Life after Canopy Growth: These cannabis researchers sensed a new opportunity

Hi Five Sensory was founded by two former employees of Canopy Growth looking to combine their passions and experience working with sensory science and cannabis. Photo by Jenifer Brown

Ever wonder why you love a certain flavour of ice cream or how a specific perfume makes you feel calm? Turns out it’s all about science — sensory science, to be exact.

When Amanda Plunkett and Palmina De Miglio were laid off from Canopy Growth last fall, they had just started applying sensory science to the company’s cannabis products. 

“It was cutting edge. I built the program up from scratch,” says De Miglio of her work as a senior manager at Canopy. “We did all the quality work on the beverages and edibles before they exited the building, such that we were maintaining quality for the consumer and consistency, which is key.”

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Sensory science involves the systematic evaluation and interpretation of how people perceive food, drink and other consumer goods with the aim of understanding and improving the sensory appeal of the products. Application of the science to recreational cannabis is relatively new and Canopy had positioned itself as a trailblazer. 

However, Plunkett and De Miglio found themselves swept up in a round of layoffs last November at the Smiths Falls company. 

Hi Five Sensory was founded by two former employees of Canopy Growth looking to combine their passions and experience working with sensory science and cannabis. Photo by Jenifer Brown

“Basically the entire innovation and R&D stack were let go,” Plunkett says. Canopy announced 55 layoffs at the time. Last week, the news broke of 800 layoffs and the closure of Canopy’s Smiths Falls headquarters 

Plunkett and De Miglio didn’t dwell on their plight. Instead, the pair of sensory researchers with more than 20 years combined experience incorporated their own business, Hi Five Sensory, in December and officially launched last month. Hi-Five provides sensory analysis and consumer testing services, as well as regulatory consulting and sensory training. But its niche will be continuing the sensory research that Canopy was no longer doing in-house. 

De Miglio says the immediate goal for Hi Five is to get the company’s name out there and build connections in the Canadian market. 

“I think the (Ontario Cannabis Store) is also going to be something that we target because the LCBO has a very comprehensive sensory program. They look at all the products that come in and they measure quality. But the OCS doesn’t do that, which is a big miss on their part,” De Miglio says. 

Internationally, they have applied to deliver a workshop at a conference in France and have an eye on the potential legalization of cannabis in Germany in 2024.

So far, their partnership is working well. De Miglio is a sensory scientist with experience in the packaged goods industry and has worked with alcohol and cigarettes. Plunkett handles the behind-the-scenes aspects of the company and has reprised her former role at Canopy managing expert panels.  

At Canopy, Plunkett led and trained a 15-person panel that assessed cannabis quality.

“They couldn’t believe their luck, being hired to test cannabis,” Plunkett says of the panellists. “They were also just really passionate about the subject matter and learning more about cannabis.” 

Plunkett says Hi Five Sensory hopes to re-establish the expert panel in the medium term and hire back the panellists, who had completed their training and only just started their work with Canopy at the time of the November layoffs. 

Plunkett says she would welcome the chance to work with other former colleagues at Canopy who may have landed with other licensed producers or in consulting. 

“Not only are they great people, but the calibre of work that we were able to do together was truly exceptional,” Plunkett says. “In a heartbeat I would work with them again. Would love to.”

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