Challenges for some small producers shipping products to provinces

| Contributor

Cannabis producers outside of Ontario are trying to make shipping to the Ontario Cannabis Store work for them, although high costs to ship small-batch orders can be challenging and onerous. But some producers are finding creative ways to make shipping to Ontario financially feasible.

Brad Churchill isn’t shy about revealing the heavy costs he faces in shipping to Ontario, he says in an interview. The CEO of Choklat, a chocolate manufacturer in Calgary that produces edibles and THC-infused sugar under the Phat420 brand, posted his take on shipping fees on LinkedIn, which garnered more than 100 likes and 15 comments. 

He explained how the OCS issued his LP a purchase order for $600 worth of infused sugar. He said with other orders from various provinces, he could slip the product into a 12X12 box and ship it via Canada Post.

What incentive is there for me to process these orders and lose money with this system?

Brad Churchill, Choklat

“However the OCS expects us to palletize it (yeah… put a 12X12 box on a pallet all by itself), include a $50 data logger, and then ship it temperature-controlled to their warehouse. And of course book a dock time, which if the driver misses we get penalized. Essentially we are shipping an empty pallet—which incidentally costs $1200 to send as a base rate from Alberta,” he writes.

In an interview, he explains how gatekeepers such as OCS don’t make it financially logical to deliver smaller orders when they come through, especially since he has to use their carrier and pallets for each order. 

“What incentive is there for me to process these orders and lose money with this system?” he asks rhetorically.

Churchill says he prefers the setup BC offers, which allows LPs to direct-ship to retailers, which the OCS restricts.

Even within Ontario, shipping to the OCS warehouse in Guelph can be costly. For Abide Cannabis, based in Mississauga, they’ve had to cancel small orders the OCS sent them, such as when a $1,200 PO for one of their CBD creams had a shipping cost of $700.

CEO David Marcus says, “And that’s just from Toronto to Guelph, because we have to use their carriers and data logging system, and so on. I try to ensure that shipping doesn’t cost more than 10 percent of the PO.”

He adds that Abide only sells within Ontario “because I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare of shipping to other provinces.” 

Josh Adler, VP of Operations & Business Development at Aqualitas in Nova Scotia, sympathizes with Choklat’s shipping struggles, but he recognizes how OCS has policies and processes that require LPs to “play within their system,” as he says.

“Their automatic ordering system is going off forecasts and what has sold before, so it makes sense if a small order goes through to an LP because the OCS doesn’t want to sit on a lot of unsold products,” Adler says.

Not many LPs are synergizing their shipments but we wanted to work with other partners in the Maritimes to merge shipments together and help them save on shipping costs.

Josh Adler, Aqualitas

In a statement sent to StratCann, OCS spokesperson Jessica Rochwerg noted the current processes (i.e., appointment booking, data logs, pallets, etc.) are required “for quality assurance purposes, faster speed to market, and to effectively handle the large number of Purchase Orders (POs) that the DC receives on a regular basis. However, we appreciate that some of these measures may be challenging for micro producers or suppliers with smaller POs.”

She added that the OCS is now exploring ways to “accommodate smaller deliveries and Purchase Orders at the DC, and are continuously looking for ways to work with producers to better enable a vibrant cannabis marketplace,” but couldn’t elaborate on specific plans.

On the flip side, what small orders tell some LPs is that these products aren’t so hot right now, which can help producers make smart business decisions on what to delist, says Adler. While the majority of Aqualitas’s SKUs perform well in Ontario, one product wasn’t receiving as many orders as they expected, so the LP discontinued their CBD pre-rolls instead of dealing with minuscule orders.

In addition, Aqualitas and other LPs have found a few strategies to help ease the burden of costly shipping. Consolidating orders can be useful when several small-batch orders come through the queue, and Abide’s Marcus says his OCS rep has been flexible enough to allow POs issued on different weeks to be on one pallet. But he also notes that another OCS rep he worked with earlier hadn’t been as cooperative about order consolidation. 

For both Manitoba-based Delta-9 and Aqualitas, establishing a partnership business can be the route forward. This means other LPs can send their orders, for a fee, to another LP that handles the shipping. Delta-9 spokesperson Ian Chandley said they set up this type of service last year so other Manitoba LPs with OCS orders could consolidate their POs into one shipment.  

At Aqualitas, a similar approach has worked well for them and their neighbouring LPs. “Not many LPs are synergizing their shipments but we wanted to work with other partners in the Maritimes to merge shipments together and help them save on shipping costs,” Adler says.

Marcus says the OCS can be responsive to market shifts and feedback, such as the recent announcement the store will lower its price margins this fall, which the OCS estimates will put $60 million back in the hands of LPs in the 2024 fiscal year. “That is an amazing move,” he adds, “because the margins have become so slim in the cannabis industry.”

-David Silverberg

David Silverberg is a freelance journalist who contributes to BBC News, The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, Leafly and several brands. He also coaches creative and non-fiction writers via online 1-on-1 courses which can be found on his website.