Canopy Growth's Kelly Olsen on Brand Building and Mainstreaming of Canadian Cannabis
Kelly Olsen is VP of the flower business at Canopy Growth, responsible for the global category P&L, based in Toronto. Kelly joined Canopy Growth through its acquisition of Hiku, where she led product and merchandising strategy prior to federal legalization in Canada.
She spent over a decade at Holt Renfrew leading their women's designer business, and then spearheading their business model shift into a leased environment for globally recognized brands such as Gucci, Prada and Burberry. During her time consulting, she worked with direct-to-consumer brands on long-term product strategy development.
Kelly has a bachelor's of management degree, with a major in finance from Western University in London, Canada, and a master's of fashion buying degree from Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Italy.
We spoke with Kelly for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Kelly, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and then moved around a lot growing up, spending time in Ontario, London, Milan and now call Toronto home. It provided a great perspective!
Your current role in the cannabis industry.
I'm currently vice president of the global flower business at Canopy Growth. I spent the early part of my career in the fashion and luxury goods industry, leading product strategies for multi-brand retailers and consulting on direct-to-consumer global brands. I got involved in cannabis early on in the pre-legalization journey in Canada and have been here since.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
Seeing how the power of cannabis can change lives creates a very meaningful impact for me and the work I do on a daily basis. Whether it's helping someone unwind after a stressful day, relieve pain from an enduring disease or just go about their day a little bit easier—it's all highly motivating.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
Ace Valley Pinners—our new personal-sized pre-rolls—have been my new go-to product. They are great to bring to a backyard BBQ and sit around and share with friends. I'm also super excited about Doja and seeing this brand grow from the B.C. Okanagan Valley and expand its niche craft offerings across Canada. It rings true to my B.C. roots.
On the edible side, Martha Stewart CBD gummies are not only delicious, but also a fan favorite for sharing with family and friends in the U.S.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
Building brands and speaking directly to consumers in an environment where regulations change the means and channels you would traditionally go through to do so is definitely a challenge in Canada. However, it forces us to home in on our creativity and strategic thought in a way that just doesn't exist in other industries. It's impressive to see what marketers in the industry have been able to create.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
The continued acceptance of cannabis in media and popular culture, and seeing it pop up in places we certainly couldn't imagine in the early days of legalization is definitely exciting. Our Tokyo Smoke stores are now opening inside some of Canada's largest malls, which I'm sure will spark curiosity and interest from new consumers who may have felt intimidated about visiting a cannabis store otherwise.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
National Expungement Works (N.E.W.) is at the top of my list. I'm super proud of the support our social purpose team has provided to N.E.W., as the work they are doing is so critical to righting the wrongs from the war on cannabis and allowing individuals impacted by the criminal justice system to re-enter society.
Our work is far from over as we still have a long way to go before we reach national expungement, but it's something I think anyone working within the legal cannabis industry needs to keep pushing for and work to resolve.
A recent project you're proud of.
Tweed Quickies have been a really fun project to work on. Insights indicated to us back in the winter that consumers wanted a more enjoyable pre-rolled experience better aligned with their shifting preference for personal consumption and less sharing. The name Quickies was clever in that it helped us nod to that preference, while also one of the main benefits of flower in that the effects are experienced almost instantaneously ... or quickly!
Someone else's project you admired recently.
In the spirit of my early roots in fashion, it's impressive to see the run Daniel Lee has done to rebuild Bottega Veneta. During the pandemic some brands got super tactical in survival mode, and long-term brand building is so important so you aren't at the mercy of cyclical trends. I love to see that re-emerging. Whether it's fashion or cannabis, brands are selling a dream, a lifestyle, an experience—I love seeing how brands balance that with the day-to-day.
Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.