By Gregory Daurer | Aug 19, 2017
Cannabis edibles, extractions, and equipment
Eschino's company produces an award-winning line of cannabis chocolate bars. It's won several industry awards, like High Times' Cannabis Cup. There's its Mile High Mint Bar, its Boulder Bar (featuring milk chocolate and toffee), its Peanut Butter Buddha Bar (with pretzels), and its Affogato (with chocolate latte, espresso beans, and caramel swirl) -- which GQ magazine deemed one of the "50 Best Things" to eat in the nation in 2015.
But although the word "edibles" is highlighted in green within the business' name, that's not all that incredibles is known for: It also markets its "shatter" and "wax" -- in addition to vending the very same type of proprietary machine used to produce those potent, cannabis concentrates. It sells vape pens. It started selling cannabis-infused gummies in spring 2017, followed by a "wellness line" in summer, with tinctures, topicals, and, yes, even suppositories.
Eschino says, "I think people's eyes are opened that we are a lot more than just a chocolate company."
While Eschino ran a product-packaging business before starting incredibles, it didn't hurt that his partner, Rick Scarpello, came from a food production background with Udi's and Il Fornaio bakeries. The two took inspiration from Eschino's grandmother's experiences with cannabis, which had been helping her with pain relief and with restoring her appetite. Just as Colorado was beginning to regulate medical cannabis businesses, incredibles went into production. "We were awarded one of the first licenses to sell legal cannabis in the U.S.," says Eschino.
The two were unprepared for how quickly the business venture would take off. "We thought this would be a nice little side job, and it quickly became more than a full-time occupation," says Eschino.
The company's products can now be found in Colorado, California, Oregon, Nevada, and Puerto Rico. Arizona, Massachusetts, and Michigan will soon be added to that list, and additional deals are in the works in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maine. Incredibles operates within both the medical and recreational markets, depending on the state in question.
While makers of mainstream products -- which, of course, don't happen to be illegal at the federal level -- can operate from a centralized location and ship throughout the country, that's not possible in the cannabis world, just yet. So, incredibles has to build kitchens afresh with its partnership ventures in each state. "It's hard to navigate sometimes, just because every state's different," Eschino says. "My Colorado compliance guy is now my national compliance guy, and he has to understand the rules in every state -- and it's getting overwhelming."
Between 2010 and 2014, the company doubled in size every year. "We're still projecting we're going to double in the next 18 to 34 months, again, with growth outside of this state," says Eschino. "Our goal is to become number one in the U.S."
At its location in Denver, incredibles grows its own cannabis, under 225 lights. Soon, it will be adding another 100. The company grinds up all the cannabis that it produces and turns it into hash oil via hydrocarbon extraction; none of it is sold as cannabis flowers. As Eschino says, "We farm resin. We farm cannabinoids and terpenes and trichomes."
Some cannabis manufacturers shy away from hydrocarbon-based extractions, but not incredibles. "It's the most efficient and effective way for us to get what we want out of the plant," says Eschino, stating that no residual butane remain in its extractions, and that many food products (such as cooking oils) and pharmaceuticals are made using hydrocarbon extraction.
The company was thrown a kink in 2014, when city and state regulations specified the type of extraction machines that companies needed to be use. The manufacturers of incredible's existing machines either declined to retrofit them or couldn't do so in a timely enough manner.
"We realized that if we wanted to do hydrocarbon extractions in the state of Colorado then we were kind of on our own," says Eschino. "We manufactured our first piece of equipment, just so we could stay in business." Its incredible extractor received city and state approval -- and demand from other cannabis companies, as well. So it began selling the machines, too. So far, the company has sold 100 at around $30,000 each.
Experiences like that lead Eschino to say, "We are here to comply. I describe ourselves now as a compliance company first, before we do anything else. And that's the truth, because if we're not following the rules, we don't have a company."
Although Eschino is talking about how the cannabis industry as a whole has to deal with constantly changing regulations, he might as well be talking about incredibles when he says, "If you look at the growth rate already, it's been astronomical -- and we've been handcuffed the whole time."
Challenges: Eschino notes the difficulties of manufacturing products, which remain illegally federally. Many businesses decline to do business with incredibles, due to it being a cannabis business. So, Eschino won't discuss, for instance, where food ingredients are sourced from, citing the problems it's already experienced with other, onetime suppliers.
Adds Eschino: "Everything seems to be a challenge in this industry. Things that you wouldn't expect. Just trying to buy a house, you can't get a bank loan. Simple things, from a personal standpoint: credit cards getting cancelled, insurance getting cancelled. You can't get life insurance. Losing bank accounts. . . . And then from a business standpoint, being fired by ingredient manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, label manufacturers, packaging manufacturers. Not being able to move into buildings you want to move into. Not being able to get funding. I tell people it's hard enough to start a business -- and then throw cannabis on top of it! We've got both hands tied behind our backs, at some points."
Opportunities: Eschino cites further expansion, noting, "New states are coming on in record numbers. The approval nationwide is growing."
Products sold in low dosages, for people who want only a slight -- if any -- psychoactive effect, yet still find pain relief, are a growing niche for incredibles. Called "micro-dosing," it's a popular trend among cannabis users. Some of incredibles' products also contain a range of different CBD-THC ratios, so patients can determine for themselves which formulation works best for their pain (or pleasure) management.
Needs: Updated federal regulations are the big issue: "A change in policy federally to allow us to have banking, to allow us to have a normal tax rate. 280E is still crippling this industry. To have the ability to ship over state lines, so I can have one manufacturing facility that I can automate and do more products out of and ship -- instead of what I have to do now, [which] is semi-automatic manufacturing in state after state after state. I can't realize efficiencies like other industries do, by being able to centralize my manufacturing."