Canopy Growth has appointed Constellation CFO David Klein as its new CEO, making him just the latest appointment from Canopy's largest shareholder amid trying times for the cannabis company. He will take the helm at Canopy in mid-January, following the departure of Canopy CEO Mark Zekulin later this month.
"If you didn't know it before, you do now: Canopy is now firmly controlled by Constellation," Seaport Global analyst Brett Hundley wrote in a note. "We expect Klein to place an overriding focus on company profitability, ahead, and we now wonder how Constellation will look to position the Canopy business itself."
Klein, who has served on Canopy's board for more than a year and was appointed chair in October, is not the only Constellation ($STZ) veteran at Canopy ($CGC). Constellation CEO Bill Newlands also sits on the board, and in May, Constellation veteran Mike Lee joined as CFO. Klein's appointment comes about five months after the shocking ouster of high profile Canopy co-founder and former CEO Bruce Linton. Linton was fired after Newlands said he was "not pleased" with Canopy's second quarter earnings report. Linton said his dramatic departure marked the end of the "dream big, spend big" era of cannabis, and introduced a more fundamentals-driven approach to the sector.
Constellation executives have reason to be concerned about profitability. The alcohol giant behind brands like Corona and Svedka owns about 35 percent of Canopy Growth and has reportedly lost hundreds of millions on its investment. Despite the losses, experts say Klein's appointment shows Constellation's ongoing investment in Canopy's progress.
"We view this as a positive as STZ is re-doubling efforts on financial stewardship," Cowen analysts wrote in a note.
Klein is set to assume charge of the company at a pivotal time for the Canadian cannabis industry. Later this month, new cannabis form factors like edibles, vape products, and beverages will begin hitting shelves as part of the country's second wave of cannabis legalization. Canopy Growth already has a suite of products poised for release, including Tweed and Van Der Pop-branded vape products, infused chocolates, and, yes, beverages.
Analysts like Hundley and Jefferies' Owen Bennett speculated on Monday that Constellation's outsized influence in the company could indicate even more of a focus on beverages moving forward. The company has already invested in a 197,000-square-foot bottling facility in Smiths Falls and has numerous beverage offerings in the works for 2020.
Infused beverages are an attractive concept for executives both in cannabis and traditional alcohol and beverage industries. Those in cannabis believe the familiarity of the beverage form factor could appeal to new demographics of cannabis users, and that infused beverages have the potential to offer intoxicant options that are lower in sugar and calories. Those in the alcohol industry, on the other hand, view cannabis as a disruptive solution to sliding alcohol sales. But experts caution against over-exuberance. According to data from legal markets in the U.S., beverages are not an especially popular means of cannabis consumption. An August report from cannabis data and analytics company Headset reported that beverages accounted for about 1.4 percent of sales in legal markets at their peak market share.
"We do worry that Canopy are now committed to a beverage category that is unproven across the multiple states in the US where it is available, and if this is also seen in Canada, there may be a relative unwillingness to shift focus and resources to other verticals which may be more attractive," Jefferies analysts wrote in a note.
Canopy Growth stock closed up more than 14 percent after the announcement.