Coda Signature is a leading cannabis edibles company that has won countless awards for their creations. Founded in 2015 in Trinidad, Colorado, a small town just north of the New Mexico border, the women-led company has since become a fixture of the infused products market. Coda Signature prides itself on its innovative lens, focusing on what consumers want and framing their products around a luxury experience.
Lauren Gockley co-founded the brand in 2015 after a 20-year culinary career that started with professional training in France, working in Michelin-starred restaurants and Parisian pastry shops. They launched their first line of products in March of 2016 and three weeks later, the awards started coming in. Today, the company is a leader in the cannabis industry and constantly raising the bar. Last year they rolled out products with nanoemulsions, offering fast-acting edibles with a shortened onset time. In May of this year, Coda Signature debuted their low dose Fruit Notes, their foray into microdose formulations.
We caught up with Lauren Gockley to see what inspires her, hear the story of how the business came to be and get some insights on what’s next for the cannabis space.
Cannabis Industry Journal: I saw that you have a culinary background. Can you tell me about your background and how you got involved in the cannabis industry?
Lauren Gockley: I have been working in the culinary world for almost 20 years. I have been blessed to have a wealth of different experiences from my professional training in France at Valrhona’s L’Ecole Du Grand Chocolat and the Parisian pastry shops of Pierre Hermé, to the fine dining restaurants of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller. I also spent several years as a raw vegan chocolatier where I gained a totally new understanding of chocolate and flavor creation using unconventional ingredients.
The transition into cannabis was an unexpected turn in my culinary career, especially considering the level of acceptance of cannabis in its early legalization period. I had been living in New York for almost eight years. I was working two jobs and trying to start a chocolate business. One night, my partner (and fellow co-founder), Brien Sauchelli, brought over a cannabis chocolate bar. At the time, I was not terribly familiar with cannabis edibles, but I sure was familiar with chocolate! I tasted the chocolate bar, and thought, “this tastes pretty good, but what if I could do it better?” The idea of elevating the cannabis edibles experience to the same caliber of excellence that we revere food made so much sense.
CIJ: Tell us how you co-founded and started Coda Signature. I’d like to hear the origin story
Lauren: Well, like so many cannapreneurs, I started in my kitchen with a crockpot, a Ziploc bag of trim and a massive amount of research. Fast-forward a few months to March 2015, and my partner and I are traveling across the country to Trinidad, Colorado—the new home of Coda Signature. Once unpacked, we dedicated almost a full year to product development, raw material sourcing, packaging design, facility construction, and most importantly we defined the mission, vision and core values of Coda Signature. One of our most significant core values is legacy. This was not meant to be an aspirational statement about the impact we hoped to have many years into the future, but rather an opportunity for us in every moment to ask, “What will my legacy be today?” We launched our first products in March of 2016. Three weeks later, we won the High Times Cannabis Cup for Best Edible with our Crescendo truffle collection.
CIJ: Your job title is Chief Innovation Officer – How is your company innovating the cannabis product space? What does your day-to-day look like?
Lauren: When it comes to innovation, we have identified four key areas of focus for Coda Signature products:
1) Flavor. We are leaning into our brand legacy of bold flavors and aromas, quality ingredients and impeccable craftsmanship. This legacy is reinforced by industry data. According to BDSA Trending Consumer Insights, flavor is the No. 1 driver of consumer purchase decisions, and second is brand loyalty.
2) Microdosing. According to BDSA Consumer Research, 73% of adults nationwide are now “bought in” to consuming cannabis. Understanding that much of this population is still getting acquainted with cannabis-infused products, we believe strongly that microdosed products are an essential factor for safe and customized experiences. We are one of the few infused products companies to defy the industry “standard serving size” with our new 1mg THC Fruit Notes.
3) Minor cannabinoids. We define the Coda experience through the integration of minor cannabinoids such as CBN, CBG, CBC and most recently THCV. This is no longer a market solely driven by milligrams of THC per dollar. Products innovating with minor cannabinoids are rapidly taking top-selling positions in both brand share and the market as a whole.
4) Fast-acting. After two years of intense R&D, Coda launched our first “Fast Acting” products in Q3 of 2021. “Fast Acting” decreases not only the onset time from 1-2 hours to 15-20 minutes, but also shortens the overall duration. This technology is a strong example of the incredible innovation redefining the cannabis edibles experience.
To answer your second question: My day-to-day is a blend of hands-on product creation; ongoing research into industry trends and new technologies; working with my colleagues in operations, quality and compliance to ensure our systems and procedures continue to deliver safe and consistent products; brand development and expansion; and of course, eating a lot of chocolate! The past few weeks have been particularly exciting for me as I have been back in the kitchen revitalizing our signature truffles that will be returning this holiday season.
CIJ: Where do you think cannabis will innovate next? What excites you about the future of product innovation in this market?
Lauren: Innovation in the cannabis industry can be particularly challenging due to the ongoing legalization limitations. However, like most life forms in nature, it is through limitations that we adapt, grow stronger and defy expectations. The fact that 73% of adults nationwide are open to the idea of cannabis means that we are just scratching the surface of innovation with this incredibly powerful plant.
Post-pandemic, I think a lot about our social habits. As a chef, there is a level of social intimacy I identify with food that I feel is not fully present in cannabis. I get very excited about the opportunities for more open cannabis consumption and how that will elevate and inspire the Coda product experience.
Cannabis infused products manufacturing is quickly becoming a massive new market. With companies producing everything from gummies to lotions, there is a lot of room for growth as consumer data is showing a larger shift away from smokable products to ingestible or infused products.
This is the fifth and final article in a series where we interview leaders in the national infused products market. In this final piece, we talk with Lisa McClung, CEO, and Glenn Armstrong, senior advisor at Coda Signature. Lisa got started with Coda in 2019 as a board member after transitioning from an executive role at Wrigley. She now heads up the company as CEO and President. Glenn has deep experience in product development and innovation with brands such as General Mills, Whirlpool and Wrigley.
Aaron Green: Okay, great let’s get started here. So we’ll start with Lisa. How did you get involved at Coda?
Lisa McClung: I was lucky. Based on my experience, I was originally asked to be on the board of Coda. I’ve served on nine company boards in addition to my career as an executive at General Electric and at the Wrigley Company where I was heavily involved with innovation. The Board then asked me to consider stepping in as CEO after I’d been working there for six months. I was just overwhelmingly complimented that they considered me and I feel incredibly lucky to be here.
Aaron:Okay, great. Glenn, how did you get involved in Coda?
Glenn Armstrong: We’ve known each other for a long time at Wrigley. I was in innovation for the confectionery side and worked very closely with Lisa. When she became a board member, she asked me to do some advising for her. I’m new to the cannabis industry so, I was really excited about doing something different. When Lisa became CEO, she asked me if I would help her.
Aaron: How do you think about differentiating in the market?
Glenn: I spent 90% of my career on the innovation side working with companies like General Mills, Quaker Oats and Amway. When I think about how to differentiate almost any company I always focus on innovation. In the cannabis industry, everybody’s got gummies and chocolates but you’ll hear people talking about “gummies are going away.” No, you’ve just got to innovate, right? It’s like the carrot peeler from 20 years ago. It used to sell for about 25 cents, and it was all steel and now they sell for $10.99. Who would have known?
I believe anything can be innovative. When I looked at the gummies I asked, “what we learned at Wrigley, can we bring into Coda that currently is not in this industry?” Think about various gums and how they can change flavors over time like Juicy Fruit which dissipates really quickly and that’s just how the flavor is.
Or, there are other ways like spearmint. You can get an initial boost and then extend that flavor by encapsulations. I don’t see much of that in the cannabis industry. It’s just taking what’s out there from flavor companies that people like and getting them into this market.
Aaron: Awesome. Do you have any particular technologies or work or products from other industries that really interest you?
Glenn: I would say it’s going to be from the pharmaceutical industry. You think about THC and CBD being so hydrophobic. With chocolate, it’s not such a hard thing to get into. If you try to get those kinds of compounds into aqueous solutions though it can be a challenge, the drug industry has been doing it for years! So, to me, delving into some of their patents and some of their ideas, that’s one of the most powerful industries I see where we could utilize their technologies to advance the industry. I expect big pharma to get into this. We can start looking at what they’re doing that we can leverage quickly to get into Coda products.
Lisa: We’re not necessarily a pharmaceutical brand, but we are committed to helping people live and feel better. It really is about how you weave cannabis into everyday life?
We have a platform of very indulgent products, which is our chocolates ranging from truffles to bars. We also are building our non-chocolate portfolio to include other ways to enjoy cannabis in their daily life. And then to Glenn’s point, I think there’s ideas and technologies from the pharmaceutical area, there’s also things that have been in the food industry for years that provides sensations and experiences.
I think part of our goal is “how many of the five senses can we touch from people in creating product?” The feel of something in your mouth heating, cooling. Not just the psychoactive aspect of it, but the complete end-to-end experience.
These are all dynamics of us delivering the “live and the feel” piece of it. Then people can either use them from a lifestyle perspective for enjoyment, or a medical perspective. Our job is to provide consumers choices and options that provide those type of experiences.
Glenn: If you have a product that’s supposed to “reduce anxiety” why not start with the slight warming of the mouth? Something that feels calming long before the THC or CBD kicks in? Then have a flavor come up that just feels warm and comfortable. By combining all five senses, you have a product that really does something for your consumer.
Aaron: Thanks for that! What’s your process for creating a new product at Coda?
Lisa: Well, I think everybody talks about brainstorming sessions like innovation is something that just pops up. I think innovation has three legs to it. One is really customer-driven. So, we have to produce products that help our retailers make money, and that deliver really good experiences to consumers that we jointly serve.
The second piece of it is thinking about the discipline of innovation. So, when we make a product, what technologies do we bring to bear, can we scale them, and can we produce them at the right price point and delivery?
Then the last piece is the fun piece, trying to listen to what is and isn’t being said in the market to really try to be a solutions company.
We spend a lot of time listening and watching the market to figure out where we can anticipate things. We used to call it “problem detection” at Wrigley.
One project that Glen and I worked on was a mint that was designed really around adult usage in more professional situations. So, meaning the shape of the mint needs to be tucked in your cheeks so you couldn’t see it. And the packaging of it was something you could surreptitiously pop underneath the desk because we were designing it for people to use as really a business tool. You don’t think of mints as a business tool, but they really are, they give you more confidence with breath-freshening and you don’t necessarily want to hold that out with everybody else.
Some problems are about how to make a product more fun with our fruit. I can put pineapple jalapeño in my mouth and have a literal popping experience, which adds to my enjoyment of that experience.
The last piece is not to do too many products. One of the things that I think of in cannabis is that everybody’s still learning. It’s such a wide-open space, in some cases, that you also have to kind of pick what you do well. So, sticking close to our brand and what we stand for is also something that we’re trying to do. We’ve actually pulled in our SKUs recently and are trying to focus on a platform of indulgent experiences and of lifestyle products. We try not to do everything that we see out in the market and focus only on the things that we do well that solve problems for our consumers.
Glenn: From my perspective — I am not a big process person — I think the best way to do it is to say, “okay, we’ve got these products. We could look at technology, we could look at something else, but let’s just go scour what’s out there. And let’s get outside of our industry.” Look outside your own game, and see what you can use.
Discovering how to use these technologies in a gummy or chocolate as opposed to just drugs isn’t rocket science. My biggest avenue is looking outside and finding what you can apply as opposed to trying to reinvent everything.
Aaron: We’ve focused on the front end of innovation. Can you articulate on the back-end how that moves into product development, manufacturing and commercial launch?
Lisa: We have a new product pipeline with a Stage-Gate process where we will have a number of ideas and whittle them down on certain criteria.
Sometimes the ideas start with the technology and not the market. Glenn will find something and say, “Hey, this is going on, should we be thinking about this in cannabis?” It allows our each of our teams to come up with how they can make it work.
Then, as that product passes through the next stage-gate, we’re looking at the actual economics of the product, and how it fits relative to our other products all while we’re getting consumer input.
We get to that point in the process when we start trialing with consumers to help decide. And sometimes you get the best idea in the world, and then it’s not going to work so in some cases so you put it back in the pantry.
I never like to say that we don’t take an idea forward, even products that we may have taken off the market, we say “we freeze products, we don’t cut products!” because our goal is to have options. Our discipline is around a Stage-Gate process tied to our business goals and objectives. It’s also about playing around with concepts and seeing what materializes.
Glenn: There is this whole notion of a process, there’s a Stage-Gate, but before that, it’s a lot of playing around. What Lisa and I’ve recently worked on was making innovation a way of life so that every time you see something, you say something.
“We don’t think of innovation solely as the next flavor that’s going to be on the shelf.”We always gave people permission to play in the web.The reason brainstorming sessions don’t tend to work, is we expect people to become innovative in these next five hours.
So, if you think of innovation as a way of life, then it becomes what you do daily, and you look at things differently. I like to say when you’re driving home, go a different route, because you never know what you’re going to see. When you get out of that habitual mindset, you’ll think about your business differently, almost naturally. Innovation — this way of life — is one of our buzzwords.
Lisa: I think building that innovative culture is a responsibility, but also a challenge for a company like Coda. I mean, we’re not new. We’ve been around five, six years and we have some of the leading chocolate bars out there. We’re known for flavor systems.
Where our goal is to create a culture of innovation, you get these little pockets of creativity and innovation, and then it starts snowballing. You build on it, get people excited about it, and move it forward. That’s how everybody gets involved in innovation.
One of the goals of that pipeline process is to combine inspiration and discipline. But you don’t just want to be innovative in the next flavor. That isn’t doing enough for our consumers. We’ve educated them on the potential flavors could bring. But now we really want to be much more innovative across the board and see what kind of culture of innovation Coda can do.
We’re looking at the packaging, how we interact with retailers, how we use digital messaging to support our retailers and support our products. We don’t think of innovation solely as the next flavor that’s going to be on the shelf.
Aaron: From a supply chain perspective, how do you go about sourcing ingredients?
Lisa: We have some wonderful partners that have been with us at Coda. People that bring us chocolate from other parts of the earth.
We continue to keep building our ecosystem of partners. We look at different flavor houses and different food type researchers to be partners with us to broaden our ecosystem. It’s something that’s very much top of mind, even more so during COVID, because we’re feeling very fragile about our supply chains.
Glenn: Yeah, I think Lisa, that’s one thing you and I bring, not only to Coda, but I think to the cannabis industry, is the whole CPG discipline of how we look at suppliers and procurement. We need to go out there find some smaller flavor labs with incredibly creative folks.
I think the whole notion of expanding the supplier and vendor base, is pretty unique in this industry and that’s one of the strengths we bring to Coda.
Lisa: Our goal is to really create an ecosystem of different suppliers. I just think that that’s something other industries — you talked about pharmaceuticals earlier — have done. Cannabis is just starting to get there, but that’s where you get exponential opportunities.
We’re really looking at cross-functional and interdisciplinary teams with outside partners. Cannabis is at the stage now where I think it’s looking for more sophisticated technologies and new ways of deploying. We’re also really interested, as Glenn said, in some of the younger, more entrepreneurial firms that want to possibly expand their reach into cannabis as well.
Aaron: Okay, great. So my next question is can you give me an example of a challenge that you run into frequently? And this can be either a cannabis challenge or a business challenge?
Lisa: I think one of the challenges that cannabis faces in general is educating consumers about our market. One of the opportunities we have is to bring people into the market. We’re at the same time developing products for people who are in the cannabis space and are active users and have varying degrees of understanding of how they’re using the category in their daily lives.
We’re also trying to create products and education to invite people into the cannabis market. That’s a different challenge than if you’ve had an Oreo cookie, and people kind of understand cookies. They understand Oreos, and then they understand organic Oreos and all the other permutations of two chocolate cookies with a vanilla thing in between. Our goal is to expand the ability for people to access cannabis in their lives.
That is a very unique business problem. And it does represent a bit of a screen, are you going to do some of your products for more sophisticated users and others for less sophisticated users? Cannabis has consumers that have been taught essentially to think about milligrams; there’s one of the key components of choice. People will look at the product and flavor, and then they look at the milligrams and the price point.
That’s very unique to what we would find on CPG. You don’t necessarily look at dollars per milligram when you buy a cookie. So, if you’re trying to make a premium product with premium flavors, how do you say, “Well, yeah, there’s dollars per milligram, but this product has all these other technologies to create the warming or whatever.” “Innovation in products and new categories is critical to get the industry beyond common confections.”
So you kind of have a dual issue. You’re trying to get people educated on a new category and how they use it. But the education of the consumer in terms of the potential and the possibilities that they can access is going to be very important.
Aaron: What trends are you following in the industry?
Lisa: Beyond paying close attention to legalization progress across the country and monitoring how states are setting up their regulatory standards, we’re focused on which consumer demographics are incorporating cannabis into their wellness and self-care practices—and how Coda Signature products fit into their daily routines.
Glenn: For edibles, “fast acting” is probably beyond a trend and it will be interesting to see where this nets out. Consumers appear to be balking at the slightly higher price point for fast-acting gummies, but there may be a market for after-dinner dessert items. In other trends, use of minor cannabinoids and terpenes for specific benefits appears to be a solid consumer need, but this is going to require solid science to see if these products truly work. Innovation in products and new categories is critical to get the industry beyond common confections.
Aaron: Okay great! Lastly, what would you like to learn more about?
Lisa: We’re fascinated by the technological advances being made in the cannabis industry, and how those achievements may enrich the consumer experience moving forward. We’re also interested in the growing body of scientific research around how cannabis products can enhance people’s health and wellness.
Glenn: U.S. legalization and the constant changes in regulations require someone to distill the information and do a weekly report on changes.
Aaron: Thank you both! That concludes the interview!
The Brand Marketing Byte showcases highlights from Pioneer Intelligence’s Cannabis Brand Marketing Snapshots, featuring data-led case studies covering marketing and business development activities of U.S. licensed cannabis companies.
In this week’s Byte, we’re taking a look at the hottest non-retail U.S. cannabis brands right now. Using a scoring methodology that factors in a wide variety of data sets, Pioneer’s algorithm tracks brand awareness, audience growth and engagement. Using more than 80,000 relevant data points per week, they analyze business activity across social media, earned media and web-related activities.
Keep in mind though, these brands are not the best in class or the strongest selling. The brands listed below have the strongest marketing performance and web activity, for better or worse. Here are a few insights that explain why some of these companies appear on the list:
Curaleaf closed their acquisition of Grassroots. They also own Select, which is one of the largest wholesale brands in the United States. The official completion of Curaleaf acquiring Grassroots makes them the world’s largest cannabis company by revenue.
Ignite Brands, founded by Instagram playboy and controversial figure Dan Bilzerian, made headlines for all the wrong reasons in early July. The company lost $50 million last year and is still hemorrhaging money. News stories in early July detail his lavish lifestyle funded by the company, including paying $2.4 million in rent per year and paying for dozens of models to travel with him, among other absurd expenses.
Tyson Ranch: The cannabis brand owned by Mike Tyson, generated considerable web activity due to some press the boxer received recently. Tyson announced that he is coming back to boxing, stepping back in the ring to fight Roy Jones Jr. in September.
Baked Bros, an edibles company based in Arizona, grew its social media outreach considerably in the month of July. Through a giveaway contest on Instagram, the company generated 3,584 comments on one post alone. That kind of activity directly increases their audience reach, thus boosting their marketing performance.
Without further ado, here are the top 15 hottest U.S. cannabis brands for July 2020:
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