According to a press release published on Monday, SC Labs has acquired C4 Laboratories, a cannabis testing lab located in Scottsdale, Arizona. The acquisition means SC Labs has expanded their footprint into five states total. Originally based in California, the cannabis testing company now has locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan and Oregon.
Ryan Treacy founded C4 Laboratories and has been a vocal advocate for product safety testing since 2016. As CEO of the company, he led the laboratory through regulatory upheaval and a lot of changes the state has seen since legalization. He also co-founded the Arizona Cannabis Laboratory Association and led lobbying efforts on behalf of patients and stakeholders to require lab testing.
He says they are excited to join forces, becoming the largest cannabis testing platform in the US. “Our combined leverage of top scientists with specialized cannabis testing knowledge and a leadership team of industry experts will allow us to do everything from harmonizing R&D efforts to improving the data experience to pushing for positive regulatory change,” says Treacy. All current employees of the C4 team will stay on, joining the new SC Labs team.
This acquisition represents another important milestone for the SC Labs expansion plan. Last year, they hired a new CEO, Jeff Journey, and launched their national hemp testing partnership based in Colorado. That, coupled with the expansion through Can-Lab into Michigan last year along with the C4 acquisition, SC Labs has expanded into three new states within the last twelve months.
Journey says they’re thrilled to acquire the C4 team and that they have shared values, a proven track record and good expertise. “With this acquisition, we can continue to expand best-in-market cannabis testing services and the opportunity to service multi-state growers and manufacturers,” says Journey. “It is truly an exciting time for growth, and we know that the C4 team will be an invaluable addition to our team, culture and operations.”
Remedy currently has two locations, one in Baltimore and one in Columbia, Maryland. The first thing you notice at these dispensaries are the large parking areas. When you step inside, you’re greeted by an entrance that is less like a waiting room and more like a lounge.
Their massive open floor plans offer space for brands to have their own area, akin to branded counters in traditional department stores. Remedy has partnerships with big cannabis brands like Cookies, Curio Wellness, Holistic, Rhythm, Trulieve, Green Thumb Industries and others for this reason: to create the “store within a store” feel.
We met Mitch Trellis and Brandon Barksdale, co-CEOs of Remedy, in Las Vegas last year. After hearing about their ideas and vision for the future of cannabis retail, we followed up with them for an interview.
Cannabis Industry Journal: Give us some brief background on your company. How did Remedy get to where it is today?
Mitch Trellis: I have been a patient and consumer since 1994. I have always loved and respected the plant. I spent much of my career on Wall Street, but really I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life. I started looking at the cannabis space for my next venture. 2014 was a very exciting time for cannabis with a lot of other states were coming online around that time. Colorado had legalized adult use and California had been going for a while. I was looking for an opportunity to jump into the space. Maryland wrote a very progressive law legalizing the plant for medical use, marking the first time on the East Coast where cannabis could be prescribed for pain.
I saw some real business opportunities there so I reach out to my business partner, Blaize Connelly-Duggan, whose family has a long history working with alternative medicine. We were both born and raised in Columbia, Maryland. About a year after coming up with the idea, we submitted an application for a fully vertical license. We did not win the growing or processing license, but we found out we had won a dispensary license.
We decided to move forward in late 2016. We opened in December of 2017 and we just had our five-year anniversary of operating a dispensary in the state of Maryland. We have seen over 30,000 individual patients and we’ve done around 45 million retail sales over that time. We are on a good pace right now with our two stores, each of which we call “superstores” with around 10,000 square feet of space. We have built some pretty interesting retail experiences, what we call our in-store ad network. We are a little different than other dispensaries; we’re not going for the Starbucks or corner store model.
Brandon Barksdale: I came from professional services. I was in a management consulting practice and a leader within our cannabis industry advisory group. We were working with clients on performance management, business improvement and organizational maturity that would help drive operational excellence within complex compliance and legislative landscapes.
The clients that I had spanned over a lot of different states, so I think a lot of my initial experience comes from California in 2015 and 2016. Outside of consultancy, I stepped into operations within a vertically-integrated cannabis operation in Colorado. From there I gained the full breadth of experience in understanding the business from cultivation to manufacturing to retail. We were also operating on both sides of the market, medical and adult use. This put me at a little bit of an advantage for new markets coming online, understanding the economics and how things would play out, you know, history repeats itself, just faster and faster.
I met Mitch and Blaze through a mutual acquaintance and we shared a lot of the same vision and thoughts for where the industry was heading locally in Maryland and nationally. Ultimately, I came on board in an advisory capacity and then joined the team full time.
CIJ: Tell us more about this Nordstrom business model. What brand partnerships are you developing and how is your idea different from the traditional dispensary?
Mitch: We have basically built a platform for the brand and vendors to interact with the patients and the customers. There is a big gap between the two and we operate as a conduit between the two. In that plan, we need to have spaces for each individual brand to interact with the consumer, which is why we have such large floor plans. Brands set up semi-permanent stores within our store, almost like pop ups. Right now, on our floor we have Trulieve, Holisitic, GTI, Curio, Cookies, Sunmed and 2 or 3 more coming. That’s the equivalent of the Sephora and Nike in Nordstrom.
We have a handful of our own brands we are working on bringing to the state of Maryland, which is kind of like those generic brands you see, like Nordstrom Rack or a 365 brand in Whole Foods. So, it is a more traditional retail model than what you might think of in the cannabis market.
People ask us, ‘well, what do you do differently?’ And really, we try not to do things differently. We try to do things like regular retail. At the end of the day, it’s about the experience, the price, the convenience, customer service, simple retail stuff.
Brandon: The differentiator that separates us from other dispensaries is that retail experience. On our floor, we have a massive amount of brand power coming from the strongest Maryland supplies and household brands entering Maryland from other thriving markets. From there, it’s really just about driving the patient and adult consumer experience, helping them come in and learn about brands, what makes them different, what drives their quality, price, etc. Ultimately it allows brands to present themselves the way they intended. That in itself is enough of a unique experience. Then it’s about execution. What we hope as we come into a new adult use market while we continue to support the medical market is that there will be a way for patients and consumers alike to learn about more products, wider brand selection and learn what best aligns with their values, their experience and the overall value proposition.
CIJ: With Maryland legalizing adult-use and the Virginia market expected to open soon, how do you expect your retail business will fare in the new, larger market?
Mitch: We have very large stores in incredible locations that are very well known with tons of parking and the ability to do tremendous volume. I think we are well prepared and our business is built for a larger volume scenario.
Brandon: I am personally very optimistic. Maryland is leading the way in the mid-Atlantic market. We will continue to steamroll forward. Different states and neighboring states will be coming online at some point in the future. That potentially advanced runway will really pull us apart. Our strategy around retail is about growth and operational excellence. We’ll continue to find opportunities to support that broader market vision as it comes into view. We’re constantly seeking how we can expand our market footprint. When I think about Maryland in general, it is a pretty unique market. I don’t think we have seen a newer market come online that was as unique as this region, wrapped around this gray market and other states operating in this limbo.
I think we’ll see an increase in cannabis comfortability with the adult population in Maryland. I also believe that and other unique factors will drive a huge jump in the number of consumers and patients in Maryland as we mature into adult-use. There are a significant number of government employees in Maryland. There are other unique sensitivities to cannabis that will also become normalized. As Maryland moves forward with the rollout of the adult use program, that’ll be something that starts to pull uncomfortable stigmas away which will be increasingly favorable to the market.
CIJ: What are you excited about for 2023? Any new or exciting plans you can share with our readers?
Mitch: We’re definitely watching all of our neighboring states and we’re keeping a close eye on our own state to see how everything shakes out. We will start our adult use sales in the state of Maryland very soon and we are moving forward in that direction. What do we look forward to? The beginning of adult use sales in Maryland. This is the start of our next big chapter and a culmination of a lot of work. 8 years later here we are.
Brandon: Maryland is next up. To Mitch’s point, that is where our main focus remains. We are constantly looking at opportunities within the state and nationally as well. I’d like to think of us as a market leader from a retail perspective. Our primary focus right now is how to capture a lot of the excitement in the Maryland market adult-use program, however, our eyes and ears are always open.
According to a press release published last week, SC Labs is in the midst of a multi-state expansion under new leadership. The company hired Jeff Journey as their new CEO, coming from a VP position at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Last year, in what seemed like an initial move to establish the lab on a coast-to-coast level, SC Labs developed a hemp testing panel that covers a number of contaminants on a national regulatory level. The hemp testing panel they developed purportedly meets testing standards in states that require contaminant levels below a certain action limit.
In the press release that was published last week, they hinted at another announcement coming soon: a new partnership with Michigan-based Can-Lab. This, coupled with hints at further expansion and their current presence in California, Colorado and Oregon, means Journey will have his hands full and his sights set on nationwide cannabis testing.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with cannabis and hemp brands at every stage of the supply chain to share our innovative and forward-thinking scientific expertise so they can deliver safe products to the marketplace,” says Journey. “As cannabis legalization expands across the country, the testing industry is rapidly shifting and scaling to meet both market and regulatory demands.”
The leadership team will still have a few familiar faces, such as Jeff Gray as chief innovation officer and Josh Wurzer as chief operating officer. “The most important assets we can offer as a multi-state operator are scientific expertise, financial stability, and unquestionable integrity, the principles on which SC Labs has long stood for and will continue to provide to our valued customers,” says Journey.
Canopy Growth Corporation, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world, announced the acquisition of Jetty Extracts this week for $69 million. Jetty Extracts was founded in 2013 and is now a leading cannabis brand in California and a top 5 brand in the vape category. The two companies plan to expand Jetty’s offerings in California, Colorado, New York and across the broder to Canada, according to a press release.
Canadian-based Canopy Growth is a massive international company that has been expanding its presence well beyond Canadian borders. For years now. Their medical arm, Spectrum Therapeutics, is a leading brand in Canada and Germany.
Late last year Canopy Growth announced a deal to acquire Wana Brands, the number one cannabis edibles brand based on market share in North America. The latest acquisition of Jetty Extracts this week follows the same pattern of increasing their North American footprint in the cannabis market considerably.
David Klein, CEO of Canopy Growth, says the cross-border potential excites them. “”Canopy Growth is building a house of premium cannabis brands with a focus on the core growth categories that will power the market’s path forward, now including Jetty – a pioneer of solventless vapes,” says Klein. “There are significant opportunities for Jetty to scale at the state-level across the U.S. by leveraging Canopy’s U.S. ecosystem, and we’re actively working on plans to bring the brand to the Canadian recreational market.”
In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles, Green interviews integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses integrate innovative practices to navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory, supply chain and consumer demand.
4Front Ventures Corp. (CSE: FFNT) ( OTCQX: FFNTF) is a multi-state operator active in Washington, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan and California. Since its founding in 2011, 4Front has built a reputation for its high standards and low-cost cultivation and production methodologies earned through a track record of success in facility design, cultivation, genetics, growing processes, manufacturing, purchasing, distribution and retail. To date, 4Front has successfully brought to market more than 20 different cannabis brands and nearly 2,000 unique product lines, which are strategically distributed through its fully owned and operated Mission dispensaries and retail outlets in its core markets.
We interviewed Andrew Thut, chief investment officer of 4Front Ventures. Andrew joined 4Front in 2014 after investing in the company in 2011. Prior to 4Front, Andrew worked in investment banking and later moved on to public equity where he was a portfolio manager at BlackRock.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Andrew Thut: I came at it from the investment side of things. I started my career as a junior investment banker right out of school and then I was a public equity analyst and Portfolio Manager. I ran small-cap growth portfolios for BlackRock where I was on the team for a better part of 11 years.
One of my friends, Josh Rosen, who came from the finance industry, got interested in the cannabis industry really in 2008. He founded 4Front as a consulting company officially in 2011 and I came in as an investor. After that original investment, I left BlackRock and I was looking for something different to do. I was tired of chasing basis points and running public market portfolios. Josh said to me “This industry needs more talent,” and I became more and more involved at 4Front as the years went on. In 2014, I came into the business full time. Originally, I was someone that was kind of the gray hair in the room when we were applying for licenses. We had to go to different municipalities and convince them that we were going to be responsible license holders. I also spent a lot of time on the capital raising side for our business leveraging my career in corporate and more traditional public finance. These are incredibly complex businesses that require a fair amount of capital in some places. So, that’s how I originally got into the business.
These are complicated businesses in a lot of cases. The “sausage making” in cannabis is incredibly complicated. There’s friction at every step along the way. As an example, when you’re buying a building where you want to cultivate your product, you can’t get a mortgage from a typical bank.
While those of us that have been in the industry like to gripe and complain about it, this friction is also the opportunity. Because more traditional investors can’t invest in this industry yet, it allows us more time to build our businesses and have some protective moats around it from a competition standpoint until those folks do come in. So, all this friction is a pain and it’s brutal, but it’s also the opportunity here in cannabis.
Green: Can you speak to the transformation of 4Front from consulting to MSO?
Thut: The original business was consulting. Our original investor was sensitive about touching the plant – it’s one thing to offer services to a federally illegal business, it’s another thing to directly run a federally illegal business. For example, 4Front would have consulting clients that were interested in acquiring a license in Massachusetts. Because of our expertise and our standard operating procedures, we could apply for licenses in limited license states on behalf of our clients and help them show regulators competence and give the regulator’s confidence that these operators knew what they were doing. So, we would help our clients win the licenses and then once those licenses were won, our operations folks would come in and help them get up running.
When I came into the business we said, “well, geez, we have quite a track record helping clients win licenses and get open. If we’re good at winning these licenses and getting them open, why aren’t we just doing this on our own behalf?” So, in 2015, we shifted the business from consulting to being a multi-state operator. We leveraged our capabilities in regulatory compliance and winning licenses to go and get those on our own behalf. We also leveraged our financial expertise in M&A to add to our portfolio, so what we ended up with was a seven-state portfolio at the time.
Green: Chief Investment Officer is an uncommon title, even in the MSO space. What does your day-to-day look like?
Thut: I spend an awful lot of time helping management plot our strategy, and then figuring out how we are going to pay for our growth. Not only structuring finances for the company, but also having contact with our existing and new investors.
I spend a lot of my day to day thinking about where we want to be as a business and what geographies we want to be in. If you look at cannabis longer term, we have less interest in being cultivators or farmers. We think that’s going to be the most quickly commoditized piece of the value chain. We like retail as a business, but I think that we have less interest in managing hundreds of retail locations scattered across the country. We ultimately want to be a finished goods manufacturer. What we think is going to matter longer term is establishing low-cost production.
There is a lot of price elasticity in the end markets for cannabis meaning if you get customers a quality product at a much better price than the competitor, you’re going to take outsize market share. To offer that lower price, you have to be efficient. Over the years, we have figured out how to bring the labor cost out of our production. We have 25 different brands with 1000s of different SKUs of products that have dominant market share in states like Washington. And we’re now putting them into Illinois, Massachusetts, California, Michigan, and hopefully New Jersey.
Green: Do you have a preference towards acquisition, or do you seek growth through internal investments?
Thut: We are always weighing build versus buy. We want our products to have dominant market share, or very strong market share in every state we are in, and we have a lens towards what gets us there faster and most efficiently. For instance, we have two cultivation facilities and one production facility here in Massachusetts – about 15,000 square feet of canopy in the state. That will just about serve our three retail locations in Massachusetts.
Back to our bigger investment thesis, we believe that we should be a finished goods wholesaler in every state that we’re in. We know our products are incredibly well received and we know that consumers love our price point. In Massachusetts, for instance, we’re currently evaluating if we need more capacity from a cultivation standpoint and a production standpoint. And if we do where do the lines cross in terms of whether we should build versus buy that additional capacity?
We are currently in five states, including our facility in Washington has dominant market share in one of the toughest markets in the world for cannabis – somewhere close to 9% market share in Washington. Our brands are in the top 10 of every single category from flower to vapes, to edibles everything across the board. And what we’re doing our strategy is simple. It’s taking those tried-and-true products and operating procedures that have been so effective in Washington, and we’re replicating them in other states where we have licenses: Massachusetts, Illinois, and Michigan, California and hopefully New Jersey. We’re looking for more state, but we want to be deep in the states we’re in.
We also have a lot of confidence that you know, having been having translated some of these, having been able to effectively take our Washington success story and port it to other states. We’re looking for other states to sort of bring into the portfolio because we feel like we’re in a position now to stamp it out.
At our facility in Washington, which is the number one edibles manufacturer in that state, we produce the edible Marmas which is our the number one selling gummy in Washington. We produce 3,500 boxes of those in one shift using 25 people in Washington. Our facility is one of the lowest cost producers in the country.
We are opening what we think is going to be a very disruptive facility in Southern California right now. The facility is 170,000 square feet of purely automated finished goods production. So, rather than making 3,500 boxes of our gummy squares in one shift using 25 people, with the automation that we have in California, we can make 30,000 boxes. So, 10x one shift for the same number of people. We look more like the Mars Candy Company than most investors would think of when they see a typical cannabis company. We’re bringing that kind of scale and automation.
Green: What are some of the industry trends that you’re watching closely?
Thut: We keep a close eye on limited license states. States like Massachusetts and Illinois. For various reasons Massachusetts is very tough to get zoned. So, there’s going to be a limited number of players in a state like Massachusetts, which means you can have pretty good moats around your business and pricing will hold up over several years. We love limited license states like that, where price is going to hold up. On the other hand, we’re not afraid to enter a state like California where we think our low-cost production expertise uniquely qualifies us to go into a huge market like that and be disruptive and take a lot of the pie.
“You’re starting to see the market expand. There’s some anecdotal evidence that we’re taking a fair amount of share from the beer industry.”What we’re seeing in terms of industry trends, particularly on the THC side of this business, has just been phenomenally strong. You’ve had robust medical markets where, by and large, we’re seeing those dominoes start to fall quickly and going recreational. When that happens, the size of the market increases – call it from 2% of the population to as much as 10% of the population. So, from a state regulatory standpoint, having states go form medical to adult use is a huge deal in terms of the market opportunity.
We’re also seeing states get a lot more comfortable with the idea of selling cannabis. I’ve been around for close to seven years in this industry. When I started and I went into a municipality, and I said we wanted to open a cannabis store you’d have people following me to my car with pitchforks. As these municipalities open and public acceptance comes around, people are realizing that these stores are providing jobs and providing a good tax base for communities. So, the acceptance of cannabis has a snowballing effect that just continues to roll.
It’s not just the ultra-frequent users of cannabis who are totally driving the bus in terms of the demand growth for your business. You’re starting to see the market expand. There’s some anecdotal evidence that we’re taking a fair amount of share from the beer industry. So, the fundamentals of this industry are phenomenal. I think that we’re probably in the second inning of what is a mega-trend of legalization of cannabis and the investment opportunity here.
Green: I think one of the interesting things about the fundamentals is you’ve got this hardship of 280E, that all the companies are facing, and yet you still have groups that are surviving, profitable and growing. What are your thoughts on 280E’s effect on cannabis businesses? Do you foresee anything happening there?
Thut: There was a huge liquidity crunch in cannabis in 2019, meaning it was hard for people to come up with capital to grow their businesses. You had a bunch of companies that had licenses who didn’t really know how to operate and weren’t really focused on profitability. That liquidity crunch of 2019 made people get religious about being profitable and being efficient with capital allocation. Fast forward to 2021 and if you look at the top 10 cannabis MSOs in the US, I think we’re all profitable.
So, here you have an industry with accelerating top line growth and they’re already profitable. That profitability should only improve as you’re able to leverage your operating expenses and that’s a unique thing. When the internet craze was started in 1999 you had companies that a weren’t profitable, didn’t have business models, and no one really knew what they wanted to be. You have companies here in cannabis that are growing the top line 50% a year, and they’re profitable, and they’re trading at under 10 times EBITDA, which is totally disjointed.
So, that leads me to your question on to 280E. 280E has been a problem. Banking has been a problem. Having to list our companies over the counter instead of on exchanges like the NASDAQ and NYSE – that’s been a problem in terms of attracting capital. But the good news is Senator Schumer, Senator Booker and others have put out some bold initiatives on what they want to achieve from a legalization standpoint. From an investment standpoint, the biggest thing that investors should be focused on is access to banking, which is included in the senators’ proposed legislation.
Once we get access to banking services, the federal government is basically acknowledging cannabis as an industry will be able to not only have more traditional financing for our growth, but it will also lead to uplift into exchanges and real institutions like the Fidelity’s and the BlackRock’s of the world being able to come and invest in these companies. It also acknowledges 280E is an antiquated law. Getting rid of 280E will give us a much lower tax rate and will allow us to have a bigger proportion of our pretax cash flow into growing our businesses rather than having to go outside for that funding. My crystal ball is probably no better or worse than others in the industry, but if you fast forward 18 months to two years, I have a tough time seeing 280E still in place.
Green: Last question here. What’s the thing you’re most interested in learning about in the cannabis industry?
Thut: I’m just fascinated to see how these various business models will play out. People are placing bets on picks and shovels. People are placing bets on whether being a finished goods manufacturer works. People are placing bets on whether a retailer business model is going to win the day.
If you look at the leadership in the cannabis industry today, it’s totally different than it was four years ago. People that were foregone winners four years ago like MedMen had to do significant recaps. I put Acreage in that sort of bucket too. The leadership had shifted and so I’m really curious to see just from an intellectual standpoint, how this business evolves.
I sometimes scratch my head, you know, do you really want to be a cannabis company with 200 retail locations? You’re going to have a tough time growing same store sales in three to five years in 200 retail locations. So, I’m just most curious in proving out our thesis of being finished goods producers and low cost finished goods producers in the value chain. I’m most curious in seeing how that plays out. I think we are seeing our strategy play out in the most competitive markets in the world. We have a high degree of conviction that we’re on the right track here, but our eyes are always open and we’re always making little pivots here and there trying to make sure to stay on top of the sweet spot in the value curve.
If you describe the cannabis industry generically and you didn’t say cannabis, you said “widget” I think it’s the most fascinating Business School case ever presented. If you’re taking this market that already exists, it’s just illegal. So, all it needs to do is switch from the black market to the legal market and then you’re always trying to plot a course and steer the ship towards where the highest value creation can be. So, I’m fascinated to see how it’s going play out here.
Green: That concludes the interview. Thanks Andrew!
In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles, Green interviews integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses integrate innovative practices in order to navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulations, supply chain and consumer demand.
The California legal flower market is the largest in North America. According to recent BDSA data, monthly cannabis sales in January 2021 were $243.5 million. Flower sales represented 35.6% of overall sales, or about $87 million, representing a $1 billion yearly run rate for 2021 flower sales in California.
Union Electric was founded in California in 2020 as one of OpenNest Labs’ first incubator brands. Its model is uniquely asset-light, and focused on filling an area of opportunity with a consumer-first approach, aimed at an underserved market: the working-class customer. The name Union Electric was inspired by the punching-in and punching-out aspect of working a union job — more specifically, the average cannabis user’s job. The name also represents the brand’s union of stakeholders: Customers, cultivators and retailers alike, working together to provide affordable, quality products.
Max Goldstein is the CEO of Union Electric and Founding Partner at OpenNest Labs. Max incubated Union Electric at OpenNest Labs, a cannabis venture studio he helped co-found, and launched the brand in 2020 the day after COVID lockdowns began in California. Prior to Union Electric, Max worked at Google managing a 90 person, 12-market partnerships team.
Aaron Green: How did you get into the cannabis industry?
Max Goldstein: I’ve had a fun entrepreneurial and professional journey. I started my career in my 20s with Google working in the marketing department sitting at the intersection of new product development and customers. During that time, I really learned the ins and outs of bringing products to market and building brands. I had to understand how to value and champion the customer, or the user. At Google, I was sitting at the intersection of people building products that are affecting billions of people’s lives and users and customers that potentially have really cool insights and feedback. It was an incredible learning experience. I was able to focus on what I’m good at, which is that early stage of businesses and most importantly, listening to the consumer and developing products and services that they ultimately really want.
Near the end of 2018, I co-founded OpenNest Labs, a cannabis venture studio. We came together as a four-person partnership to form OpenNest, as an assortment of skill sets, with all of us contributing an area of focus that we could really combine our experiences to take focused and concerted efforts at building brands that resonate with different consumers across various form factors in cannabis and health. My partner Tyler Wakstein has been in the cannabis industry for several years and helped launch the brand, hmbldt (which is now Dosist) and a number of other projects in the cannabis space.
Green: Was Union Electric an incubation project out of OpenNest?
Goldstein: Yes. Union Electric is the first project we incubated out of OpenNest. We launched the day after the pandemic. So, it was interesting timing.
At Union Electric we’re focused on the core, everyday consumer of cannabis. I think a lot of folks, particularly the new money that have come into the industry, have often focused on new form factors or things that they think the new cannabis consumer is going to enjoy or appreciate. Because quite frankly, that’s their level of familiarity with the industry. For us at Union Electric, we want to hit the end of the market with exactly what they want and that is high-potency, affordable flower with a brand that really stands for something and has values.
Union Electric is positioned as an advocate for the legal cannabis industry as a whole. We look at the stakeholders and the work that needs to be done across the board. The idea of just being one member of the value chain and not trying to ultimately uplift and elevate everyone in that value chain, it’s just not going to work in cannabis. We’ve seen a lot of people trying to go at this alone and I think the pandemic, if anything, showed that you’re only as good as your partners. We truly believe that the investment in our partners, in the local communities and everyone that’s really touching this industry is critical to ultimately building success for one company because a rising tide raises all ships.
Green: How did you settle on the name Union Electric?
Goldstein: One of the things that we wanted to do was focus the brand on who we see as the core consumer, which is somebody that is working hard, like a shift worker punching in and punching out and putting in the long hours on a daily basis and using cannabis as a critical part of their personal wellness and relief. There are elements of that which we certainly want to tap into. The “Union” represents our stakeholder approach, which is, all of us are in this together and our tagline “roll together” represents that. The “Electric” part is what we’ve seen cannabis sort of representing culturally, and for people more broadly. This is an exciting product that’s going to change a lot of people’s lives and, and I just don’t think there’s anything else in our lifetimes that we’re necessarily going to be able to work on from a consumer-packaged goods perspective, that’s going to change as many people’s lives. It’s electric. That’s how we came up with the name.
The coloring and a lot of the brand elements that we focused on were about providing transparency and simplicity to the marketplace: big font and bold colors. There are little nuances with our packaging, like providing a window just so people can see the flower on our bags. We look at the details and made sure that we’re ultimately out of the way of the consumer and what they want, but providing that vehicle that they’re really comfortable with.
Green: You have an asset-light business model, focusing on brand and partnerships. How did you come to that model?
Goldstein: I think everyone who’s operating and working in cannabis right now is looking at strategy and what the model is that’s going to work for them. We’re ultimately going to find out what works, which is why this industry is so fun and exciting. Our specific approach is really under the assumption that vertical integration in a market that’s maturing as quickly as California is going to be hard, if not impossible – it’s just too competitive. There are too many things going on in order to be successful in California. You have to be really good at cultivation, really good at manufacturing, really good at distribution, and then ultimately, you have to be able to tell a story of that process to ensure sell-through and that you really resonate with the consumer.
I think the big, missed opportunities that we’re seeing are that a lot of great cultivators are not marketers or storytellers. They really do need people that are there to help amplify and provide transparency to their stories. There are amazing stories out there of sacrifice and what cultivators have done to create a new strain. We all enjoy Gelato. What’s the process to make that happen or to create any other new strain? It’s fascinating. It’s too hard for a lot of these cultivators to go out and tell that story themselves. So, we act as a sales and marketing layer on top of the supply chain to provide visibility, transparency and trust with the consumer so that they know who grew their product, how it was grown, when it was cultivated and that they can build a real strong relationship with that cultivator as well.
It’s also hard to be a brand that’s using 19 different suppliers, selling the same genetics and expecting the same results. As an example, we’ve gotten Fatso from one of our partners, Natura. We’ve also gotten Fatso from Kind Op Corp (fka POSIBL). We renamed one of the strains – by adding a number on the end – just so that the consumer knew that we’re not saying that this is the same product, because it’s not. It’s from a different farmer and there’s going to be differences. While it does create a little bit more complexity for the consumer, we ultimately believe that every consumer has a right and will expect to know that type of information in the future.
Green: You launched Union Electric one day after the COVID lockdowns began in California. How did you navigate that landscape?
Goldstein: A lot of praying to the cannabis gods! It was really an incredibly challenging and difficult time. We were all concerned about the impacts of the virus. There were moments where we didn’t even know if dispensaries would be open, particularly in states that just legalized. You went from something being completely illegal to an essential business in 12 months. As a team, we were just trying to hold on to our hats and focus on product and partnerships.
Fortunately, with a brand like ours and the price point that we’re operating at, we just needed to consistently be on the shelves and available, and to be present with the bud tenders. So, we focused on that and shoring up our supply chain and just trying to wait it out. COVID forced a lot of cannabis companies to make a lot of decisions quickly and I think in some ways, because we have not been in the market for 24 months under one paradigm, we were pretty quick to be able to adjust and keep the team super lean to fit the emerging and rapidly changing environment. We learned a lot. We focused on partnerships and we leaned into the model that we set out to build which is being asset-light and focusing on the sell-through.
Green: I understand you have a 2% giveback program. Tell me about that.
Goldstein: The 2% giveback program was something that we wanted to put on the bag from day one. It’s on every bag that we made and put out into the market. We’ve seen a lot of cannabis companies come in and invest tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure. Then, month 24 they realize “oh, crap, I gotta figure out what I’m going to do to get back and actually tap into the issues that are most important to cannabis consumers.” These are issues like social equity, equitable development of the industry, and ensuring that cannabis companies and its owners are active, responsible members of society.
What we’re going to focus on with our giveback program is working with our supply chain partners. We highlight the local communities, because when you look at the landscape in California, two thirds of its municipalities still don’t allow cannabis operations. We’re in a heart and minds battle still, even here in California, just proving that the operators here are not criminals and that they’re not going to bring negativity to local communities.
As we scale in California and scale to other states, the giveback program for us is a platform and a medium to work with our supply chain partners to make sure that we’re giving back and investing every step of the way. As founders and operators, it’s how we show that we are being mindful of the importance of equitable development of the industry. Ultimately, prosperity is going to come if everyone is getting a piece of the pie.
Green: What are you most interested in learning about?
Goldstein: I’m a student of history (I was a history major) and I was very fortunate to be part of a big evolution of technology development starting in 2011 working at Google and other tech companies. In some ways, this is the second generational industry that I’ve been a part of, and I have a lot of regrets about how the first one developed – not that I necessarily was the chief decision maker. The idea that large tech companies would always act responsibly (i.e. “Don’t be evil”) didn’t really pan out. I think it was an ignorant thought process as a person in my young 20s.
What I’m most interested in learning is: Can the cannabis industry develop consciously? Can you keep the greed and the things that bring industries down at bay? How can I, as an operator, be the best facilitator of that future? I’m always thinking how I can continue to bring in the people around us and around me as the CEO of Union Electric to ensure that we’re always focused on that.
Green: Great, that concludes the interview. Thank you, Max.
Goldstein: Thanks Aaron.
From Union Electric: Union Electric Cannabis will be offering their first Regulation CF crowdfund raise in an effort to give everyday consumers a stake in one of California’s fast growing cannabis brands. Due to the ever-evolving legal status of cannabis in the US, there have been very few opportunities for individuals to invest early on in American cannabis brands. This decision to give everyday cannabis smokers access to investing in their favorite cannabis brand (for as little as $100) is a natural manifestation of Union Electric’s mission: Collective power and championing accessibility for the plant. You can learn more about their raise by visiting https://republic.co/union-electric
According to a press release published back in September, Steep Hill announced their expansion to the state of Oklahoma. Steep Hill, a cannabis science company that started with cannabis testing labs in California, has been on an impressive expansion trajectory over the past few years.
Kandice Faulkenberry, co-owner and CEO of Steep Hill Oklahoma, says they hope to raise the bar for cannabis lab testing in Oklahoma. “With Oklahoma being one of the fastest-growing medical markets in the nation, we are excited and honored to be a part of our state’s growth,” says Faulkenberry. “We hope to be a valuable resource in our community and Oklahoma’s cannabis industry. Through our partnership with Steep Hill, the world’s leading cannabis science company, we aim to raise the bar in laboratory services, education, and product safety for the medical cannabis industry in the Sooner State.”
Dr. Chris Orendorff, the other co-owner of Steep Hill Oklahoma, is a family physician based in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. “As a physician, I understand that safety and regulations are critical to patient outcomes and I look forward to providing the same assurance for my patients and fellow Oklahoma residents in the cannabis industry,” says Dr. Orendorff. “I am excited to partner with Steep Hill to provide the highest quality testing in the State of Oklahoma.”
It is old news that Canadian companies are entering the European market. And it is also no stop-the-presses flash that Germany is a big prize in all of this. But there are other Euro markets to watch right now. Switzerland is one of them.
Look for the Canadian influx here too.
One of the more interesting entrants this month? Green Relief – a Canadian LP with a really unique twist. They are the only company in the world to produce cannabis oil from flower grown with aquaponics. This unique method creates unbelievably “clean” cannabis with no pesticides – and no residue of them.
It also sets the company up for a really unique market opportunity on the ground outside Canada. Especially as they have now just announced a partnership with two Swiss companies– Ai Fame GmbH and Ai Lab Swiss AG. Both companies have been leading European pharmaceutical companies since the turn of the century. The idea is to leverage all three company’s intellectual capital with Green Relief’s additional and first international investment with an eye to the entire European cannabis market. Ai Fame specializes in cultivation, manufacturing, sales and distribution to both the food and medical sectors. Ai Lab Swiss AG operates as a laboratory and testing facility.Less than three weeks before Green Relief publicized their European announcement, there were also strategic developments afoot at home.
From this unique perch in the Swiss canton of St Gallen, the three companies are setting up to conquer Europe.
Why Is Switzerland So Strategic?
Switzerland has been on the legalization track since 2011. As of this date, the Swiss government began allowing adults to buy and use CBD-only cannabis. Shops were allowed to obtain licenses. A trickle of sales began. However, rather suddenly, as reform hit Europe, the craze took off. Last year, for the first time, the industry generated a significant amount of revenue (close to $100 million). That is $25 million for the government via taxes- just on CBD sales. Even more intriguing for those looking for market opportunity across borders? Less than a week ago, the German-based budget discount store Lidl just announced they were carrying smokeable CBD – in Swiss grocery stores. The leap across the border is imminent.
That has opened up other conversations, including the “legalize everything” push that makes an awful lot of sense to the ever tax-aware Swiss. This is a push afoot just about everywhere across the continent, including, of course, just across the border in Germany.
The cities of Zurich and the cantons of both Winterthur and St Gallen (home of the Swiss companies behind the new venture with Green Relief) have already indicated that they will not pursue possession fines for those busted with 10 grams or less– no matter what kind and even of the THC variety.
Read between the lines, and it is clear that the cannabinoid conversation locally has begun to attract the Canadians. And not just because of the many opportunities of the Swiss CBD market – but the huge medical and THC German and European opportunities now opening beyond that.
No matter which way Green Relief and their new partners slice it, they are now in the game – and across Europe – with a unique new play and product, and further one set to enter both the medical THC and “consumer,” albeit still CBD, market now burgeoning.
A Cross Market Play
Here is the truly interesting part about this new announcement. Less than three weeks before Green Relief publicized their European announcement, there were also strategic developments afoot at home. Cannabis Growth Opportunity Corporation also just announced an investment in Green Relief. The share purchase agreement netted Green Relief $750,000 in both cash and common shares.
With this, Green Relief seems to have set sail on its European expansion. Look for more interesting turns to this developing saga soon!
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