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Jack in the Box is flirting with marijuana culture in its latest venture.
The fast-food chain is teaming up with Merry Jane, a weed-focused online publication, to launch the Merry Munchie Meal in celebration of recreational pot becoming legal in California come the new year. The bundle includes a curated selection of what the restaurant says are its "most craveable and snackable" products.
Jack in the Box already offers Munchie Meals on its late-night menu. Teaming up with a marijuana-centric website makes a subtle hint more overt. However, the promotion is relatively small: It will only be available in three Long Beach restaurants for one week.
Jack in the Box has teased the concept before in its advertising, so the move is not entirely shocking. However, a major restaurant chain attaching its brand to marijuana suggests the once-taboo topic is becoming mainstream enough to adopt. But don't expect to see the Golden Arches go green anytime soon.
"I don't want to say absolutely not, but most chains at their heart are at least financially conservative, if nothing else," said David Henkes, principal at Technomic. "They don't want to jump into an issue where they can risk facing consumer backlash."
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Support for marijuana hit its highest level in nearly five decades this year, with 64 percent of Americans saying it should be made legal, according to a Gallup poll.
Despite growing acceptance, big brands have largely shied away from the subject. Most chains are probably already considering ideas, said food-service trend expert Darren Tristano. Marijuana-infused marketing could attract coveted millennials, he said, but concerns over stoned driving could stall any action just yet.
At their core, chains aim to appeal to as many people as possible, meaning they're not likely to adopt any trends until they're truly mainstream. So even as more states legalize pot and more people grow comfortable with the idea, it could be a while before big names align their brands with marijuana, let alone start using it in their products.
"I think restaurants are going to learn their way into it," said Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group. "Nobody wants to bet everything into this particular product association, but if there is a commercial value to be gained, I think companies will try and learn the best way to approach."
Constellation Brands, which sells Corona beer in the U.S., shocked the food and beverage world when it announced in October that it would take a stake in Canopy Growth Corporation, the world's largest publicly traded cannabis company. The two plan to develop, market and sell cannabis-infused beverages.
Brewers may have more at stake to lose. Studies have suggested that . Food may have more to gain, since marijuana tends to be correlated with eating more.
Still, a major restaurant like Jack in the Box experimenting with marijuana shows how acceptance is becoming fairly mainstream quickly, Henkes said. It also suggests that other names are going to have to consider how they plan to address it, if at all.
"These are issues the restaurant industry, I think, are really going to struggle with over the next couple of years and are going to need to figure out which way they're going to go with this," he said. "It's still early, and it'll be interesting to watch because this is something the top 100 chains could take probably 100 different approaches to."