the time of writing, Spirit Qwest is being sold for $62.99/3.5g online at BC Cannabis Stores, which makes it one of the more expensive flower products available on the market right now.
Of course, with a higher price tag comes higher expectations. So is Qwest worth it? It’s a question that will have to be answered by the consumer at the end of the day.
“There will always be people who are willing to pay a bit more for the assurance of quality, taste, aroma, and effect that they want from cannabis,” Mathew Stockton explains. “They’re not necessarily making a conscious choice to opt for premium products, instead they are ensuring that they won’t run the risk of being left with second rate products.”
And therein lies the motivation behind Qwest’s decision to follow the premium path. For them, it’s not about creating a product that’s expensive for the sake of it. Instead, they are the result of growers attempting to create the best possible experience for their customers, and the fact that the product is ‘premium’ is almost a byproduct as a result.