Exclusive Interview with TerrAscend Executive Chairman and Interim CEO Jason Ackerman
Cannabis operator TerrAscend (CSE: TER) (OTCQX: TRSSF) has a multi-state presence in the United States, a Canadian footprint and distribution capabilities in the European Union. The company is focused on carving out a competitive position in its chosen markets. Executive Chairman and Interim CEO Jason Ackerman spoke with New Cannabis Ventures about the company’s targeted growth in the United States, global opportunities and plans for continued expansion. The audio of the entire conversation is available at the end of this written summary.
The Evolving Leadership Team
Ackerman, appointed to the interim CEO position in January, is relatively new to the cannabis industry, but he brings with him a wealth of retail experience. About 20 years ago, Ackerman decided to start an online grocery business. He spent the past couple of decades scaling FreshDirect. The company developed relationships with growers, manufactured thousands of its own branded products and honed a consumer-driven strategy–experience that translates to the cannabis business.
Ackerman is a part of TerrAscend’s centralized management team in New York. This team heads the company’s business development, finance and strategy initiatives. Additionally, the centralized team helps to share best practices across its various operations.
The company has significant organic growth opportunities with its current licenses, according to Ackerman. On the East Coast, TerrAscend has assets in the limited-license markets of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The company recently tripled its grow capacity in Pennsylvania, and it currently supplies most of the state’s dispensaries, according to Ackerman. TerrAscend is constructing its operations in New Jersey, with plans to launch that business over the summer and into the fourth quarter. In California, the company has dispensaries under The Apothecarium brand and manufacturing capabilities.
Looking at growth opportunities outside of its current footprint, TerrAscend will be targeting a geographic hub approach. It will leverage its team and position in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to expand in the northeast, while its California presence will help to develop a West Coast hub.
While organic growth is an objective, TerrAscend will also explore potential acquisition opportunities, especially considering the current capital crunch. But, it will take a disciplined approach. Any potential deals will need to fit with the company’s team and contribute to running a strong operation, according to Ackerman.
Opportunities in Canada and Europe
The Canadian market has struggled with an oversupply of product relative to the number of retail outlets, according to Ackerman. TerrAscend has developed a modest grow operation in this market, mostly sourcing raw materials from third parties and focusing on R&D. While the company still views Canada as an opportunity, it is proceeding cautiously in order to contain risk.
Likewise, TerrAscend sees opportunity in Europe but considers the market much smaller than the United States. For now, the United States remains the main priority for the company.
CBD Hemp Strategy
Arise Bioscience, based out of Florida, has product development, sales and distribution teams that serve as the basis of TerrAscend’s CBD hemp strategy. The company currently distributes products to more than 10,000 retail locations across the country, and it will continue to roll out new CBD products.
While working in the online grocery space, Ackerman learned how important it is for businesses to stay connected to the consumer. With that in mind, TerrAscend’s R&D and retail teams communicate closely with one another to develop new product ideas. Ackerman also knows how much consumers value variety. In addition to in-house branded products, the company will be working with third-party CPG partners to find the products that fit the customer mix of each store.
Operating in a Time of Crisis
A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can teach businesses a lot about their teams and operations, according to Ackerman. There is the potential to pull together and emerge from the situation stronger. TerrAscend is working to ensure its employees and customers are safe during this time. Employees are wearing masks and gowns, as well as increasing cleanliness protocols.
In its Pennsylvania retail stores, the company is handling an increase in pick-up order demand and managing social distancing requirements by limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at any one time. It is also planning to launch a drive-through option. In California, customers are no longer allowed to enter the store, so TerrAscend is doing pick-up only orders.
While the company needs to handle changes in protocol, it will still continue executing on its growth plan. Construction is allowed to continue, and the demand for cannabis is up.
The Canopy Growth Relationship
TerrAscend recently entered into a C$80.5 million, 6.1 percent, 10-year loan agreement with Canopy Growth. The agreement, which provides capital to its U.S. hemp CBD business as well as its Canadian operations, is a further vote of confidence from Canopy, particularly as it has a strong intent to enter the U.S. space when cannabis eventually becomes federally legal, according to Ackerman.
At this time, the company is well-capitalized, according to Ackerman. He expects the challenging capital markets environment to continue to put pressure on companies, some of which won’t survive, over the coming year.
Outlook on the Future
TerrAscend has growth in three main areas, without any M&A, according to Ackerman. First, tripled production capacity in Pennsylvania will be a significant acceleration of revenue. Second, New Jersey operations, currently under construction, are expected to come online this year. Third, the company has half a dozen dispensaries licensed or under construction.
While many people focus on MSOs with a position in a high number of states, Ackerman recommends looking at companies that can build a dominant position and scale in its markets of choice. TerrAscend has a team applying for licenses, and it will continue to pursue a combination of organic growth and acquisitions.
New Cannabis Ventures provides an Investor Dashboard for TerrAscend, which is a client. Listen to the entire interview: