Exclusive Interview with Ayr Wellness Chairman and CEO Jonathan Sandelman
Ayr Wellness (CSE: AYR.A) (OTCQX: AYRWF) had significant revenue and EBITDA growth in 2021. The company’s revenue was up approximately 130 percent and its EBITDA was up 83 percent, according to Chairman and CEO Jonathan Sandelman. He last spoke with New Cannabis Ventures at the beginning of 2021, and now, he checked in to talk about Ayr’s current market opportunities, leveraging acquisitions completed last year and branding.
Listen to the entire interview or read the summary below:
The culture at Ayr is one of its defining differentiators, according to Sandelman. That strong culture has translated into no turnover at the senior management level and has helped to attract more talent to the company. Through its deal with Tahoe Hydroponics, Ayr welcomed its Head of Cultivation Mark Bruno. Bruno has played a significant role in helping the company pursue its goal of becoming the largest cultivator of high-quality cannabis in the United States, according to Sandelman.
Ayr has also added Brian Kiniry and Khari Edwards to its team. Senior Vice President of Operations Kiniry has played a significant role in creating the company’s operating system, which facilitates consistency and quality across all cultivation and manufacturing operations. Head of Corporate Responsibility Edwards is leading the company’s Force for Good programs, which address initiatives like expungement and education.
Ayr was launched with the intention of operating in strategic market clusters. The markets in the company’s footprint – eight thus far – have been chosen with the goal of reaching 80 percent of the consumer wallet. Ultimately, the company aims to be in 12 to 15 states. The Ayr team never intended for the company to be the biggest in the cannabis space. Rather, Sandelman and his team envision Ayr as a high-quality CPG company with a focused, efficient approach.
New Jersey is on the verge of legalizing adult use. Ayr was not among the MSOs approved initially for adult use by the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC). Ayr does have local approval for three adult-use dispensary locations and a 70,000-square-foot cultivation facility that is complete and awaiting regulatory approval. While the company would have liked to win early approval, its financial expectations for the state are modeled on May 24 approval, according to Sandelman. The team is working closely with the state’s regulators, and Sandelman remains confident that Ayr will receive approvals at the May CRC meeting.
The Ayr team is also excited about a number of other markets in its footprint. The company has made significant productivity and sales gains in Florida. It acquired Liberty Health Sciences last year. The company had 25 stores, and now, Ayr is up to 45 stores in the state with LOIs and leases for more, according to Sandelman. It is making progress towards opening its adult-use stores in Boston, and markets like Ohio and Pennsylvania also look promising.
In 2021, Ayr closed eight M&A transactions. It added five states, 62 dispensaries, eight cultivation facilities and 1,600 new teammates. The company spent $123 million in CapEx, and it is 95 percent through that CapEx, according to Sandelman. Now, the company is looking at fueling growth by leveraging all of its new assets. Following this major cycle of acquiring and building, Ayr will have a high bar for any future M&A.
In February, Ayr closed the acquisition of the owner of Levia branded cannabis-infused seltzers. While beverages are currently a sliver of the cannabis market, the Ayr team has looked ahead and sees a significant opportunity. The company looked at the hard seltzer market and polled those consumers. Half or more of them reported enjoying cannabis as well as hard seltzer with alcohol. The company is anticipating a paradigm shift with more consumer appetite for low-calorie beverages. Ayr is in the process of rolling Levia out nationally.
In the fall of 2021, Ayr launched a new corporate brand identity and retail and CPG portfolios. Earlier in the company’s history, the team had limited capital and a choice. It could acquire assets and immediately rebrand them, or it could leave the branding as is and continue to build out its portfolio. The company chose the latter. In 2021, it was in a different position. It could focus on branding consistency across its platform. With its operating system in place, the company is powering up its branding across its entire footprint to deliver the same experience to consumers through all of its products and in all of its stores.
Because Ayr never intended to become the largest operator, Sandelman does not directly compare the company to other MSOs. Rather, the team looks at the competition on a state-by-state basis. The company is a strong competitor in each of its states, making market share gains and increasing revenue, according to Sandelman.
Sandelman is comfortable with the amount of cash on Ayr’s balance sheet. Additionally, the company has approximately $200 million in unencumbered assets, which gives it the ability to pursue further funding through sale leasebacks or whatever financing vehicle makes the most sense. Right now, Ayr is putting capital to work to further refine its systems and continue the search for talent. It will also use capital when the right deals come along to increase its footprint.
Turning on Assets
Last year was a transformative period for the company. It ended 2021 with $357.6 million in revenue. All of its new assets are 95 percent built out, and the company will be turning on assets to drive growth this year. It has ramped up cultivation productivity in Florida, as well as the quality of its flower. Productivity is up in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It is just about to complete its first harvest in Arizona. Sandelman is looking forward to rolling about the quality and consistency in the company’s brands across the company’s entire footprint. While cannabis is a challenging business, Sandelman is confident in the Ayr team and the strength of the company’s vision.
New Cannabis Ventures provides Ayr Wellness a sponsored Investor Dashboard. Listen to the entire interview: