Kiva Confections Co-Founder Discusses California Cannabis Industry at “Grass Lands”
The cannabis industry has exploded in the past couple of years. From the first state to allow for recreational use until today, companies are coming out of the woodwork to make a name for themselves. Kiva Confections is one of these companies. Started by a husband and wife, Kiva brings chocolates, mints, and other candies to the people of San Fransisco and beyond. Their brand has spread quickly, and their confectionaries are far tastier than the brownies your friends used to make. We caught up with co-founder Kristi Knoblich at Outside Lands this past weekend. The festival’s new “Grass Lands” area brought the best of the cannabis industry to festival attendees over 21. While the festival didn’t allow the sale of cannabis, companies had a chance to show what they have to offer without the magic ingredient. Check out how the conversation can easily be put in the context of any chef or restaurant owner. It truly shows how the industry has grown far beyond the days of Half Baked.
Sensible Reason: We’ve never seen this type of area at a festival like “Grass Lands!” There are so many companies here doing so many different things, from food to candy to vaporizers, it’s amazing! Tell me about where you got started and where you think this is all going?
Kristi: Thank you for noticing, first off that we’re trying to bring cannabis into the mainstream. “Normalize it” is really what we’re all about, making the cannabis experience just like any other experience the consumer has. One that is consistent, repeatable, responsible, controllable, all of those elements.
SR: Getting it into your life as opposed to “I’m gonna go get high and veg on the couch.”
K: Just like wine and beer are a part of your life. A consumer product that you can rely on.
SR: Even Ibuprofen.
K: Exactly. You know when you take 1 ibuprofen that it’s 100mg and that’s exactly what you’re getting every time you take it. You’re not getting 2mg or 1000mg. That was the main reason why we got into the cannabis industry, into edibles in particular. There were a lot of products on the market like the plastic wrapped brownie with Bob Marley colors or whatever. Nothing that you could buy at a Starbucks or Target, nothing that was properly packaged or labeled or even consistent or tasted good. I think that’s one of the elements of edibles that people still forget about, making it taste good and the importance of that in keeping and maintaining a customer long term.
SR: How do you achieve that scientific consistency in your products?
K: Testing is the short answer to that. Quality control, record keeping, testing, just like any other food company. When Lay’s potato chips are making their chips, they know exactly every ingredient that goes into it. The oil in the chips is the same every time, the same thing for us. We start by testing our starting material and our starting ingredients so we know exactly the THC content of everything before we start making our products. Someday in the future, these things will be standardized, we could order a pound of cannabis oil at 50% THC, this color, this odor, this taste. Until then, we just do all of our own testings to make sure our product is to our standard and that’s what we’ve been doing from the beginning. If there weren’t testing facilities we would not exist, because that has always been our key, core promise. It has got to be the same or you’re going to lose the trust of your consumer.
SR: Do you have consistent growers that you always get your starting materials from?
K: Yep! We have farmers that we work with for sure, that list has been built over the years. We want to meet our farmers, know where things are coming from. The thing about California is that there are plenty of farmers out there, so it’s easy to get to the farm and put your hands in the soil and experience where the product is coming from. It’s amazing to support those communities by purchasing and then converting their raw goods into a valued product.
SR: Tell us about the integration of the scientific part of Kiva and the culinary/flavor part of Kiva?
K: The taste and the quality of our products are truly near and dear to us. It’s the backbone of our company. Since day 1, Scott my husband (Kiva CEO), we have been very hands on. The taste component, the flavor profiles we end up with. We have a company saying that “if it doesn’t make you dance…” It’s got to be that good that it elicits a physical response. That’s the part that is so fun and refreshing, trying cool new things to solve a consumer’s problem that potentially they didn’t even know they had. With chocolate, there is no cooking, it’s more melting and infusing. Chocolate is really a great medium to work with, it’s the perfect match for cannabis because it has a high-fat content and really nice buttery, toasty, coffee notes that offset the bitterness notes of cannabis. So, the two are a really nice match. The mints are a little more complex. They take more of an experienced person working with that kind of medium.
SR: So you’re still building that team?
K: Yes, we get a lot of inquiries from pastry chefs, but it’s not really pastry, it’s completely different and we’re manufacturing so it’s not exactly catering. We make it and package it. It’s much more in line with a candy company.
SR: You could feasibly make it in a factory vs. working with yeast and needing that human element, correct?
K: Exactly. We’re very much still hands on right now. With chocolate, you can automate it but with the size of the market and not being able to cross state lines, we can’t access the rest of the market in this country or the world.
SR: You do border Nevada, though, which is another legal state.
K: Yes, we do Nevada, Arizona, and Illinois so we have to set up facilities in all 4 states.
SR: How long have you been working on Kiva as a whole?
K: The company launched in 2010 and we had about 9 months of product development before then. So, 8 years. Medical began in 1996 in California. It was very unregulated. The regulations that were in place were mainly for patient access, but there was no business, no commerce, no taxes, nothing like that was defined. So the market evolved in an unregulated environment, with just some very basic pieces of paperwork that you needed to get started. Now in 2018, we got regulations for both medical and recreational at the exact same time, so licensing, compliance, you name it. So we’re only 8 months into a regulated marketplace.
SR: This whole area of this festival just blows my mind, there are so many companies doing such a wide array of things with cannabis here even in the course of 8 months. This didn’t all start in January, so I’m curious as to what people have been working on since 1996.
K: A multi-billion dollar industry is operating here in California, which now rivals other industries in the state like wine. It’s huge. We’ve taken an industry, I use the wine industry as a good example, you take this industry and literally change everything. Change your processes, change your location, change your packaging, change your formulation, change your people, change your customers, we changed everything from December 2017 to January 2018. It’s part of the challenges of being part of the cannabis business. People are treated slightly differently, there is definitely still a stigma with cannabis but that’s just what it takes when you’re going to be the first to do something. So we have to be persistent and patient, but something like this event and this weekend are just amazing. The light at the end of the tunnel is that people are really excited about cannabis. Demand is increasing, acceptance is increasing, laws are constantly changing. We are being incorporated into the public which is really amazing after being squashed down for so many years.
SR: It’s like birthing out of prohibition when it was never legal in the first place. It is this exponential growth. We’re no longer eating a brownie and confined to the couch because we didn’t know what was in it. There is something good coming out of all of this. People are opening their eyes, we have over 20 states with medical cannabis.
K: A recent poll said that 98% of people in the United States are pro-medical cannabis. What do 98% percent of anyone agree on?!
SR: Nothing. That’s a beautiful thing.
Check out Kiva’s website for more on their products and their promises.