By Gregory Daurer | Nov 18, 2019
When he started his edibles business in 2015, Schwind didn't possess the aesthetic skills of a baker. But he did have a background in chemistry, which made creating caramels a better fit for him. "It's more black-and-white science when you're making a caramel," he says. In a nod to his college degree, the branding of Schwind's company alludes to chemistry's Periodic Table of Elements.
Before moving to the Portland-area for employment in 2010, Schwind, 32, studied chemical engineering at Michigan Technological University, then worked at Nalco Water, selling water treatment technology to lumber mills and power plants.
This background helped Schwind when he started Periodic Edibles. "Chemical engineering is control temperatures, pressures, large scales, flows -- so, that directly applies to how we make our caramels as I scale up batches," he says.
Back in 2015, Schwind saw the cannabis edibles market as a promising field -- especially given the then-approaching advent of Oregon's recreational cannabis market. Starting on the medical cannabis side with a $5,000 investment, Schwind recouped his money within three months. He's since funded the company totally on his own dime.
Today, Periodic Edibles' line of caramels is available in more than 220 dispensaries in Oregon, and the company has sold more than 350,000 cumulative caramels.
When Periodic Edibles was exclusively vending within the medical cannabis market, sales were around $15,000 to $20,000 per month. During the first months of recreational sales in 2017, the company's sales doubled. In 2018, business increased 80 percent before hitting a plateau in 2019.
There are more brands on the market now, including competition from other states with licensing deals in Oregon, notes Schwind. "Maybe that means we're still doing okay, because we haven't had a big drop-off in sales," he says. "In Oregon, there's a much lower barrier to entry [for cannabis businesses] compared to other states, and a much smaller population, too."
In an age of gummies and chocolates infused with cannabis oil that's been extracted with carbon dioxide or hydrocarbons, Periodic Edibles takes an old-school approach: It infuses cannabis into heated butter, which leads to a full-spectrum product in which the plant's terpenes and cannabinoids haven't been stripped away during the extraction process. Schwind says, "That's the key piece that consumers are really just starting to figure out: It's that synergistic effects of multiple compounds from that strain [that enhance the benefits], not just the singular [molecules] THC or CBD."
After the heated cannabis butter is diluted with regular butter and then mixed with the other ingredients, a caramel depositor is used to pour the mixture into molds. Schwind says about using molds rather than hand-cutting slabs of caramels, "For us, it was really important to control the size and shape to be the exact same every time, because dosing and potency is so important to get spot on." Lab results shared by the company on its website attest to the product's potency, and its consistency within the same batch.
The caramels have individual names like Relax, Active, Balance, and Recover. "What we wanted to do was really drive the specific effects to be more predictable and more consistent for more people," says Schwind, adding that the company does this by not only using one specific cannabis strain from a single Oregon cultivator in each of its products, but also by introducing two additional terpenes into each caramel batch as well.
For example, the Active variety contains "canna-butter infused with Blue Dream harvested by ShadowboxFarms," plus the extra addition of terpenes already found within the Blue Dream strain: limonene and pinene, which Schwind obtains from the company, True Terpenes.
Schwind says the effects of the terpenes are likely to be more effective when a customer allows the caramel to melt under the tongue via sublingual administration. (The caramels can also be melted into a hot drink like coffee or hot chocolate.) The terpenes add additional flavors to the products, as well, which have a slight cannabis taste due to the infused butter.
Periodic Edibles emphasizes consumer education on its website and through other initiatives. Using only around $400 in equipment, Schwind records a podcast, Periodic Effects, which is nearing 250,000 downloads. "I need to do creative, innovative things to market [us] that really only takes sweat equity, and not financial capital, to do," he says.
Acting as a catalyst, Schwind is especially happy about the team he's built, which now allows him to spend 80 percent of his time on the marketing and branding of the business. Schwind says some employees have told him, "This is my favorite place that I've worked thus far," and adds, "That just feels really good, because it was a goal I had . . . so to hear that validation is really, really fulfilling."
Challenges: Schwind answers with a question: "How -- with a minimal budget to no budget -- can we build a brand to compete with brands that just raised millions of dollars, and might come out with a caramel tomorrow?"
Opportunities: "The hemp CBD market is really interesting," says Schwind. "We've been looking at that for probably a year or so." He points out that CBD products -- as opposed to those containing THC -- can be sent across state lines, providing java outlets with "a little [CBD] caramel that goes great with coffee."
Acknowledging "a huge gap for craft companies like ourselves" in terms of costs to automate, Schwind has been at work on designing semi-automated technology that can be used during production and packaging. On weekends, Schwind puts his engineering background to work, utilizing the new 3D printer that he's purchased to do R&D. Who knows? The results might even lead him to start another company focused on tech solutions.
Needs: "We need time," Schwind says, to shore up the company's share of the Oregon edibles market. "The longer it takes big money to come in and consolidate and compete, the better chance we have to be successful long-term."