Expanding an Infused Product Brand Beyond State Lines

kristi knoblich palmer kiva confections

Kristi Knoblich Palmer is co-founder and COO of Kiva Confections. Kiva is one of the top brands of infused products in California. Kiva’s quality, ingredients, and reputation is allowing Kristi and her husband to expand beyond the state lines of California. Listen in as Kristi describes the challenges and opportunities associated with infused products.

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Key Takeaways:

[1:13] – What is Kiva Confections
[1:46] – Kristi’s background
[3:02] – What changed for cannabis businesses on election day
[3:52] – Market progression for Kiva Confections
[5:13] – The birth of Kiva Confections
[6:38] – Different categories of the California cannabis market
[10:21] – Cannabis prices in California
[13:22] – Kiva Confections’ product line
[16:13] – Kristi talks about a CBD only line
[18:21] – Concerns around CBD extracted from hemp
[21:22] – Kristi talks about two frustrations she would eliminate from operating a business
[23:38] – Kristi predicts the future of the edibles market in California
[25:00] – Kristi talks about expansion plans
[26:29] – Kristi answers some personal development questions
[31:37] – Contact details for Kiva Confections

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The citizens of California have cast their ballots and voted for recreational cannabis. As the market turns from medical to recreation, edibles companies that already have a footprint in brand recognition in California have an early adopter advantage. Here to give us the lay of the land in the California edibles market is Kristi Knoblich Palmer of Kiva Confections. Kristi, welcome to CannaInsider.

Kristi: Thanks for having me Matt.

Matthew: Kristi, give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Kristi: Sure, so Kiva Confections is located in Northern California. So we’re in the Bay Area, and we serve the entire California marketplace. We also have our products available in Arizona and Nevada and just recently in Illinois.

Matthew: Yes, I read about that yesterday. Congratulations.

Kristi: Thank you.

Matthew: What is Kiva Confections? What do you make?

Kristi: Kiva Confections is a chocolate manufacturing company. So, we infuse medical cannabis with chocolate. We just stepped out of chocolate for the first time with a mint. And really our goal has been to kind of redefine what a cannabis confection is and make products that are safe and tested and delicious and also professionally packaged.

Matthew: Okay. And what’s your background? How did you get into this business and come to start Kiva?

Kristi: So, we don’t really necessarily have backgrounds in food or really even in business. My partner and I got started in 2010, the end of the year. And we graduated from photography school, needed another source of income so we started a cultivation in our garden shed, and we needed another way to stand out in the cannabis world. So, back then people were cultivating and providing their plants and their flowers to the dispensaries, but we really noticed that there wasn’t a safe, trusted, reliable, edible product that we ourselves would buy or that I might share with my friends or with my mother-in-law for example. So, we really identified edibles had a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity for improvement.

Matthew: Okay. So that explains the photography. So do you do your own photography for your website and everything like that?

Kristi: You know what, not so much anymore, but we used to.

Matthew: Okay. And can you give us an overview of what changed for cannabis businesses and consumers on election day back in November?

Kristi: So what changed in November is now we have, now in California we have recreational cannabis. So, at this point, and that was six months ago, so six months later we have the system for sales of recreational cannabis is not yet implemented. That is expected to come in January of 2018. So, what you can do right now, what has changed so far is adults over 21 can have cannabis in their possession and they can gift it to each other. So, we don’t have a sales system just yet, but it is legal to possess.

Matthew: Can you take us back to what the California market was like for Kiva when you started and then compare it to what it’s like now?

Kristi: In 2010, cannabis was very underground. People, businesses and patients alike were afraid for their safety. You didn’t want to be the company with a billboard next to the freeway or even a magazine ad in one of the cannabis publications. So, it was very underground. The foundation for businesses and for patients was a bit shaky to say the least. And so people didn’t really feel comfortable in the marketplace. And so I think now, fast forward six years, people are really starting to understand how cannabis is going to fit into our culture. It’s becoming more and more normalized, and we’ve got laws coming very soon, which those regulations and laws for cannabis businesses are going to give that sturdy foundation that we’ve been lacking for so long.

Matthew: You probably had one idea what the infused product business would be like when you started Kiva. It was just an idea and then a totally different idea once you’re in it day and day, in the trenches. How did it differ from what you thought it would be and what it’s actually like?

Kristi: Well when we started it certainly wasn’t easy. We started in our home kitchen and we worked as many hours as we had to to make deliveries and to make the product and to bring it to our dispensary customers. So, early on I knew it was going to be really hard and a lot of work. That part of it certainly hasn’t changed, but what has changed is I think the opportunity in the marketplace is incredible, and I don’t think I really ever could look that far into the future back then to really try and understand how big the marketplace was going to be.

Matthew: Now are you vertically integrated in grow your own plants? How does that work.

Kristi: So, we’re not vertically integrated. We do our own distribution, but we do not do our own cultivation. So, we work with cultivators to grow up to our standards and provide us with materials that meet the specs that we are happy to put into our products.

Matthew: Now the California legislators have created a lot of different categories of cannabis businesses. Can you tell us about a few of those and what you think about the different categories?

Kristi: Sure. The few main categories that stand out are cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, testing and dispensary, which includes delivery service as well. I think one that stands out, which I think is a great category, is the small manufacturer. And a lot of cities, for example, have a cottage license for small companies that are looking to get into the industry on a very small level. So, I think that is great for entrepreneurialism. I always think back to how when we got started, we were tiny, and that opportunity should be accessible by people of all levels.

The other one that’s unique is the distributor. The distributor is very controversial right now because in the medical laws it says that manufacturers but not also be able to distribute. One of Kiva’s ways of getting into the marketplace was both manufacturing its products and doing distribution. So, we’re fighting really hard to protect our ability to also distribute our own products and the products of other companies.

Matthew: Yeah, you say it’s controversial. I’ve heard other people use not so neutral words, like they swear when they talk about it and they’re frustrated because it’s like, hey this is not plutonium here. We don’t need a separate category of distribution. Do you think that’s just going to add cost to the market?

Kristi: Yeah. Cost is a big concern, also stifling innovation. So, Kiva for example, we may try out a new flavor and we want to take that flavor to maybe ten of our dispensary customers in the market and see what think. Do they like the flavor? Collect their feedback. But if you’re going through a large manufacturer, sorry a large distributor, there isn’t a lot of incentive for them to perform those types of tests for you. Also they’re working on a much larger scale. So, if you’re a small company and all you can serve are ten dispensaries to start off with, what distributor is going to be able to bring you into their fold if you’re on such a small scale and they’re on such a large scale.

So, I see that allowing manufacturers, I think they can hold the distribution license. I don’t think the license category needs to go away. They should just also be able to do both functions, and I really feel very passionate that that’s the right way for the industry to grow and to flourish, and I think it’s the best way for us to move forward.

Matthew: Are legislators getting that feedback or is this pretty much set in stone that there’s going to be this distributor level or category?

Kristi: They are getting the feedback. I think the opposition was a little bit louder and came before us. So, a lot of the legislators that you speak with they haven’t necessarily heard our side of the argument yet. So, we’re still kind of fighting that uphill battle, but I think, I really feel we’re on the winning side of the argument, and we have the interest of the greater industry and that’s starting to catch on with the legislators.

Matthew: How do you feel about the price of cannabis, particularly in California where it’s such a big market? Do you feel anecdotally that it’s going down at the wholesale level or what’s happening to prices, under pressure?

Kristi: Pricing is going to be a really interesting thing to follow over the next few years while regulations are unveiled. So, I think if California continued on a path that it’s on without regulations we would see cannabis continue to fall in price, but I think the industry is in for a really big shock come January 2018 when regulations do roll out. There are a lot of regulations that are very strict and will require some additional talent to manage those. Some of the elements in track and trace, for example, or in inventory reconciliation. So, I think the price of cannabis is going to potentially go up for a short time, while regulations are being put into place, and people and businesses are figuring out how to handle those new costs.

Matthew: Okay, so at least initially it will rise, then maybe the dust will settle and the dynamic might change, but that’s interesting. We saw some of that in Colorado too when there was growers that met the testing requirements and they were able to charge a premium for a period of time, and then for six months thereafter maybe then the price started to plunge. So, I will be interested to see what happens. Particularly California has so much capital, so much technology and such a strong agriculture background, the confluence of those three things, in the long term, who knows about the short term or immediate term, I’m concerned it’s just going to really go down. Thoughts around that.

Kristi: Yeah. I think if the prices went down, that I would hope that quality would stay steady or continue to increase. So I think if prices fell, but quality stayed or got better, then that would be okay. Also if cost goes down, that means it’s more accessible to more people, and I think that’s a great thing for cannabis in general because it really has the ability to help so many people. So, if more people had access to it, I think that would be okay too.

Matthew: I want to hear more about your products, but before we do that I have one confession. Twice I did this at your booth at the Marijuana Business Conference in Las Vegas. I would go to your booth. I would get a sample of chocolate, then as to not look like I’m eating too much of your samples, I would boomerang around the whole Expo Center and then come back and take another one like I was coming for the first time.

Kristi: No problem.

Matthew: I just had to get that off my chest. So, tell us a little bit more about your products; your bars and mints and bites and so forth.

Kristi: Sure. So, we started the company with our Kiva Bars. We started with a 60 mg milk and dark chocolate bars. About six or so months after that we didn’t double, but we tripled the strength for 180 mg bar, and we added some really nice and interesting flavors to those to enhance the taste and kind of cover up the negative effects that you can get from adding so much THC into your products. Shortly after that we came out with our Terra Bites, which are the chocolate covered espresso beans, also the milk chocolate covered blueberries. Those two products are our best sellers currently. Then just recently we launched the mints. So, it’s our Petra Mint product, and it’s a 2.5 mg of THC, so it’s really part of our strategy to encourage micro dosing and the ability for the consumer to control their dose all the way down to that really small amount of 2.5 mg.

Matthew: Tell us more about the mints. That seems like a great discreet option. How did you arrive at creating a mint?

Kristi: So, the mint came because well when we launched the Terra Blueberries we wanted to take micro dosing to the next step. We also wanted to have a product available for consumers that wouldn’t melt and that was even more portable, and actually the equipment that we used for the mints, they’re molded on both sides in a dye. So it really allows for the most amount of accuracy in the dosing. So, the mints are awesome because you can take that tin, put it in your book bag or your purse without worrying about it heating up too much and melting. And then really the ability to dose yourself, just again, to that right amount. Not too much, not too little. It’s really part of a new way for cannabis consumers to use cannabis, especially those ones who are brand new to the industry and have never tried cannabis before.

Matthew: Yeah. You mentioned carrying them in your backpack or purse. I also use a sequence fanny pack, which also is a third option that you didn’t mention. Would it work for that as well?

Kristi: Yes, it will look great in that.

Matthew: Okay good. So, a lot of people are really interested in CBD and for good reason. Any thoughts about a CBD only line or something like that?

Kristi: Yeah, we get a lot of requests for different CBD ratio products. So, yes we’re always considering the feedback that we get and how we can next incorporate that into another new product line. So, we’ve got something that, I can’t promise that it’s going to launch by the end of the year, although I sure hope it does, but we’re looking more and more into CBD and ratios.

Matthew: Okay. Yeah, I mean I hear a lot about the one-to-one. It’s hard to know what the ratio is exactly what people want. How do you think about that? Do you just look in the marketplace? Do you talk to customers, talk to dispensaries and say what are people asking for, or do you just kind of go with your gut there?

Kristi: Yeah so, we definitely ask our dispensaries and our team internally, as well as patients for their feedback and try to really test the waters and see what the right product would be. For Espresso and our Ginger Bars, we landed on a one-to-one ratio because feedback was telling us that we needed to add CBD, but one fear was that if we added more CBD than THC, that there’s still a learning curve with what CBD does in the marketplace. So, it’s a little bit of a buzz word right now. But we didn’t want consumers that didn’t understand CBD to buy the products and be disappointed because it had a lot of CBD in it and they didn’t feel anything. That’s still something that happens as people try CBD, and they go, oh it doesn’t work. I didn’t feel anything. And you’re like, well that actually means it’s working, but if you don’t have any kind of pain or inflammation, then you may not notice anything at all. So, that was part of the reasoning behind that one-to-one was to get people introduced to CBD, but still feel the effects.

Matthew: Now I know there’s people that are concerned about CBD being extracted from hemp and we’re not sure where that hemp comes from or what circumstances it was grown in. Do you have any concerns about that, maybe from competitors or just in the marketplace in general?

Kristi: Yeah, definitely. CBD extracted from hemp, there isn’t anything wrong with CBD coming from hemp, but what the real problem is is where the hemp plants are grown. Hemp plants are put in the ground in places where the soil quality has deteriorated. They do a great job of leeching out of the elements from the soil, both good and bad. So, what we’ve done with our CBD products is we sourced our CBD from California grown cannabis plants. That way we can go up to the farms. We can dig our hands in the soil. We can meet the farmers and make sure that our CBD doesn’t include some of those chemicals that you are afraid that they might can contain when they’re from another country.

Matthew: What is the farming community, I assume this is Northern California, is it Mendocino, where is it in Northern California? Is it Emerald Triangle, something like that?

Kristi: Yeah. So our plants are from the Emerald Triangle from Mendocino, more specifically.

Matthew: Okay. So, what’s the scene like up there? I hear a lot about it. Is it a pretty active community? Is there a lot of great things going on?

Kristi: Extremely active community. Cannabis is the number one source of revenue for those communities up there. So, it’s a very cannabis-centric community. It’s stunningly beautiful up there. It’s incredible. When you go and visit you wonder why you live where you do, where there’s traffic and noise and you don’t have those beautiful sleeping views and the mountains. It’s incredible up there.

Matthew: Gosh, I hear you because sometimes, I’m in a big city right now, and sometimes I’m like this does not seem like an environment for a primate. It seems like we want to be out running around, barefoot, looking at the ocean and being around trees instead of this artificial construction. So, you can kind of feel your blood pressure drop when you get out into the country a little bit.

Kristi: You really do. You really do. I mean, just thinking about it now gives me chills. I mean, it’s so beautiful up there.

Matthew: And you’ve got such good weather. It’s so nice in Northern California. Anyway, got off on a tangent here. I’m just curious about some of the frustrations because there’s a lot of compliance and a lot of, I’ll just call them hassles. I mean you can’t just focus on creating a great product. There’s a lot of hassles you have to put up with in the cannabis industry, and I like to highlight the hassles because if there’s entrepreneurs out there listening that can solve people’s pain points or a problem, everybody wins. If you could wave a magic want and eliminate one frustration you have about operating your business right now, what would that be?

Kristi: I can only choose one, are you sure?

Matthew: Yeah, for now.

Kristi: Well I’m going to pick two. The first frustration is the one that everybody, it’s the low hanging fruit frustration, which is banking. So, banking is like top headache for absolutely everybody, but that’s what everybody is going to say. So, put that one aside. The second one, if I could wave my magic wand and fast forward us a year, where we had regulations that are rolled out, that would be incredible. Because we keep seeing proposed regulations. We have the governor’s trailer bill, budget trailer bill. So, there’s all these potential regulations being thrown up. And as soon as you see one set of rules, everybody just focuses on that and attacks that and you put all of your energy into giving your opinion and writing whitepapers and trying to give feedback, and it’s a lot. Just to see that those regulations may not even be the ones that end up winning in the end. So, if I could wave my magic wand and fast forward us by a year so that we finally have our regulations, which is basically like our playbook. If we know what we can and can’t do, then we’ll do that. We’re the cannabis industry, we’re really good at adapting, in my opinion. So, we’ll adapt, we’ll carve our businesses out around these new regulations and we’ll be compliant, but that would save me a lot of headaches and a lot of sleepless nights.

Matthew: Gosh, I hear you. One thing I don’t feel like the regulators and legislators have in mind when they do these things is that it prevents business owners from investing. You’re holding off until the dust settles a little bit and you say, well when it’s a little clearer I can then invest with confidence. So, you kind of invest as much as you need to, but not everything you would if there was clarity. So, I think that’s something they could think about a little bit.

Kristi: Yeah, certainly. Exactly.

Matthew: So I’m going to ask you a question. What do you think the edibles market will look like in California in five years because it’s a lot the last five years, what is it going to look like five years from now?

Kristi: In five years from now, I think that, as you mentioned before, the dust will have settled and there will be better products on the market in terms of quality and labeling and the testing procedures that companies are using. So, I think that in five years we’ll have a more professional edibles industry, which will, I think, cater to the patients and the consumers that are purchasing them, and it will also really open up the category. And edibles still have that stigma, people still picture that brownie, Saran wrapped with an Avery label that says, “10X”. So, edibles still have that stigma being unreliable and unsafe. So, so I think in five years we will have made some major headway in educating our consumer base on what the new edible is and how to use them so that you can have a controlled and enjoyable experience.

Matthew: And what are your expansion plans to other markets? We talked a little bit about Illinois. What does that look like?

Kristi: Yeah, so we’re continuing to expand the brand to other states. It’s frustrating, but that’s the way it has to be done. Because if you were a regular chocolate manufacturing company, you would have one hub and one manufacturing hub say in California, maybe one more somewhere else in the country on the East Coast or the Midwest, so that you could serve your markets appropriately. So, it’s very expensive and resource intensive and time consuming right now for companies to expand outside of the state that they’re currently in because you have to manufacture the product in that state. Not only do you have to manufacture it there, you also have to comply with the regulations in each state. So, it really feels like you’re starting a new company in every state that you move in to, even if you find a partner there to work with. It’s no simple, easy task. So, I see out of state expansion as being one of those things that maintains top of the challenges list, until we have federal regulations that allow us to ship across state lines.

Matthew: Kristi, I like to ask some personal development questions to help listeners get to know you better on a personal level. With that, is there a book that has had a big impact in your life or way of thinking that you would like to share with listeners?

Kristi: You know what, I’m just over halfway through with a book on Elon Musk. So I just picked it up, but it’s a great book. Elon Musk is very inspiring in his way of doing things. He doesn’t have the best reputation as a, let’s call it, a nice boss, but he certainly knows how to get things done. And he’s really on a mission. And so I’m looking at the way that he runs his business, not necessarily modeling myself after all of it, but I find that book very inspiring because he just has a straightforward way of getting done what he thinks is the most important thing, which when you’re running a business you’ll get lots of opinions from a lot of people. But if you don’t maintain that clear vision as a leader, it’s really easy to get off track.

Matthew: Yeah, and almost lost everything a couple times, and now he’s got, in addition to Space X and Tesla, he’s got the boring company that’s boring huge holes underneath Los Angeles to alleviate traffic and a neuro lace which is going to connect the human brain to software and hardware to expand our capabilities. I mean the guy is… we got to clone him somehow. That last one is a little scary though. I hope it turns out okay. I don’t know it sounds cyborgish.

Kristi: Pretty incredible.

Matthew: Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise, that you consider vital to your day-to-day productivity?

Kristi: Oh man, I would be nothing without my iCal calendar. I would get nothing done if I did not have my calendar. We have a series of shared calendars, one that my business partner and husband use. So I can throw anything on the calendar that we both need to attend. We have shared calendars throughout our facility and throughout our company, specifically for tours and for project management and for marketing. So, yeah, if it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. So, yes, my calendar is super important.

Matthew: And reminders are just as important for me. It’s like I need to be peppered with reminders that something is going to happen. I feel like I’ve outsourced my brain to Google somehow.

Kristi: Yes, totally, exactly. It’s like my phone dies and it’s out of commission, I don’t know what I would do.

Matthew: Now are you raising capital from investors at all right now?

Kristi: At this current moment, we are not. Our company has been bootstrapped up to this point, but with regulations coming in 2018, we’re going to have to rethink our approach and be able to grow and not miss out on opportunities. So, potentially by the end of the year, we’ll be looking to bring in some investment.

Matthew: That’s really cool because when I go to pitch forums or different places or see companies raising money it’s usually for brand new startups. It’s not for companies that are already successful. This would give an investor a lot more confidence, like oh here’s a business model that works. They just want to grow it, whereas when you’re starting from zero there’s a much bigger question mark like will this company make even one sale or a profitable sale. So this is nice. I’m sure you’re going to get a different level of investor interested when that time comes.

Kristi: Yeah, I think so. It’s really an amazing time for investors to get into the industry. I’ve got a lot of questions around that lately. People asking is it too soon, is it too late, and I’m surprised when people even suggest that it’s too late because the opportunity. We’re barely at the starting line.

Matthew: It’s like the first day, yeah.

Kristi: Yeah exactly. So, I think once regulations hit, that will really be the beginning for investors to get into the industry. There’s a lot of people, colleagues and competitors in the industry that are actively looking for capital and can’t get enough capital to accomplish what they want and get ready for 2018 and all the growth that we’re about to encounter. So, now is the time. The opportunity is really just beginning.

Matthew: Now, if there’s any accredited investors out there listening, should they just go to the contact area of your website, if they want to reach out to you about investing? What’s the best way?

Kristi: Yeah the best way to reach us is on our website, www.kivaconfections.com. Yeah, they can fill out the… send us an email at info@kivaconfections.com or we have a contact page on there as well. Yeah, that’s also where listeners can find us online and find all of our dispensary contacts that we work with, where they can find our stores or our products in stores.

Matthew: Great, well Kristi, thanks so much for coming on the show today. We really appreciate it. Good luck to you and your husband, and I can’t wait to see you again at the next Marijuana Business Conference and Expo. I might just put out a chair or a chaise lounge and just nibble bits instead of pretending I’m not coming back and eating over and over.

Kristi: Come on by. I love giving people samples, and no one is eating more chocolate at the booth than I am. That is guaranteed.

Matthew: Well thanks, and best of luck to you.

Kristi: Thanks so much Matt. I really appreciate the opportunity.