Cresco Labs wasn’t sure what the response would be to its launch of THC-infused wing sauce, which hit shelves at four of its Chicagoland dispensaries last Friday, just in time for the Super Bowl.
The vertically integrated cannabis company partnered with The Fifty/50 sports bar to create Good News Big Game, a 10-ounce jar of Fifty/50’s popular buffalo wing sauce infused with 100 mg of cannabis distillate, which was extracted from fresh frozen flower and produced at Cresco’s 70,000-square-foot production facility in Joliet, Ill.
Part of Cresco Labs’ overarching mission to normalize and professionalize cannabis, and the goal was to give cannabis a chance to be part of the conversation around an event that the industry is normally banned from participating in. Like many aspects of marketing and advertising cannabis, because it is a federally illegal substance, promoting products with THC during the Super Bowl is not an option.
Preroll, vape and gummy production (plus many other aspects of the Joliet facility) are automated. But because this was a limited run, the team at Cresco crafted the specialty product manually, hand-filling and labeling an undisclosed number of jars.
“We did enough to supply four of our [Sunnyside] stores in the Chicagoland area—knowing that it would get some hype behind it—but not knowing the hype would be this much,” says Jason Erkes, Cresco Labs’ spokesperson, saying he fielded media calls from across the country and from international outlets. “We literally sold out within 15 minutes of it going live in these stores.”
Because of the success of the initial run Feb. 2, the company scrambled to produce even more than it did the first drop and more will be available in the Sunnyside dispensary stores Friday. Each jar retails for $30.
“We didn’t intend on doing a second run, but two days before we launched, the phone was ringing off the hook, the website was blowing up,” Erkes says. “[We had to] reorder the bottles, reorder the lids, get more labels printed and get everything done in a matter of a week to be able to replenish the supply.”
Planning and developing the wing sauce took time. The team first started brainstorming product ideas to launch around the Super Bowl this past fall, and a condiment to complement one of the most popular food choices for football fans seemed like an obvious choice.
“Fifty/50 is widely recognized as having some of the best wings in Chicago, and they’re a cannabis friendly business, which was really important,” Erkes says. “Typically you’d be met with a lot of a lot of stigma, a lot of a lot of hesitation but the owner of Fifty/50, he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
Although details of the partnership were not disclosed, Erkes says Fifty/50 provided “gallons and gallons” of their wing sauce, and Cresco Labs began formulating and trialing the infusion in December.
“Our lab worked with it and came up with infusion technique with odorless and tasteless distillate to make sure it didn’t affect the integrity, the taste of it, the consistency, and from there we moved forward to bringing it to market,” Erkes says. “We didn’t want to do anything that disrupted our normal flow of business, which is why it was a limited run and a small task team managed this project.”
A team of about six people from multiple departments, including manufacturing, public relations and marketing, led the roughly four-month planning and launch process.
“The extraction and the distillate is something that we’re experts at. We do it on a regular basis. We use it in our gummies, we use it in our chocolates and things like that,” Erkes says. ”It was testing the infusion, making sure we could get the dosage right, the consistency.”
Each 10-oz jar of Good News Big Game has 100 mg of THC—aligned with Illinois adult-use cannabis regulations for edibles—and should result in 3 to 5 mg doses when spread over 20 to 24 wings, the company says.
While Cresco Labs operates in multiple states, Chicago made sense for the company to “dip our toe in the water” because it’s home base for the multistate operator, Erkes says.
The product launch “went viral in a way that we never predicted,” he says, and because of this, the company will most likely explore other collaborations in the future.
“Something like this can appear easy to do, and it’s important to really be thorough in the thought process of every little aspect of it to make sure it’s successful, for this to be a worthwhile launch,” Erkes says, saying they had task force meetings on a regular basis and mapped out a timeline for the project. “And you know I’m happy to say that I think we hit our goals, absolutely.”