Case Study: Sheesh Hash Sodas Successfully Launch Award-Winning Beverage

The recent launch of its first beverage, Black Cherry Hash Cola, has been an eye-catching success for Sheesh Hash Sodas. But behind the scenes, extensive support and expertise from NSF Food Consulting’s R&D Laboratory has played a crucial role in developing this innovative drink and bringing it smoothly to market.

Black Cherry Hash Cola was launched earlier this year in Ontario, Canada. It was an instant hit for Sheesh Hash Sodas, smashing the business’s expectations for its first product by selling over 700 cases and being listed in more than 350 stores in the first month.

The company has achieved its initial aim: to create a quality cannabis experience in a beverage. Black Cherry Hash Cola has not only gone down well with Ontario’s cannabis community but with a wider group of food and drink critics and F&B industry observers, with the product recently winning the accolade of ‘Best Beverage’ at Canada’s prestigious annual F&B Awards – the cherry on the top, you might say...

The Challenge

Sheesh Hash Sodas is a recently formed business, co-founded by Canadian entrepreneurs Matt Cherkas and Jacqueline McAskill. They teamed up through a shared vision: to make the most of a relaxation in cannabis regulations in Ontario by creating a quality cannabis experience in a beverage. Having clarity of purpose was one thing but achieving it in practice is quite another. As McAskill cheerfully admits, “The challenge we faced was to make it happen.”

Their key task was to develop a product that would appeal to a wide range of cannabis consumers, from young people who don’t drink alcohol to seniors in search of medicinal benefits. With a background in wine, McAskill was aware of common ground between wine and cannabis, with both needing to demonstrate providence and quality. “Cannabis is strain-specific, much like grape varieties in winemaking,” she explains. “Our idea was to create a craft beverage, with sourcing transparency of the ingredients and, above all, the right taste, smell and effect. Quite simply, we wanted the best product with the best flavours.”

The Solution

The co-founders had no hesitation in turning to NSF for support, because “we knew it was the best decision,” says McAskill. "We had both had a fantastic experience working with NSF in previous roles.”

They were not disappointed. NSF Consulting’s New Product Development team, led by Leanne Blommaert, Manager of Research & Development, “was creative from the start,” says McAskill. “They had the knowledge and expertise to come up with great ideas and recommendations straightaway and developed outstanding samples for us to try.”

A clear favourite was hash cola, featuring carefully sourced black cherry juice and strain-specific, solventless hash emulsion made from flowers supplied by quality-approved Canadian producers. McAskill continues, “The NSF team sourced ingredients and flavours that were in harmony straightaway, appealing to our various types of consumers and offering them the ‘full spectrum’ experience they’re looking for, with very little tweaking needed.”

NSF’s all-round strengths were further highlighted when it came to ensuring regulatory compliance for the cola, which meant adhering to Ontario’s restrictions on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, and navigating the province’s complex marketing and labelling requirements for products containing THC.

The Results

McAskill is effusive in her praise for Blommaert and the NSF team. “They’ve brought a great combination of skills and responsiveness that’s made them a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all our NPD needs,” she says. “The results are there to see: our first product sold out in days and won a major industry award in a huge market – there are over 180 beverages out there.”

This winning combination is set to continue, with NSF collaborating with Sheesh Hash Sodas on the development of two new beverages for launch in early 2024, plus an expansion plan into selected new markets in Canada and, ultimately, the US. “NSF is helping us with our long-term road map, and we consider Leanne to be part of our team,” continues McAskill. “We can’t thank them enough for the huge part they’ve played in our success so far.”

She concludes, “We use the best people for what they’re good at – and we don’t plan to change that model!”

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