By Chloe Aiello
Green Growth Brands’ deal with the nation’s largest mall operator, Simon Property Group, is just the beginning of the young cannabis and hemp branding company's retail ambitions, Peter Horvath, the retail veteran and CEO of Green Growth Brands, told Cheddar Tuesday.
“There’s more developers, just like Simon … [that] are all game for portfolio deals with us,” Horvath said, adding that several large operators were in interested in smaller-scale, individual deals as well.
Green Growth Brands is just one year old, but the small company has already made big waves in the U.S. hemp and cannabis industry. The company penned a deal with discount shoe retailer DSW ($DSW) to sell its Seventh Sense-branded CBD skin care products in stores nationwide; opened dispensaries and grows in Nevada and Massachusetts, with plans for Arizona; attempted a hostile takeover of Canadian pot producer Aphria ($APHA); and has agreed to open more than 100 kiosks in Simon mall properties.
The Simon deal caused a big stir for its potential to take CBD and hemp more mainstream. And mall operators and retailers clamored to get ahead of what could prove to be a lucrative trend ー the hemp industry is projected by Brightfield Group to hit $22 billion by the year 2022.
“As soon as the Simon thing came out, it was like, ‘Hey, what about me?'” Horvath said. While the CEO clarified that not all upcoming deals would necessarily be as expansive as the one with Simon, he said large mall operators, like Westfield Group, General Growth Properties, and Macerich, were interested both in portfolio and individual deals.
Green Growth aims to have 100 shops by the end of June, and as many as 300 by the end of the year. Horvath added that the company is “working on tests" with companies like American Eagle Outfitters ($AEO), Abercrombie & Fitch ($ANF), and Albertson's, and has fielded inquiries from brokers for Target ($TGT) and Kohl’s ($KSS).
Green Growth has deep connections in the retail industry. Horvath has about 30 years of experience in retail and has held executive roles at DSW, American Eagle, and L Brands ($LB), the parent company of Victoria’s Secret. It is backed by the Schottenstein family, the retail royalty behind companies like American Eagle, DSW, Value City Furniture, and the merger between Albertson’s and Safeway, among other things, according to Forbes.
A spokesperson later clarified that while Green Growth was engaging in conversations with various brands and mall operators, no deals were definitive yet.
Green Growth’s strategy has been to target states where medical and recreational cannabis are legal, but that aren’t yet over-saturated. And the company prefers to acquire licenses, not fully operational dispensaries. California, for example, is out for now, but Horvath said states like Michigan and even New York look more promising.
“If you're going to California where its over-saturated, under-regulated … that’s just not a good market to be in,” Horvath said. “Why would you compete that way when you can go to markets, like Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, where taxes are low enough that the black market can’t compete?”
But as Green Growth looks to ramp up its mergers and acquisitions activity, powered by the influence of the Schottensteins, who Horvath said aren’t involved with day-to-day management, but are very interested in deal-making, it still has one big weight hanging over its head: Aphria.
Aphria rejected Green Growth’s January takeover bid, saying it “significantly undervalued” the company ー to the tune of about 23 percent. Irwin Simon, Aphria’s independent chairman, has come out strongly against the deal, but told CNBC in January he could be open to some sort of strategic partnership.
Horvath, however, estimated there are still about 60 days left until the bid expires, and said “there’s no telling where we could end up, and there’s no telling whether or not their shareholders will support our bid.”
Ultimately, the goal with Aphria would be to form a kind of cross-border powerhouse that combines cultivation and branding should the U.S. legalize. Until that is cleared up, Horvath is focusing on smaller deals and on building brands ーlike Seventh Sense, Meri + Jayne, and Campー with the authenticity of American Eagle.
He gushed over photos of the Seventh Sense in-mall kiosks; of The Source, a dispensary Green Growth bought in Nevada; and of Camp, a new dispensary concept that Green Growth plans to launch in Nevada and Massachusetts, states where the company has 10 licenses it needs to build out.
The Camp concept is inspired by, you guessed it, camping. The airy shops feature ceiling graphics that look like starry night skies obscured partially by trees, there is a spattering of wood paneling, and the restrooms are nothing short of luxurious ー a feature Horvath seemed especially excited about.
“This matters,” he said, adding that he was inspired by his time at DSW to make bathrooms an amenity. “This is a women’s business and you want her to hang around. Why would you make it hard for her to hang around? And why wouldn’t you make the bathroom cool?”
Horvath also added that the company isn’t too worried about the Food and Drug Administration’s warnings about CBD. For one thing, the company isn’t producing any edible hemp products ー although edible cannabis products are a different story. The company is also only shipping products to the 34 states where CBD is explicitly legal.
“I think we are setting the standard of how you should be doing business in the world of CBD,” Horvath said.