By Gregory Daurer | Mar 06, 2018
In 2017, Whiteman's company racked up 17 percent of the market share in Colorado of cannabis edibles, according to a report issued by BDS Analytics -- making Wana the category's leading brand in the state. And her gummies account for 48 percent of that specific product category, another top slot. "Confectionery products became our sweet spot," she laughs.
Why gummies? "Our business model worked best with products that had a long shelf life and that were easy to transport," says Whiteman. Additionally, she calls gummies "the perfect delivery system for cannabis." Whiteman notes that gummies are already a popular platform for vitamins and supplements, in addition to sweets. And unlike savory products, which may lead to overeating -- and, thus, over-medicating -- eating a single gummy can be enough to make a person feel satisfied.
But gummies aren't Wana's only products. Whiteman also has a line of time-release products, its Wana Caps XR capsules. Wana licensed the time-release technology from a company doing R&D work in Israel, Cannabics Pharmaceuticals Inc. "To my knowledge there is no other time-release [cannabis] product on the market," she says. The dosage is split into two, with rapid onset during the first stage, and the second part kicking in after four to five hours, just as the first is declining. Marketing literature states that the products can provide "up to 12 hours of relief." Whiteman says, "It creates a very steady, consistent experience for people."
That spirit of innovation has been recognized by others in her field. In February, Wana was given an Excellence in Innovation Award by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) in the "Infused Products and Extractions" category. The NCIA, which boasts a membership of 1,500 businesses, explains in a press release, "Wana Brands has built a company that both patients and dispensaries can depend on for professionalism, consistency, quality, and innovation. To ensure product reliability, the brand lab tests every batch of tincture they make, adjusting the recipe based on potency to enable precise dosing."
Whiteman calls consistency the "essence of our brand, and "in our DNA" as a company. "Early on, Wana and consistency became very synonymous," she says.
But, over the years, several changes have taken place for the company. When Wana began in 2010, the company serviced the medical marijuana market in Colorado. Today, it's tackling both the medical and recreational cannabis markets in the state. "We were not the first people to the recreational market, but by the time we got there, we entered with a product and the ability to scale. Sometimes companies jump in before [being] prepared to execute."
Wana's products are now currently available outside of Colorado in Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon. In 2018, the brand will expand into Florida, Maryland, and Ohio. Like most brands in the world, it's also eyeing California. The company utilizes licensing agreements with companies outside of Colorado; its 78 employees are all based in the Centennial State.
And Wana has moved from a 5,000-square-foot production facility to a 30,000-square-foot complex of buildings in Boulder. There, the company refines the extracted cannabis oil it purchases. Afterwards, the oil is tested for potency, before being added into pots on stoves containing a mixture of pectin, sugar, and corn syrup. Then, the liquid is poured into molds to congeal. A shift of around 20 workers eventually bag the vegan, gluten-free gummies, and place them into plastic, pop-top containers and affix labels, printed in-house, before the packaged gummies are sent to around 450 shops in Colorado.
Customers can purchase, for instance, mango-flavored gummies with 10 milligrams of THC per piece, derived from a cannabis sativa strain; or watermelon, from a hybrid strain of cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, with that same dosage. There's also THC and CBD mixed together in ratios of 10:1 and 1:1, with strawberry-lemonade or strawberry as the respective flavors. Its XR capsules also come in THC to CBD ratios of 10:1, 1:10, and 1:1.
Before launching Wana, Whiteman, 59, worked in marketing, a skill which has helped her in her current position: "The ability to articulate what I want the brand to be, and to put a plan in place to create that brand and to put some legs under the brand."
Apparently, her brand has legs -- and name recognition. Whiteman, who has been featured in Inc. magazine, recently attended a cannabis-focused business symposium at Yale University. When it was her turn to speak, Whiteman asked if anyone in the audience had ever heard of Wana. Hands shot up. She was as perplexed as she was pleased. People knew about the brand in New Haven, Connecticut, and Wana isn't even available on the East Coast! Back home in Colorado, Wana's gummies won the "Favorite Edible" from the The Cannabist's 2017 People's Choice Awards.
Wana has come a long way in eight years. "It started out being just an interesting business opportunity, and kind of quickly grew into an all-consuming obsession and passion," notes Whiteman. She says she still gets "heart-wrenching emails" from people telling her how Wana products have helped someone, for instance, get through chemo -- or get off of opiates
Whiteman says it "deepens [the commitment] when you feel like you're making a difference in people's lives."
Challenges: The constantly shifting playing field is one, says Whiteman. "Having to operate in a highly-regulated environment that is changing almost every year. That's number one. Number two, it's different state by state." Different states have different rules for medical and recreational dispensaries, and require different labeling, packaging, and dosages.
Given those inconsistencies, Whiteman can't scale quite yet like other businesses can. "Except for a truly huge potential market like a California, by and large, you can't cost-justify buying plant-level equipment," she says. "So you end up doing things by hand more than you want, or sort of medium levels of automation, because you can't ship it across state lines [due to the federal illegality of cannabis]. So it really ends up being the tail that wags the dog."
Opportunities: Expanding across the U.S. "Clearly, growth in other markets, and that's why we're putting so much time and energy into forming partnerships in other states," says Whiteman. "And building the entire infrastructure to do a good job of supporting those partnerships, so we can help our partners be incredibly successful."
Needs: "To grow intelligently and intentionally," says Whiteman. "We have many opportunities -- more than we can possibly successfully implement. So it's choosing the right opportunities and making sure that we're doing it right."