“Your ability to respond, your resiliency to find new avenues that aren't existent is what allows you to sustain in an industry and to create a legacy that will last forever.” - Eric Leslie
Welcome back to the To Be Blunt podcast! In this episode, Shayda Torabi welcomes Eric Leslie, CMO of Cheeba Chews, to reflect on the brand's journey over the past decade and how it evolved in response to the changing legal parameters for cannabis and the dosage and tolerance of their products. As the edible industry began to standardize, Cheeba Chews continue to be the pioneer brand and a driving force for innovation.
[00:01 – 07:32] Thank You for 100 Episodes of To Be Blunt
[07:33 – 22:41] Setting the Standard for Cannabis Edibles
[22:42 – 29:42] Establishing Brand Identity While Navigating Different State Regulations
[29:43- 35:15] Fighting for a Position in a Saturated Market
[35:16 - 55:25] The Challenge of Marketing Medical Use and the Internal Politics in the Business Community
[55:26 – 1:00:41] The Future with Minor Cannabinoids
Eric Leslie uses an entrepreneurial mindset and years of diverse media expertise to grow Cheeba Chews legacy as one of the most recognizable edible companies in the industry. As the jack-of-all-trades Chief Marketing Officer for the company, Eric’s expertise in video production, client relations, product design and sales helps build the integrity and innovation of the brand as it moves forward into a rapidly expanding cannabis marketplace. Eric came to Cheeba Chews by way of his own production company, which he founded after starting his career as a web developer for boutique marketing companies. Whether he’s creating a new logo and SKU or managing contractors and licensees, Eric takes pride in tackling many different challenges and fostering a passionate, emotional connection to his work. Outside of taking care of his family of colleagues, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids while getting active outside.
Connect with Eric Leslie!
Shayda Torabi has been called one of the most influential Women in WordPress and now she’s one of the women leading the cannabis reformation conversation building one of Texas’ premier CBD brands. She's currently the CEO and Co-Founder of RESTART CBD, a female-run education first CBD wellness brand. And has formerly held marketing positions at WP Engine and WebDevStudios. Shayda is the host of a podcast for cannabis marketers called To Be Blunt, where she interviews top cannabis brands on their most successful marketing initiatives. When Shayda's not building her cannabiz in Texas, you can find her on the road exploring the best hikes and spots for vegan ice cream. Follow Shayda at @theshaydatorabi
“You have to adapt how you position yourself in every single market while still trying to find this anchor of identity for yourself across all of those markets. This is who we are. But in this market, you're going to see that you're going to have a slightly different experience based off of what those regulations are for you.” - Eric Leslie
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Eric Leslie 0:00
Well, at first I was fine and dandy and because we set a standard for the market, we brought in an established brand people could trust us dosing would work, but that market in any market matures so fast, and they take the lessons learned from previous markets that they grow and evolve at lightning speed compared to how we grew and evolved as an industry in Colorado, Oklahoma, caught up quick and surpassed us on the medical side like it's a really booming medical market. But what came with that is dosage and tolerance was rising. And what we saw is, you know, our 100 milligram packs actually are behind you know, what's on the market. You know, for us, you know, what we just recently launched out there we have 1000 milligram pack, which harkens back to our original kind of 10 gram choose, we're putting 10 100 milligram pieces of taffy in a package, and that has quickly become our most in demand product.
You're listening to to be blunt, the podcast for cannabis marketers, where your host Shayda Torabi and her guests are trailblazing the path to marketing, educating and professionalizing cannabis light one up and listen up. Here's your host Shayda Torabi.
Shayda Torabi 1:26
Hello and welcome back to the to be blunt podcast. I'm your host Shayda Torabi, cannabis business owner and brand marketer, and I am so happy to be crossing the threshold that is 100 episodes. What a journey the last couple of years has been. I certainly didn't know what to expect when I originally launched this podcast. And it has grown and evolved and taken on a life of its own, from graphics to editing, to the tech that powers the podcast, to most recently learning and adopting automation. In addition to the wisdom shared from my guests, operating and producing a podcast has taught me so much by way of consistency, learning new skills and the art of iteration. I'm forever grateful for the opportunities this podcast has presented me with. It's been incredible getting to connect with all of my amazing guests, hearing their stories, and capturing a snapshot in time of the realities we are facing as professionals navigating the cannabis industry. The amount of insight I've personally soaked up is insurmountable and has absolutely impacted me for the better. This podcast has humbled me, level set me given me a reality check and simultaneously invigorated me to keep going. We all know the truth of the industry is challenging. But the journey is so much more than the destination. It is in these in betweens in the struggles and of course the lessons learned and how we overcome those hardships, and come out on the other side, smarter, better and wiser. I've been so blessed with an amazing community. Thank you, my listener, you are who helps power this show. Without your support, curiosity and engagement. This wouldn't be the show that it is today. I appreciate every single time you press play, and have to reiterate from the bottom of my heart how special this show is to me and to be able to do something that I love and I'm passionate about and share it with you. To be a piece of inspiration along your journey is a gift beyond words. Thank you so much for engaging with me, reaching out on social media, sending me messages, and connecting with me at events. Every time I get to meet and interact with one of you outside of the podcast lights up my heart. And I look forward to the next 100 episodes and what we'll learn and impact together. I of course also have to give a major gratitude to all of my guests, every single one of them steps out into the uncomfortability every day operating their business. But to come on to a podcast and give us a sneak peek behind the curtain is immensely valuable and immeasurable. The wealth of knowledge that is captured on this podcast flabbergasted me sometimes it is ridiculous how much information is out there. But to be able to channel it and ask key people leading our industry about how they did it is the prize we're all after. How do they do it? How do we do it? How do I do it? And lastly, I have to give props to the media and PR teams who helped champion their clients and ultimately connect me with their resources. There are so many wonderful publicists who have now become friends and champions of me, who put me in front of opportunities to do what I love to do. So thank you to the agencies and teams of people who are orchestrating and organizing schedules, and allowing me to tell your clients stories. It is really a whole production putting together a podcast, but 100 episodes ago, I didn't know what was possible. And here we are together today, reflecting back on the journey, and it feels really fucking good. So in honor of today's episode, I knew I had to have a guest reflective of the moment, not that my other guests aren't equally accomplished in their own regard. But for this episode, I really wanted to commemorate the milestone by highlighting a brand who has been around for a whole decade, which is a long time in our industry. They've navigated medical to recreation, and now are tackling marijuana and hemp markets in multiple states. Chiba choose is a brand that I've personally grown up consuming, and have very fond memories of enjoying while spending time in Colorado. I've watched their brand evolve over the years. And it's been with the help and influence and leadership of Eric Lesley, their chief marketing officer, I had the pleasure of meeting Eric at a grasslands event at mjbizcon last year, and got to connect with him one on one and learn more about Chiba choose and how he got involved in the brand. So of course I had to extend an invitation for him to be on the podcast. And luckily he accepted in an industry where there are lots of imitators. Chiba choose is the real deal and has paved the way for so many edibles brands that have come after them. There have certainly been lessons learned and as there should be when you operate for over a decade. But through the highs and lows, there have been North Stars guiding the brand and business towards the success they're experiencing today. From their marketing campaigns like we've got to to their partnerships and the way they approach collaborations. Their products also incorporate a lot of minor cannabinoids, which I think is really awesome. And they have a lot to say about their decision and approach of entering in new markets and multiple states. Today's episode is special to me for so many reasons, but I think it's best to let you hear from Eric himself. So please join me by lining one up and let's welcome Eric to the show.
Unknown Speaker 7:33
Hi, thanks for having me. My name is Eric Leslie. I'm the Chief Marketing Officer, cio owner of Chiba twos. We're at Legacy brand. Founded in 2009. Back in Colorado, my best friend actually from high school, James Heller founded to choose to home grow in Colorado, small medical home grow. And he had some leftover trim. And we had an industry that had no real standards of consistency or brand identity at the time. I found Taffy was really consistent, and it blended really well with cannabis oil, you know, put it out into a couple of small medical stores and grew like wildfire at the time. He had no digital skills at all. So he reached out to me and said, Hey, I need a business card. And I said okay, business card for what send me a couple of details. Let me send you you know what I'm doing. And I remember he had sent me a piece of his chocolate taffy and gave it a try. And 30 minutes later, I was rocked. And I was also hooked. I said I get it totally. And from that point forward. I was working collaborating with James and our third partner Dave maggio on building the brand she but she was there in Colorado and also across the country.
Shayda Torabi 8:54
That's amazing. I mentioned before we were recording that I'm just such a fan of the CIPA choose brand. I grew up in Texas but spent a lot of time going to Colorado and watching that market open up and so it's a really cool and fun opportunity for me to have you on the podcast to get to talk about the brand that is cheaper choose and and also learn a little bit more about the journey that the brand has gone through over the years. I mean 2009 I can't imagine what cannabis was like And so I'd love to kind of start there really understanding what was Colorado like in 2009? What was it like getting a license to operate? And kind of what was that go to market opportunity? I mean, you mentioned launching in a couple of medical dispensaries So certainly it was you know, medical first before recreation and I know we'll get into kind of what that evolution impacted and did for the business but really getting into Okay, Colorado is open for medical we created this brands. We think that we have, you know, an award winning kind of flavor profile effect profile. Let's bring this product to market. What does that actually look like when you guys were setting out to launch Your Brand Sheba shoes.
Unknown Speaker 10:01
Yeah. So you make it sound like we knew what we were doing at the time. But quite honestly, we didn't, you know, you had few guys with, you know, varying backgrounds from construction to food service to, you know, I have a degree in audio engineering and you know, entertainment business, right? So we genuinely genuinely genuinely caught lightning in a bottle with this piece of taffy. When I remember the early days, James would go around and say, Okay, what are we going to call this and we had a variety of names that he kind of threw around and Chiba choose was just one of those names. We didn't sit there with a marketing department and a bunch of consultants and do a B testing to figure out you know, is this what we do and how to do it, we were learning on the fly. And I think at the time, there really like there weren't standards, you had cheese cakes, and brownies and cookies, and you know, all those stories of you know, baking at home and crumbling up, you know, cannabis and putting into your brownie. When you bake it, there were no standards for edibles. And nobody was looking at edibles at the time, we're still really just looking at flour and enjoying it from that standpoint. So extracting the cannabis oil and infusing it into an edible. And doing that in a consistent manner, was the first point to create separation from what was happening in the industry at the time. And it's funny to look back now over a decade later on to say that's all it took to create a standard. And you know, from that, you know, learning is where a brand identity came from. Right? You know, we are pillars are potent, consistent and discreet. And at the time, they're the potency, your consistency and your discretion of edibles. You have big cookies, or a big brownie, how many bytes do I take? I had no idea, you had this 70 milligram piece of taffy, that you knew, after a couple of test trials, you know how much you can break off and enjoy to get the desired effects from it. I think consumers immediately were drawn to that. And understanding that they had an expectation now meant that other edibles on the market at the time of work providing that same level of standard expectation. And that created you know that separation that identity for us, I think it was 2010 when we won the first High Times Cannabis Cup, it was our DECA dose in 75 milligrams in this small little piece of taffy. And at the time shops, were getting such strong feedback on the potency of that product that a lot of them actually made a customer's patients sign waivers of liability because they would look at this little piece of taffy 10 grand piece right the size of a Tootsie Roll and say oh, there's no way that thing is going to knock me out. And every time it would knock people out. In fact, I still get emails and phone calls and text and social media DMS from people saying I have my first edible story and it was with a cheeba chew. So there's this nostalgia component, especially those early days of like, yeah, this thing can't possibly do what everybody says it does. And holy crap it did.
Shayda Torabi 13:11
That's so remarkable. I mean, I very much remember the early days of I mean, certainly when it was recreation, from my perspective, because I wasn't a medical patient in Colorado, but going to Colorado once recreation had happened, and for sure seeing Chiba choose for sure, consuming Chiba choose but definitely more on the experience even which I really want to get into a little bit cuz you're talking about potency, right? And the podcast, I've had a couple of guests on from different markets where I think Colorado being now an established market, certainly a legacy market, going into states like Oklahoma, which I know you guys are also operating in there is a little bit of the wild, wild west when it comes under the medical kind of category of dosing. And I think yes, now the industry has gotten towards standardization, certainly led by brands like y'all who are coming from this edible, you know, aspect where people want to know, for more or less, you know, how much should I take? And also how much am I going to feel once I take that much, but understanding this kind of open nebulous of milligrams and potency. And so yeah, I was reading certainly to get prepped for the interview, and I saw that line of your launch kind of with that 70 milligram taffy and I'm thinking oh my god, this little size, like you're saying of a Tootsie Roll. How do you nibble off just a little bit to kind of, you know, okay, well, it's gonna make me feel anything. I didn't really eat that much what's going to happen to me versus now I think we were just talking with some people yesterday, and I had this gentleman on the podcast from Oklahoma, they were talking about, like 3000 milligram chocolate bars. 8000 milligram chocolate bars are in their market presently. And so I just love to hear from you a little bit of the, I guess journey of kind of maybe how much is too much, or how did you start to look at like 70 milligrams initially and maybe if you could go into also So, when standardization started happening, was that really because of recreation? Because I was reading a little bit too. And just from my understanding and history of how things have kind of transitioned, yes, you're introducing, you know, better, I wouldn't say better, maybe, but more specific label standards and requirements, consistency from that consumer perspective. And so how do you kind of go from the wild wild west of let's say, a 70 milligram, you know, piece of taffy to a more dosed experience, especially as you have new consumers entering into the marketplace?
Unknown Speaker 15:32
That's a really great question. Because when we started, you know, the Colorado market medical days, it was very gray, you know, there weren't definition we literally were setting a standard and you think at the opportunity we have, you know, in this cannabis industry, and you know, even still today, but especially back then we were in our creating an industry, there are not standards to reference back to to say, this is how you should do it, especially given some of our federal limitations, going state by state to kind of build expectations. We were really fortunate to be born in Colorado, you're one of those original states, to launch and identity both in medical and recreational, obviously, California being the oldest of the old. But Colorado really was able to set in mature itself really fast. And so yes, we started with our 70 milligrams, and then our DECA dose, which was 175 milligrams went on the medical side, one of the biggest things that we saw pushback, you know, at those times, you know, from advocates against our industry was overdose consumers, you know, taking too much and having a bad time, which, almost all of the time, if you take too much, you're really just going to fall asleep. But you know, you take too much, you can have a little bit of a panic, right, it's not a great fear, to take too many milligrams of THC and an edible. So understanding your personal dosage is really important. And I think when recreational came around in 2014, for Colorado, there was a standard of 10 milligrams per piece, 100 milligrams per pack. I think that was a great standard of set to enter people into the world of cannabis edibles. Because you really don't know until you try them. You know, I'm from the Midwest back in Ohio, and you know, Bible Belt, cannabis, no good DARE program, stuff like that, you know, so there's a lot of people who've never tried an animal before, if you start at 25 milligrams, your first time ever trying an edible, you probably will never try that double again, because it's way too much. But over time, you know, as you consume, if you become a regular consumer, you're taller, it's just going to build and so what 10 milligrams does for you today, in a month from now With regular consumption, you might need more than 10 milligrams to reach your entire your intended effect. So that 10 milligram standard, I think, across the board standardization, walking normal consumers into our industry was 100% the right way to go. You know, he talked about entering a place like Oklahoma, which is a you know, 10 years ago, if you told me I was going to be in Oklahoma, I'd call you crazy, because you're going to jail for life if you're caught with cannabis in Oklahoma, but we actually met a partner out there who was purchasing our hemp products. And when I met him, he's doing a really good job, you know, from a distribution standpoint, and he said, You know, I'm really interested getting into, you know, our medical market, and we started looking closely at it, and they had some pretty friendly regulations as far as shops and regulations. So we decided, you know, this is a good partner, and it seems like a decent medical market. So let's go ahead, relationship matters so much to us. When you scale into new markets. You know, we're really small team, you know, at the ownership level, there's three of us, we don't have any sort of investors, we don't have lines of credit, you know, we are zero debt business. So when we go into a new market with a new partner, we're not just looking to scale as fast as we can to have news releases out about how many markets we're in, we're looking at really solid partnerships with people that really want to win with us. So Oklahoma was that feeling you know, we work with a stash house guys, Brian tender shot leads him over there. And you know, he wanted us to win. And that mattered to me and mattered to us. And so we went said, Okay, let's go ahead and do this. What we found really quickly was we had to adjust ourselves because we become almost normalized to this 10 milligram dosage right, this recreational expectation. So when we launched in Oklahoma, we launched with our suite of 100 milligram products at 10 milligram dosage. Well, at first that was fine and dandy. And because we set a standard for the market, we brought in an established brand people could trust us dosing would work, but that market in any market matures so fast, and they take the lessons learned from previous markets that they grow and evolve at lightning speed compared to how we grew and evolved as an industry in Colorado, Oklahoma caught up quick and surpassed us on the medical aside, like it's a really booming medical market. But what came with that is dosage and tolerance was rising. And what we saw is, you know, our 100 milligram packs actually are behind, you know, what's on the market. You know, for us, you know, what we just recently launched out there, we have 1000 milligram pack, which harkens back to our original kind of 10 gram, Jews were putting 10 100 milligram pieces of packing in a package. And that has quickly become our most in demand product. Now, consumers patients in the medical market, they can choose their dosing range, but they want that flexibility. And when you're working in a medical market, they don't want to be restricted to take one piece, that's 10 milligrams, they want some flexibility in how much of a dosage because maybe today, they want to take 25, but tomorrow, they want to get rocked to take 50, or their tolerance is way up there. And they can handle 100 milligrams at a time. So what you see the difference in there, when you look at a medical versus recreational contrast, medical markets really have, you know, with patients, you know, cards, you know, they're more established consumers, and they have a higher tolerance, a higher demand. But in order to maintain legitimately on those markets, you have to have a range of options for them and some flexibility so that they can dose the way that they need to versus on a recreational market, when you have more green consumers individuals that maybe don't consume all the time, or just have you know, smaller tolerance levels, or really need the guide rails around them to say, Hey, start at 10 milligrams, or maybe even half of that 10 milligram feel that tolerance level of decide if that's a good dosage level for you.
Shayda Torabi 21:28
That's so fascinating to hear. One as you're merging into these new markets, kind of how you're approaching partnerships, which I want to touch on a little bit deeper, just knowing that you are in California and Nevada, and Massachusetts, in addition to Colorado and Oklahoma, but also looking at it from the dosing and potency perspective of just who is the consumer or patient in that, you know, scenario? And what is that market really asking for? And also what is the legal opportunity, or I guess parameters that you can play within, right. So it is an interesting kind of slice and dice depending on what the law says, which I think sometimes people just don't really, unfortunately pay a lot of attention to, at least from my perspective, especially as these new markets are going online. I mean, New Mexico just went online a couple of days ago, more by the time we're recording this. And it's just so much excitement, right? People want to be in these markets. But people neglect to realize which I talked at nauseam on the podcast, but state to state and even municipality to municipality, there can be varying laws. And so just understanding that as you're navigating into these markets is so critical. So it's cool again, that Oklahoma was an opportunity for you all to kind of go back to your roots and really land with some success with people wanting that higher strength dose. So kind of going into what I was alluding to when I originally started mentioning, you know, these other states that you're in what hasn't been like taking your brand into these other states. So Nevada is a little bit more mature, especially being recreation, right. But Massachusetts, from my perspective, I don't know a ton about but I've had a couple of guests on from Massachusetts. So it seems to be a pretty good, you know, picking up market. But going into California where that is such also a legacy market. There's such a saturation of brands. So I want to get into a little bit of how you've put your brand into these other markets and kind of what was the sentiment and adoption? And did you have to do anything different maybe both on the potency and dosing side of your products. But maybe even on the labeling side, too. I've talked to some people where certain states again, depending on what your packaging or labeling might say, you can have this graphic, but in this state, you can't have that graphic. So you've got to go redo your labeling for every state you're going into. So I'm just curious, what has been your experience navigating these different markets? And then especially California, where it's just so saturated, in my opinion, from a brand perspective, not that you haven't built a great brand to stand out. But sometimes I think there's a little bit of a head like, Oh, you're from Colorado? Well, we want California brands and how do you win in that scenario? Right?
Unknown Speaker 23:56
Yeah, yeah, I think the biggest challenge is, you know, what you stated going state to state? And how do you build a standardized brand identity with different regulations literally in every state? I mean, we're going through it right now, we're getting ready to launch in Missouri. And I've been going back and forth with the state regulators, because in Missouri, again, another medical market, you have to have the word marijuana on your package bigger than your logo. But that's subjective. Was that mean bigger, does that mean that like, it just has to be wider, wider and taller? Like, there's a lot of ways that you have to interpret the state regulations. And what I find is a lot of the regulators don't fully understand it. So it becomes a very subjective conversation. And, you know, we've had such a long history of dealing with regulations. Colorado was a tough, tough market. They were changing regulations every six months in early on, we couldn't keep up with that. We're literally throwing away 1000s and 1000s of labels and pieces of packaging because it's obsolete because the word change from marijuana to cannabis. That's right crazy stuff. But that left your packaging out of compliance. So we had to learn to fail multiple times and get right back up. I think that's the biggest lesson is your ability to adapt and to respond, because you're never going to get it right every time. And I'll tell you what, I can't tell you how many people I've talked to that are your single state operators that you know, are ready to scale right ready to grow in other markets, like I got this down, I can do it. And then they get punched in the face by regulators, you know, in their new market with Nope, you can't do your packaging like that, or your product has to be stamped differently. Or you have to handle things slightly different from a marketing and sales perspective. Because while states are pulling regulations from every other market, they all want to have their own identity. And you have to be adaptable enough in how you prepare your product and your packaging and how it displays to meet those regulations. Another really good example, you mentioned in New Mexico, well, all of your packaging material has to be recyclable, or reusable. I don't know the exact definition there. But we're getting ready to enter New Mexico. And that was a big curveball. While most of our packaging is recyclable, not every single piece is so now I have to go out and source a piece of living material that is one child resistant, meets the standards of drug resistant in all of my markets, but then also now also meets the standard of being recyclable for New Mexico. And those are just some of the things where it's like, oh, I can't do this in six different markets, let me just stay where I'm at. So I hear a lot you know, about this perception of MSOs, right, multi state operators, and you can throw us into that category. But we're not a big conglomerate, you know, that are just looking to peg a new license in a new market. Like I said, you know, we look at it as finding genuine partnerships with people that you know, want to get in that foxhole with you and want to battle and, you know, fight hard for market position. And you know, when you know, with the challenges of each market, you know, Massachusetts a great example. Everybody out there loves fruit taffy. I mean, if you think about saltwater taffy east coast, those two things connect completely well, what we found when we launched is, you know, every market, we go into our chocolate in our caramel, you know, that's, that's who we are, that's been our anchor of our identity. And it's always the product that sells, you know, at the highest level, Massachusetts, not the case, our fruit Taffy has outpaced our chocolates and our caramels. And so we had to adjust our strategy in order to meet the demand out there and provide different fruit flavors versus, you know, trying to scale and grow, you know, our chocolate in our karma lines. You know, another challenge in Massachusetts is just what they started, do it five milligrams is that dose out there still do 100 milligram package. But now you're doing a 20 pack to meet that 100 milligrams instead of a 10. Pack. Well, that changes consumer behavior because consumers maybe fly to Colorado, California, all these other markets are like, well, 10 milligrams, that's what I look for. Now I got to eat two pieces instead of one piece. And so that changes things and you have to adapt how you position yourself in every single market while still trying to find this anchor of identity for yourself. across all of those markets. This is who we are. But in this market, you're gonna see that you're gonna have a slightly different experience based off of what those regulations are for you. Yeah, regulations are
Shayda Torabi 28:15
so fascinating to keep up with right. Now they're
Unknown Speaker 28:19
not no, they're not no, don't you ever say that they're the worst thing to keep up with? It keeps you up at night, especially if you're in multiple markets. It's scary, because it's like, oh, my gosh, I just ordered all of this packaging, or we have a process down and this is going to work and they say no, guess what, we're going to change the way you have to do it. Now you have to change everything about who you are, but still make that translation to the consumer that this is who you are one thing we really battled for years. And we still do more so early on. And even really in California, like I said, is knockoff brands right. We had everything from Sensi choose to Sheba choose that looked exactly like our product. Well, because we're not federally regulated. It's really hard to enforce trademarks. Number one, it's really hard to get a trademark, we have a couple of them. And we've been fortunate enough in how we were able to go get them, but go ahead and force them because these people are gonna say good luck. Come find me, right? Yeah, tell your legal team to come find you never will. And so when you have to change and modify your identities, like taking Oreos, horrible example don't like it. But Dave, my partner loves them Oreo. If it looked different in the convenience store in Kansas versus the convenience store in Colorado, you're going to question Is that a real Oreo? So that's something that we really battled with is making sure that we can keep the standard in our identity and every market still hit the mark for what the regulation is for it.
Shayda Torabi 29:42
That's an observation. Just really quick to interject about if I'm hearing you right, it's not only are you trying to keep your brand quality from a consumer perspective and tact when you're going into these new markets, because there is regulation that requires you to perhaps have different packages Jing and different ways of presenting your product, whether the milligrams are changing, or the label looks slightly different. But then there's also just genuine people who are ripping you off, who you also are having to fight the brand identity from a consumer perspective of that's not us. But in these states.
Unknown Speaker 30:17
Everybody's up to now, which is fascinating, because I'm 100% certain it's because to be choose has built such a brand identity around that word, Chip, that if you're not a gummy, you're not a chocolate, you're kind of in those middle categories. You're now even gummies are calling themselves choose and I'm seeing I'm like, man, like, that's me. But it's not me. It's anybody that wants to brand themselves as a two. And so when consumers again, maybe at a novice level haven't shopped a whole lot. They say, Oh, yeah, Chiba choose. And then they see something on there. It says Choose and like that's gotta be it. I guess that's it. So fighting for that market position. Like you said, California is such a saturated market, long history, you know, what they call the traditional market, black market, traditional market is what they call it now to be respectful to those, you know, stores that don't have a license but still operate don't have the tax burden, you know, that it's regulated stores have, you know, that shelf space is really hard to come by, you know, when we entered California, gosh, it was multiple years ago, we're still medical at the time, you know, we had lots and lots of success on recreational came along, you know, the money that goes into building these brands, like there's some really, I don't want to call it dirty, but there's definitely some very aggressive tactics, you know, buying shelf space. Again, I'm a no debt business. I'm a small company, I only spend what I make reinvest back into business. There's companies, you know, specifically in a California market that have a lot of great financial backing, that don't necessarily need the profit right now. And so they'll starve the market by buying shelf space that I can't afford to spend $5,000 a month just to be on your shelves, in order to starve everyone else off the market. And then they'll drop their prices so low, that you can't compete and sustainably make a profit off of it, and neither can they, but because they have this additional funding, they can afford to do that. And their goal is to literally starve you off the shelves and be the last man standing. So there's tactics that are happening, you know, in that California market specific like that, and we're oversaturated we're overregulated, it's really hard to run a profitable business in a California regulated market. It's so complicated to get products from just the manufacturer to the dispensary, you take it from the manufacturer, and then you have to manifest it to a distributor, that distributor has to test the product quarantine it and test it, it doesn't come back within the potency range it has to be relabeled once that passes that then you can then distribute to dispensary Well, you have to collect an excise tax from that dispensary as a distributor and pay that to the state while the manufacturer has to take the tax from the farm and also pay that out. So it's a really, really complicated system that isn't really pro business and gives you the opportunity to grow. We maintain in that market. We're not doing gangbusters but we're there because it's such an important market culturally you know for our industry California by knows California cannabis. Right You know, so to maintain in there's really important priority for us, but there's not a lot of companies that are cleaning up and doing great, just giving the hurdles and challenges, you know, regulation wise and competitor wise of some of the tactics that are happening out there.
Shayda Torabi 33:31
That is so wild to understand. I feel like every time I talk to somebody who's doing cannabis business in California, it's unfortunately you know, not always the most positive sentiment, which is fine. I think at least my approach is I want to I want the truth I want the reality of it. I think again, a lot of people look at being in cannabis as this cash cow opportunity and and it can be but I think you really have to be smart at navigating the market and being realistic with who the players are, how you're playing what is the regulation when is the legislation and all those things kind of flowing together to give you the tolerance or the comfortability to keep leaning into it despite the chaos that you're having to navigate through. So I appreciate you sharing that perspective because it's so important for people to hear it from these brands like your brain it's important for people to hear from your mouth what it is like to be navigating this and so I think it's just really helpful to learn that
Hello, just wanted to take a quick moment to thank my sponsor and full disclosure, my company restart CBD, restart CBD is a brand that I built with my sister so we are family owned and women owned we do operate a brick and mortar in Austin. So if you ever find yourself in Central Texas, we'd love for you to come say hi, but we also ship nationwide and we carry a wide range of CBD products. We really care about this plant we really care about educating our customers. This show would not be possible without their support. So please go check us out at restart cbd.com and use code to be blunt for $5 off your next purchase. Thanks and let's go back to the show. I want to transition a little bit into one you have released. A lot of minor cannabinoids, I know y'all are also playing in the hemp space. So the question and kind of you know, thought process is how did you start to lean into those minor cannabinoids? I personally have gotten a chance recently to try your Trifecta which is a CBD CBG THC blend, you have a thc v product, you have a CBN product you even have strain specific live rosin. I come from the hemp space where I see at least my observation, especially playing with Colorado, Elijah, my family and friends there so that's why I'm most familiar with that market when we launched our CBD brand in 2018. I got a lot of laughs from my Colorado friends like nobody wants CBD. Why What are you what are you getting into the CBD market and now they're kind of eating crow because you're a Colorado brand you're incorporating these minor cannabinoids, which my observation is really came to market because hemp became federally legalized. And we had access to research to the accessibility of these cannabinoids. So again, it wasn't really something that I saw coming from medical or even recreation until hemp became legalized. And now you just see the floodgate of all these miners hitting the market and they're pretty fantastic. I know I personally love taking thc v daily in the morning. So I'm just curious, what was that evolution for you guys to introduce those minors? And what has that experience been like bringing those to market and really educating consumers with these types of other effects of the cannabis plant that are not just quote unquote, getting high, right?
Unknown Speaker 36:51
Yeah. It's a great lesson too. I think we had so much success early on that we got to a point where we stopped innovating as a brand, because if it's not broken, don't fix it. Well, when you work in an industry that's ever evolving at a very rapid pace, what you do today, won't necessarily stand up tomorrow. I mean, that's how fast the industry moves. And so while we got so far ahead of everyone back in 2009, and 10, by the time we hit 2016, everybody caught up to us and a lot of people had passed us and we kept doing the same thing. We were pieced chocolate Taffy at that point, standardized 200 milligrams. Everyone had potency and consistency. All right, everybody took our brand pillars and made that the staple of what our industry identifies as, so we were able to set that standard. The industry caught up to us Carter's pretty quick. And so we started looking at what we plateaued, what do we do now and it was that farm bill of 2018 that gave us access to these minor cannabinoids, you couldn't source CBN CBG you know THCV specially in so many other minor cannabinoids unique kind of discussed, you can source those within regulated market because plants weren't growing with high yields. And so your plant material that you would need to extract it from is high in THC is extremely low in CBG. Well, that THC is incredibly valuable so you're not going to go ahead and waste the THC in order to extract the CBG that hemp Act and the proliferation of farmers growing these hemp crops and CBD was extremely popular still maintains very popular and I love the effects of CBD but there was this expectation that was gonna be even bigger than maybe it was for a lot of different reasons. But there was access plant matter available and we're able to explore and like you said, look at these minor cannabinoids from an extraction standpoint through hemp, it's our first product that we launched was our sleepy tube, we did that in I think was 2019 Right before COVID Hit 2020 We had to do something different we had been looking at CBN all the way back in 2015. But because we could not source it at a sustainable price, I think your key low prices back then for kilo of CBN isolette was like $45,000 You know, do the math people and you can figure out how expensive that becomes infusing it into milligrams but it's not sustainable and put it at a price point that consumers could tolerate. So we played with CBN for awhile and kind of you know it's that back there we had the product ready we just couldn't source it well 2019 You'll we're getting itchy with product innovation and trying to figure out you know what's next for us you know, we were able to access you know kilo CBN for slightly less than that and while it was way too expensive in our first batch we were not going to you know make a profit off of it. We knew we had to go to market with something that that was different than just 100 milligrams of THC. Everybody has it everybody know what's there. And now you're just racing from a commodity standpoint right? It's just price so bringing out the sleepy to reinvigorated our brand is quickly became our number one seller and I think mostly because you could talk about that effect is very clear in the name what this particle is going to do for you. So as to Full Force One, introducing that minor cannabinoids, mixing it with THC, I believe in the entourage effect. So I believe if you just took CBN as an isolate, you wouldn't receive the full benefits without that entourage amplification from THC. So pairing that five milligrams of THC with 2.5 milligrams of CBN and our products and then maximizing that by making it a 20 pack, you're still getting 100 milligrams of THC, because that's the max, I can offer you on a recreational market, but I'm giving it to you and 20 doses, you don't necessarily need 10 milligrams of THC in order to fall asleep at night. So if you just require that five milligrams with 2.5, CBN, you have 20 doses available to you, you can maximize that, you know, that dollar spent, and that, like I said, took off and really gave us a lane to operate in the wellness field, but still stay within the regulated market, you know, and that's where we brought in, you know, trifecta, which was a totally different product for us to put out in the market sleepy was easy for us, because, you know, we could really lean into that when we launched it in Colorado, we put a milligram of melatonin in there. And really, it wasn't for the effects of melatonin it was so I could legally state that this is a sleepy product, you know, because they're all the regulation state, you know, you can't make health benefit claims, those sort of things. So you know, it's hard to market the effects of these minor cannabinoids from a brand perspective putting it on your packaging or in your marketing materials, because you're really restricted from making those claims. So using nutraceuticals as an ingredient as a way to build your messaging helped made that connection with consumers and really grew that CBN product. Couldn't say the same for trifecta. You know, I'm a big believer in CBG, CBD and THC combo as an anti anxiety, anti depression solution. I saw the effects myself, we saw the effects over and over and loss of the testing we did. But I couldn't make that claim. I get big trouble for making that claim. And there really is no nutraceutical that I could put in my product in order to make that claim. So we branded as a bee happy taffy. And what we leaned into with that Trifecta wellness product was testimonial. From frontline associates, like bud tenders, we sampled that product heavier than any product we've ever sampled from. And it was because I knew if people just tried this and understood the effects, they would be believers in it, but I couldn't sell it to them that way they had to try it themselves. In order to do that I needed advocacy from the front lines. And that advocacy is still still today. And every new market we introduced trifecta is the crux for how we are launching our Trifecta product because that advocacy that budtender can tell you the effects personally that had on them, and that builds trust with the consumer to give it a try. So minor cannabinoids, really important have even THCV with the energy components. And even you know, it's an appetite suppressant as well. Those are things you have to be really careful about how you market it because of regulations, you gotta be really careful. While those effects are there, we know it we have the testimony. And sure we don't have tons of clinical data to share it with us we have real life consumer data that is validating these experiences for us, which is what drives us to put these products into market. We just can't make those health claims until we can have better clinical data around this in order to constantly make those. I think that's the one thing that holds us back. You know from a wellness capacity and really diving even deeper into cannabis is more than THC cannabis is way more than just getting you high. Cannabis is is a healing agent. And if you look at these cannabinoids and how they connect together, we can isolate them now and then we can recombine them. Look at the effects from anti inflammation to anxiety to sleep deprivation. There are so many healing properties that are available for us in the cannabis plant we need to dive deeper into those minor cannabinoids in order to bring that to light. Yeah, minor
Shayda Torabi 43:55
cannabinoids are so powerful. I mean, again, just coming from my side of the house where we're predominantly dealing with hemp and CBD and these minors just by nature of our regulations here in Texas. It is so incredible to see people being able to open their perspective to cannabis that is again just not getting high. It's it's Hey, you don't have to get high, you can have better sleep, you can have better focus, like you're saying, but I really love the strategies that you shared of you know, it is the reality you cannot say and so I was curious, I'm glad you addressed it, you know, sleepy that is such a trigger word when it comes to marketing and branding and packaging, especially. And so how do you kind of creatively navigate around that and then especially with Trifecta to leaning on that advocacy of those bud tenders to be those frontline people who are really kind of helping curate that experience for the consumer oh, I want to feel this way or oh, I'm only interested in trying you know, edible products and really being able to guide them towards hey, here's a great brand and here's a great product because I've tried it so I think that that is some really good takeaway for everybody to keep in the back of their pocket. I want to talk a little bit into branding. One, I know that you guys have put together a really extensive brand Bible and I want to learn a little bit more. What was the impetus for that? You know, why did you think we need a brand Bible? And how has that been put into action and then kind of evolving into some of your marketing strategies and tactics. I know your social media is very active. I'm sure you guys have been dinged with censorship and even perhaps being pulled off, like most people in the industry have navigated. But lately, I've seen and observed kind of over the last year or so you've really leaned into video content, but I was really enjoying the recent videos of let's get toasty. You're doing collaborations with dope kitchen. I love that we got to, you know, kind of tagline and the way that the videos are slowing down, like your brain is hitting the wall. So just, you know, kind of go go with us through why the brand Bible, how does that help you uphold the brand? And as you're evolving into marketing strategies and tactics, you know, what do you resonate with? And why are you kind of doing the things that you're doing? What's the inspiration behind it?
Unknown Speaker 46:03
Yeah, great, great question from a brand perspective. So when we launched in Colorado, we controlled the narrative internally, it could create all the artwork, I could create all the messaging, when you launch into new markets with new partners that have new sales associates, if they don't have guide rails for how to sell your product, they will come up with their own. And that's not always the way you want it to be done. So what we found very quickly, and we launched in California, after Colorado, and then we went to Nevada. And we went to Oklahoma, that we went to Massachusetts and as we go into Missouri, go to New Mexico, look at Montana and New York, we're dealing with partners, we're not operating in that market, we're not physically there training our representatives on what messaging to use, where to use it and how to use it. So the important part as the brand as the central nervous system is to create that story in that narrative. And to make sure everyone is speaking the same language, because we found it many times over market position completely changes depending on who's selling that product for you. So that the Bible the idea behind you're having this kind of overall identity, and being able to take that and share it with each one of our partners to make sure everyone's marching to the same beat. And that's so important, I think, for your brand as you not necessarily cornered the market you're in but look at other markets, we have to go state to state, that's the way things are built. And if you're going to do that you're dealing with partners, because you're not getting a license in every state, you're not operating that physical team, you're not even doing sales training on a regular basis. So they have to have guidelines to follow. And I think that was one of the biggest exercises we put together probably five or six years ago was okay, we need to put effort into these documents so that we can share them with our partners. So they know how to sell the product consistent with the identity we've created. So I think that was one of the biggest things we did strategically, I think I've done everything on a technical side that we're allowed to do, because there are you know, as you know, and we've talked about so many regulations and hurdles. And I've had to push really hard on all of the boundaries to say, where can I go, and what can I do early on, I can do nothing, we still pretty much can't do anything. But there are ways around all of it. So we started doing video content, probably, you know, four or five years ago, just really from a commercial standpoint and doing it a high end. We still want to connect with consumers and kind of be our identity. So I don't want to do the fluff stuff. But I want to do something very high end and visually appealing, and set a standard for who we are as an industry, right? Because I know I don't just speak from my brand I speak from my industry and if I say we're a bunch of potheads or I say you know I positioned the entire industry in a certain way people are following that and so the high end way that we produce you know our video content support and because such standard that hey, we're here we're mature and credible as well. Right? Those are important pieces to communicate not only to consumers but also to industry regulators, business partners and the avenues in which we're distributing our content on so with video really good example. We make good investments strategically and to producing that content but then Where the hell do we put it? You know, I went everywhere from let's go to movie theaters. Well, we go movie theaters, right? Because rated our movies are, you got to be 21 plus 70% of your mark is kind of, you know, the regulation to advertise. We thought hey, let's go here and do movie theaters. Talk to AMC got really far down the path with AMC on doing radar movie. We're just gonna do pre roll. We got these great 15 second piece of content that hold up on your screens. The executives from New York shut it down because they're just anti cannabis wasn't because we couldn't do it. If we were within regulation. We couldn't do it but because the New York executive said they weren't comfortable with it. They shut it down. You know, I've got another example we were going to work with. There's a website I can't remember the name off the top of my head but it's a it's work creatives. Basically upload and download large files right? So it's really perfect target demo, I can geo target in Colorado, you can basically take over their splash page and have your brand serve there. And it's a, we have documented 21. Plus, these are, you know, business professionals going through this, this website to upload and download, you know, their content that's too large to send an email got all the way through the design aspect of it, approved through it, we got the budgets down, ready to go on our ship linked, wasted a month and a half of negotiations and prep, because ownership, not regulators ownership of that company said, We're anti cannabis, we don't want to do this. So the fight we fight is two sided its regulations and standards from state to state regulations, but also just the perception from the business community that we're trying to work with. Because one side is said, Hey, regulation says you can't do this, I can find a way around that to say, yes, we can do this. But I can't find a way around the business owner that says I don't believe in cannabis. And so we're not going to serve that content on our platform. And that's been the other restriction, we can find our way around regulations to do it correctly. But now we also have find our way around this stigma of what our industry represents, from, you know, people that have this connotation that cannabis is bad for you. But that's really the biggest hurdle. I think, overall, knowing that I've gone through every channel you can think of, to advertise and promote our brand and find ways to get around the regulation hurdles, dealing with the internal politics, you know, from a business partner standpoint, that's the one that's really gonna slow you down and lead you to not be able to actually advertise on these channels,
Shayda Torabi 51:37
that is so freaking crazy to learn that it really is sometimes not the regulation because like you said, even if the regulation says X, there's a creative way to navigate around it, that really reminding all of us I mean, I don't think I live in a bubble by any means, right? But the stigma sometimes is, and especially being in Texas, part of the stigma, but realize that sometimes those are the roadblocks that this industry is having to fight against. It's not that this is legally wrong or regulatory possible. It's well, I just don't like it. And I don't want to have that in my business. I don't want to have it represented on my brand. And I guess that is a little bit you know, as a brand marketer, I can understand that's their decision because they've built a brand and they don't want to partner with things that take away from their brands. So it's like I can understand that but then the other side of it, the just crazy nature of wow, it's gonna be a really cool partnership and like you're really going to just look the other way. And I have personal experiences too. I mean, just like really quick. We were trying to navigate a cannabis dinner here in town and Austin CBD, of course, all you know, legal hemp legal cannabinoids, and my friend is a chef, he's totally down to do it. He has a food trailer. He's an up and coming chef, and he moved his food trailer to a new location at this brewery. And he's like, Okay, well, I have to ask the brewery owner. It's a brewery owner too, you know, and the guy was like, No, absolutely not no cannabis. And it kind of shot us, you know, in the heart a little bit of like, why why is it like that, but then again, I can understand, especially understanding how the alcohol licensing works. I have heard that there are some you know, restrictions as far as if they touch anything cannabis, they could then lose their license. And that's obviously their business. So it's like, I understand the heartaches that we're going through as an industry, but I'm also still so shocked sometimes when I hear so many stories, because I'm like, What the hell are we doing, but it's just as wild and never shocks to amaze me, I think just like a side tangent for our fodder. You know, I was interviewing someone in Arkansas and I think their medical only this would have been a year ago. He told me they're allowed to, obviously legally get a license, they're able to own the building, but they cannot put signage for their dispensary on the building. And I'm like, What the fuck but you own the building, you got the license, like you're legally operating. And so they got creative, they built a or they've hired a local artists to do like a really pretty mural on the side. So it's like, look for the mural, that's us, but weird nuances like that of you know, you just you don't think that you're going to hit those roadblocks, unfortunately, but
Unknown Speaker 54:06
what but what I say is what it does for you in this harkens back to what we talked about earlier, is your ability to respond. Your resiliency, for sure innovate, to find new avenues that aren't existent, is what allows you to sustain and administrate and to create a legacy that will last forever, right? If you just don't give up when you keep working at it, you'll find a way and I think that's a lesson I've learned being in this industry for over a decade is if you just keep digging yourself back up and continuing to push those boundaries and not relent on that. You're gonna find you know, that you can build your legacy and an identity and an opportunity that you know, we're not going to ever find in our lifetime in any other industry.
Shayda Torabi 54:49
Now, that's very, very true. And I always appreciate the reminder even personally, I think sometimes I can get really cynical, just you know, kind of coming from the you get punched in you get back up and you get hunched in. It's like after the seventh, you know, 10th 100th time you're like I don't really want to get back up today. But it is part of I think the rhythm you have to adjust to if you want to be in the cannabis industry, which is where I try to come from with this podcast is a reality check a blunt approach of this is the good and the bad, and you can have the good, but you have to be realistic with the negatives that you have to face. So kind of going with that. And my final question that I love to you know, sort of asking my guests this because I think it's, you know, an inspiring way to approach things. What does the future of cannabis look like to you too cheap shoes, and kind of, you know, what if what if an opportunistic or just like a perfect or even what you really think is going to happen to the industry?
Unknown Speaker 55:45
Yeah. And I will not claim to know what's going to happen. And anybody that does, they're not being honest with you, you know, doing this for Long's we have, I think early on, we used to always talk about, well, maybe in three or four years, we're going to legalize, you know, federally, and we need to be ready for it. And here we are 1213 years later and no, you know, so I don't know what happens. What I am hopeful for is what we talked about on the minor cannabinoids. I think we have the opportunity to open this industry up to a much wider demographic. By really leaning into these minor cannabinoids THC is well established for what it does, and the industry that it can build that the lanes we open up by further exploring our minor cannabinoids and the effects that they can have on people, the wider the demographic we can bring into the fold to better accept it as an industry. I have many, many stories specific to my sleepy twos of grandmas and grandpas, and moms and dads, an older generation per se, I don't want to put a stigma on it but then maybe previously wouldn't be open to cannabis as a solution. I have found that this product is there every night go to and they can't get enough of it. Right That changes your cannabis perspective instantly. I have one really short story about my mom she had fractured her back when she was taking pain medication and it wasn't working for her. So I gave her a one to one to and again she's she comes from you know Bible Belt, Midwest, their programs cannabis no good and I gave her a one to one which was five milligrams THC and five milligrams of CBD. That combination is really good for anti inflammation. And she started taking that while these pain medications were not helping her she's in pain, she's on the couch can't move. I remember her texting me the next day and say, you know, these are really helping me. Why isn't this legal? And it's just funny. When you hear story like that, you know, coming from a person who obviously has always been, you know, cannabis is not for me to find a way that cannabis is for her opens up the conversation. It's such a great capacity. So I think we're gonna see wellness, you know, really continue to grow our footprint as far as consumer advocacy and consumers, you know, really looking to it as an alternative. I also see you know, we talked about our strengths specific, you know, very lightly, we're looking at rosin, you know, because I think consumers are also looking, you know, on the more mature side of things, they're looking at more complex cannabinoid infusions. And rosin is a beautiful product, it's solvent mostly extracted, it is as close to the plant as you can get, you know, from an extraction standpoint. terpenes flavonoids and you know, your your cannabinoids, right? We saw a trend a few years ago of this demand half they actually saw it out in California. And I said, you know, I really liked the taste of the Terps coming into pairing with our flavors. And we began to introduce that here in Colorado and we've looked at a couple other markets as well. I think it's a more sophisticated palette that's looking for Terps you know, because we spent so many years trying to get the THC or the cannabis flavor out of edibles to now seeing the industry evolve and mature to say no no, no, I want to be able to taste that terpene profile as long as very importantly it pairs complimentary to whatever the Taffy or gummy or or candy flavor that you're using. Because that flavor profile that connection creates an enhanced experience as well as well as you know it gets you high and you really enjoy it so I think we're seeing the lane kind of grow both on a wellness you know, general consumer side and also a sophisticated side where consumers that you know are looking for more from cannabis, you know, maybe consumed their THC edibles on a regular basis or looking for other alternatives like a rosin infused product. So I'm excited to see us grow and mature outside of just you know, 100 milligrams of THC, and to provide more custom tailored solutions because I think cannabinoids connect with each of us differently and very uniquely, it's very intimate experience. We Have to give consumers the ability to experiment with a variety of different cannabinoid combinations to find the very right combo that works for them. I think that's where we go as an industry from a medical perspective.
I love this episode of To be blunt. Be sure to visit the Shayda torabi.com/to be blinds for more ways to connect new episodes come out on Mondays. And for more behind the scenes follow along on Instagram at the Shayda Torabi