New Aurora Cannabis CEO Seeks Return to Premium Flower

September 24, 2020
Aurora Cannabis plunged close to 30 percent on Wednesday after reporting $2.5 billion in losses in 2020, and weak revenue outlook for the start of the next fiscal year. Thursday morning it opened down at $5.08.
The report closes the door on a challenging year for Aurora Cannabis ($ACB), which lost more than 90 percent of its stock value, laid off hundreds, shuttered several facilities, and lost two founders and its CCO in the past 12 months. 
This also appears to have given the company an opportunity to open a new door. Consumer packaged goods veteran Miguel Martin took over as CEO in early September. And Martin, who most recently served as CEO of U.S. hemp and CBD brand Reliva, said he has a strategy to right the ship. 
"The opportunity is in the consumer business … bringing those incredibly premium and super premium brands that we're blessed to have, Whistler, Aurora, and San [Rafael], back into the market in a strong way in the flower business," Martin told Cheddar Wednesday. "And also take advantage of the rapid growth to emerging categories, which is vapor and pre-rolls."
Even as Canadian cannabis giants invested big bucks in premium cannabis, consumers seemed to prefer cheaper weed. Those preferences prompted cannabis companies to scramble to release "value" brands with more competitive price points, designed to lure consumers from the illicit market, CNBC reported. Aurora released its own brand, Daily Special, which now accounts for 62 percent of the company's flower revenue compared with 35 percent the previous quarter, the company disclosed Tuesday. And cheaper cannabis is tougher on margins.
Martin suggested the company will return to a focus on premium in hopes of achieving positive adjusted EBITDA by Q2 2021. But Jefferies analyst Owen Bennett in a note on Wednesday questioned how feasible a strategy that might be.
"It seems the company did not expect the success of Daily Special and then when momentum built it was hard to stop. The issue here is that likewise, once momentum stops on the more premium offerings, especially with competition performing well, it can be hard to get going again," he wrote in a note.
Even though Aurora pushed back its deadline to achieve profitability, it still could be a tall order considering Aurora's revenue outlook for the first quarter of 2021, which at $44.8 million to $47.8 million represents a drop from Q4. But Martin said it's possible with the margin benefits of premium flower combined with costs cut during a business restructuring the company kicked off earlier in the year.
"There should be an expectation that we're going to do better with premium brands, which are margin accretive," he said. "The SG&A that I mentioned and the other cost levers, we've been able to bring down significantly, which makes that threshold of the EBITDA target more attainable."
Aurora, like other Canadian cannabis companies, is also very focused on its U.S. CBD strategy. Because Aurora is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange exchange, it cannot legally participate in the federally illegal U.S. cannabis market. But CBD is fair game. Martin said CBD not only provides a pathway to market penetration prior to federal legalization but presents a huge opportunity in its own right.
"The reality is today that the U.S. non-THC cannabinoid business is larger than the Canadian THC business. So it's a huge opportunity," he said.
Aurora acquired CBD brand Reliva, where Martin was serving as CEO, in May for $40 million in stock. The company also announced in early September alongside Martin's appointment that it paid $30 million to terminate a high profile deal with UFC that would have resulted in the creation of a brand of CBD products for athletic recovery. 
Canadian cannabis companies have a vested interest in U.S. politics, which upon legalization or permissibility could permit them to step into the U.S. cannabis market. Despite House Democrats postponing a vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Expungement and Reinvestment (MORE) Act out of fear of political consequences, Martin maintained that cannabis legalization is a bipartisan inevitability.
"It's my belief that U.S. legalization is more of a 'when' than an 'if'. It's become as much an economic issue as it's become a social issue, and that crosses both lines of the aisle," he said.
Aurora Cannabis is in the midst of a business transformation plan, launched in February, that has resulted in hundreds of layoffs and several facility closures in order to cut down on costs and centralize the business.
Updated September 24 to reflect the stock plunged Wednesday, following Tuesday's earnings report, and clarify three high-ranking leaders left the company in the last year, but not all were "dismissed."
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