Claire Folger/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Here’s something getting a nice high from recreational marijuana: snack food sales.
Sales of snacks in states that have legalized recreational marijuana had a compound annual growth rate of 7.2% over the last four years versus 6% growth in other states, according to data released Wednesday from research group Nielsen.
“Marijuana consumption has been clinically and anecdotally shown to increase a consumers’ appetite and enjoyment of food,” the report said. “And sales data from within the U.S. Census divisions where cannabis has been legalized for recreational use supports the munchies’ effect.”
There were $29.9 billion in salty snack sales from April 2018 to April 2019, according to Nielsen, up from $27 billion for the 12 months to April 2017.
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The company’s recent research supports an earlier study that determined potato chip, cookie and ice cream sales all increased in Colorado, Oregon and Washington as recreational marijuana became legal in those states.
Specifically, chip sales increased 5.3%, while cookie sales climbed 4.1% and ice cream purchases increased 3.1% in the aftermath of legalization, professors from the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University determined, using monthly retail scanner data from 2006 to 2016.
“The increase in sales starts at the time of the legislation becomes effective,” said the findings, published in Social Science Research Network in April 2019. Afterwards, the snacking spurt decreased slightly for ice cream and chips, but not for cookies, according to the results.
‘These might seem like small numbers. But they’re statistically significant and economically significant as well.’
—Michele Baggio, assistant professor of economics at the University of Connecticut
Colorado and Washington voters opted to legalize recreational use in 2012. Oregon’s recreational use became legal in 2015.
“These might seem like small numbers,” said University of Connecticut assistant professor of economics Michele Baggio. “But they’re statistically significant and economically significant as well.”
The study noted scientists have theories on the neuroscience behind the cannabis-induced cravings, but the phenomenon’s inner workings are still not known.
“A widespread urban myth is that marijuana consumption is associated with the so-called munchies, namely an irresistible urge to consume large amounts of snack or junk food, such as ice cream, cookies, candies, and the like,” the researchers wrote.
The University of Connecticut study may have focused on the three states to the west of the Mississippi River, but 11 states overall and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for ages 21 and older. Illinois’ legalization for recreational use takes effect next year.
It might harsh their mellow, but consumers might want to remember that snacking and fast food trips can pack on the pounds.
A widespread urban myth is that marijuana consumption is associated with the ‘munchies,’ an irresistible urge to consume large amounts of snacks.
In fact, when researchers at Boston University looked at current offerings at national chains like McDonald’s /zigman2/quotes/203508018/composite MCD -0.62% , Wendy’s /zigman2/quotes/204070192/composite WEN +0.38% and Burger King /zigman2/quotes/202094900/composite QSR +0.57% and compared them to menus from the 1980s, the calorie counts had climbed noticeably, they determined.
The University of Connecticut study didn’t specify which brands had a boost in sales.
Fast food and snack product giants like Yum! Brands /zigman2/quotes/209029767/composite YUM -1.23% , Frito-Lay /zigman2/quotes/208744353/composite PEP -0.56% and McDonald’s could not be immediately reached for comment. SNAC International, a snack food industry trade association, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tim McIntyre, a spokesman for Domino’s /zigman2/quotes/203506006/delayed UK:DOM -0.11% , told MarketWatch the company analyzes its sales “in myriad ways, but have yet to look at pizza sales in states with legalized marijuana versus states where it is still illegal.”
Baggio said his future research laid the groundwork for a look into any links between recreational marijuana and obesity. Baggio said he wasn’t pushing for or against legalization. “I’m just interested in whether there are unintended consequences to the policy,” he said.
(This story was originally published on March 4 and updated July 10, 2019.)