Colombian Cannabis Scorecard: Milestones and Challenges for Publicly Traded Firms
By Esteban Rossi I., Ph.D., Special Contributor, New Frontier Data
Following the 2014 passage of Uruguay’s pathbreaking cannabis legislation, Colombia (2017) and Canada (2018) each took bold steps to foster their development of cannabis industries. Several interesting companies emerged after those legislative advances to capture the interest of investors. Here, New Frontier Data reviews the most recent milestones of public firms with operations in Colombia, and outlines their future challenges.
Given the numerous interesting firms, focus was dedicated on the largest public companies as sorted by market capitalization. This summary should be regarded as an overview of the state of the industry rather than as any endorsement. Analyses are based on public information reported by regulatory agencies and companies themselves.
As of last month, seven companies with Colombian operations are publicly listed, mostly in Canadian or American exchanges (i.e., TSX, NASDAQ, or NEO). The companies benefited greatly from the exuberance observed in financial markets after Canada approved bill C-45, and are mostly controlled by North American investors. Leadership roles are mostly occupied by executives who pivoted from the oil, tobacco, or finance industries, though local entrepreneurs and investors fulfill leadership roles in some firms.
Over the past year, the companies achieved important milestones. Their accomplishments are analyzed in consideration of a company’s age, size, business model, and time to profitability. Most companies already completed licensing and agronomical requirements, and are now focused on just one goal: sales. According to data from SICEX and Asocolcanna, as of late 2020, Colombian exports added up to between USD $4.4 million and $5.0 million. The figures are meager for the country, but indicate that the industry is gaining traction despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent developments suggest that the Colombian industry is ready to bloom. First, numerous Colombian extracts and products have found a niche in foreign markets. Second, regulatory agencies are beginning to provide much-needed support. Following the historic lead of Uruguay, Colombia is updating Decree 613 to facilitate flower exports. Third, market opportunities are emerging in Europe, Australia, and perhaps Mexico.
Among the most salient milestones, Clever Leaves obtained the European Union certification (EU-GMP), exported roughly $816,000 USD worth of products, and completed an initial public offering late last year. According to CEO Kyle Detwiler, Clever Leaves secured roughly $80 million in cash to prepare for the long run. By virtue of its footprint, financial strength, and commercial networks, Clever Leaves finds itself in a very strong competitive position.
Conversely, Pharmacielo and Khiron have yet to meet investors’ expectations. For the third quarter of 2020, those two large firms reported small revenues and relatively weak cash positions. Yet, both Pharmacielo and Khiron possess clear competitive advantages by dint of their respective large-scale production capacities and direct access to patients, which explains their successes in recent funding rounds. Moreover, export data from SICEX suggests that in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020, Pharmacielo exported roughly $2.5 million USD worth of products late in the year, while Khiron similarly exported goods for $817,000 USD during the period. Clearer pictures of their financial positions should be available by late next month, when the financial statements for Q4 are published.
Smaller and relatively younger firms also made progress in 2020. One World Pharma obtained additional funding from former NBA basketball star Isaiah Thomas, and is building a network of contract growers across the country. Meanwhile, Medcolcanna proceeded to advance development of its cosmetic line, and aims to reach the medicinal market with generic formulations. Blueberries, in turn, established a medical education program, and is positioning itself to reach the Argentine market.
As has been thoroughly reported, most of the Colombo-Canadian firms experienced considerable operational delays, and struggled to develop their marketing strategies. Combinations of lacking experience before facing regulatory hurdles and misplaced attention caused problems. In addition, international markets for cannabis products evolved much slower than had been initially anticipated.
In short, Colombian firms must execute flawlessly in order to catch up with Uruguayan firms. Over the last year, Uruguayan counterparts including Fotmer and Cplant managed to export significant amounts of cannabis flower. In the last three years Fotmer established considerable production capabilities, obtained the EU-GMP certification, and established its reach to both Europe and Israel. Available sales data and company briefings suggest that Fotmer might break even on cash flow in 2021.
Similarly, ICC labs and Symbiosis maintained contracts with the Uruguayan government (IRCCA) to supply the local dispensary market. To date, the domestic market has offered smaller margins, smaller risks, and invaluable lessons for regulators, users, and public health researchers around the world.
It is incumbent on company directors to pay close attention to new opportunities in emerging markets. The consolidation of the Mexican industry could benefit the industry at a global scale. Investors, on the other hand, would do well to focus on just one goal: sales. If current trends continue, the market for Colombian-made cannabis products will keep growing.
*Disclaimer. New Frontier Data offers objective analysis based on carefully vetted data. This information does not constitute financial advice of any kind, And the author does not hold any position in any of the companies discussed. A. Matteucci and S. Osorio provided insightful suggestions.