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Formerly Westleaf Inc.

Westleaf and Ace Valley partner on cannabis stores

The companies will pursue locations in Ontario that offer a “highly curated” retail experience.

Cannabis retail company Westleaf has established a partnership with cannabis brand Ace Valley to pursue the creation of Ace Valley retail locations in Ontario.

As part of the strategic partnership and brand licensing deal, Westleaf will help create the customer experience in Ace Valley-branded stores, providing guidance on operating procedures and best practices. Ace Valley – founded by the creators of the Ace Hill craft beer brand, with products sourced from licensed producer Flowr – will collaborate with Westleaf on design, merchandising and marketing efforts.

Westleaf is the company behind Prairie Records, a recreational cannabis store that takes inspiration from record stores to not only create a welcoming atmosphere, but helps to guide customers through the cannabis buying experience with “record sleeves” that contain information about different products and strains. It is looking to open the banner in provinces where private sale of cannabis is permitted, including Ontario.

Adam Coates, VP of sales and marketing at Westleaf, says the plan is to still pursue the opening of Prairie Records locations in Ontario. But establishing a partnership with Ace Valley, he says, is a way to connect more directly with consumers in Ontario through a “highly curated” retail experience built on the brand’s existing roots and expertise in the province.

“We have ‘prairie’ right in the name,” Coates says. “One thing that’s really great is Ace Hill already knows that millennial consumer really well and is in tune with the Ontario market. We’re coming from Western Canada and we are going to bring our concept to Ontario, but when you have an opportunity to talk to consumers Ace Valley is already talking to, it made a lot of sense to put together this partnership.”

Coates adds that the track record Ace Hill has with the way it has presented and marketed the brand – a simplified approach that focuses on quality and personalized consumer experiences – and seeing that same approach being applied to Ace Valley also made the brand an attractive partner.

Last week, the Ontario government announced changes to its private cannabis retail plans, introducing a cap on the number of licenses issued at 25 during the “initial phase” of the rollout in April. Who receives those licenses will be decided by a random lottery. The new PC government led by premier Doug Ford scrapped the public retail plans of the previous government after taking power in the summer, though physical retail would not be operating until April 2019 due to the late stage at which the change was made. The government had initially said it would not cap the number of cannabis retail licenses, but said last week it had decided to move towards a “phased approach” in response to supply shortages across Canada.

The last several weeks have also seen municipalities across the province accept the Ford government’s offer of being able to “opt out” of having private retail locations within their borders until they decide to opt in at a later date.

Coates says that while the cap caught many in the industry by surprise and may push Westleaf’s timelines back if the company doesn’t win a license, it doesn’t change it plans to enter Ontario, adding that it was already taking a “long term view.” He also says that the municipalities that opted out were not ones it was planning to be active in anyway, as it is targeting high-density, high-traffic areas, such as major urban centres (many of which have decided not to opt out, as of this writing) and tourist and resort areas.