Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Marijuana-infused edibles
President and CEO Julie Dooley infuses gluten-free snacks with THC for Colorado's medical and recreational cannabis markets.
As mountain lovers, bike riders, and avid hikers, Dooley cites how Coloradans excel at healthy living. That's why, she says, her marijuana-infused edibles are made only with oats, almonds, butter, honey, and maple syrup -- no refined sugars added. She brands her product line "Colorado's Lifestyle Edible."
"Are we [Coloradans] the best at clean living in the United States?" Dooley rhetorically asks. "People here understand why a granola bar. I don't have to explain myself, too often."
In addition to loose granola and granola bars, Julie's Natural Edibles manufactures another bar called a "nutty bite," as well as a roasted seed mix containing pumpkin and sunflower seeds. The THC comes from the addition of either cannabis-infused clarified butter or coconut oil.
There's another reason why Dooley pays careful attention to nutrition: She suffers from celiac disease and needs to maintain a gluten-free diet.
Dooley first discovered her condition in 2003, after suffering for seven years from a late onset of the condition -- possibly due to childbirth or a previous viral infection. At the time, the mother of three weighed 97 pounds. She always appeared pregnant, due to constant bloating. Since wheat products were present within her diet at the time, she says, "I was starving to death, because no matter what I ate there was zero absorption in my body; I didn't know that all I had to do was stop eating a certain food."
After making adjustments to her diet, Dooley would eventually co-found the company with her friend, Kate, who had found out she had a brain tumour. The two decided to see if cannabis could help both of them. Dooley describes the "instant relief" that came when she tried smoking it.
Soon, the two partners experimented with making edibles. That ultimately led to their company being established in 2009. (After a successful operation, Kate moved with her family out of state, leaving the business in Dooley's hands.)
Today, Dooley says of the company's output, "Unit-wise, we're producing 5,000 per month. We'll be at 7,000 by mid-April, by August we'll easily be at 10,000."
All of that is prepared and packaged "old school" -- by hand -- at Dooley's commercial kitchen in north Denver. It's a women-friendly business. "And that was not intended," Dooley says of her staffing choices. "It just so happens these women kill it in the kitchen!" A modest-sized kitchen at that: 800 square feet, with pots of butter and coconut oil, mixed with cannabis trim, bubbling on the stove. Walking in, a heavy smell of cinnamon, butter, and cannabis greets the nose.
Dooley will explain why she prefers to extract cannabis using butter or coconut oil, as opposed to a high-tech, supercritical THC extraction using carbon dioxide. But first, she doffs grey suit jacket and puts on her white lab coat. "It's like Mr. Rogers here!" she quips. Before starting her company, Dooley had not only worked as finance officer at the University of Denver (before a 300-person layoff at the school), she had studied genetics at UCSD, hoping at one time to become a genetic counselor at a hospital.
Dooley lays down the science: "A CO2 extraction will pulverize the [THC] molecule. Not that this is bad, but it's really hard to get to the liver." The fats in butters and coconut oil not only protect the THC molecule, she notes, but those carriers provide better absorption by the body and, hence, longer-lasting effects.
She says the onset of her products isn't instantaneous: "You won't feel it right away, because it takes longer to absorb, because [the infusion is within] a fat. So, some people are fooled with [my products, since] they don't think they ate enough, because it's an hour later and they still don't feel it. Meanwhile, it's getting to your liver. And that sometimes can take three hours." Her advice when consuming a Julie's edible is "start low, go slow."
The shelf life for the products is six months, and they're often made utilizing single strains of cannabis. Julie's includes a label with notes for each product. So, a package of roasted, salted seed mix, made with Purple Elephant (85 percent Indica), reads: "Julie says: Melt Away Tension." A package of granola, containing Presidential OG Kush (70 percent Indica), describes the head imparted as "Cloudy with a chance of Euphoria." A serving of Nutty Bite, a square, sticky bar consisting of maple syrup, whole almonds, sunflower seeds, cannabutter, honey, will "Stimulate your mind."
Dooley entered the minds of many when she appeared on MSNBC's Pot Barons of Colorado. She has mixed feelings about the experience. "I'm not afraid of talking and being in front of the camera, [it's] not scary at all," she says. "What I didn't realize was that it was going to take up three months of my life, it was going to be so ridiculously invasive, and redundant. We had to repeat ourselves a hundred times, nothing was off the cuff. It was all rehearsed -- and then I was on for six minutes." Ultimately, she feels that the show focused more on displays of cash, rather than imparting useful information.
Still, her celebrity proved a draw during a recent National Cannabis Industry Association conference in Denver. Dooley provided a tour of her kitchen and answered questions for people visiting from Michigan, Puerto Rico, Oregon, and California.
In Colorado, her products can be found in Steamboat Springs, Trinidad, Dillon, and Colorado Springs.
"Boulder is one of my bigger territories," Dooley says, before using one of her favorite expressions, again: "I have a couple dispensaries there that kill it!"
Dooley cites positive word-of-mouth for her products from budtenders -- and she's always felt a kinship with those people who ultimately inform her customers. "We've always had a good connection," says Dooley. "I've never known a budtender who didn't want to talk about his own diet, how well he takes care of himself."
Take the folks at one shop in Fort Collins: "I go and say, 'How come you can sell [Julie's] so easily, even though I'm more expensive, and Fort Collins is known to have less income than Denver?' And it's just because they believe in that lifestyle. They live it."
Challenges: "Cash flow, right now," says Dooley. "Getting a loan. I tapped out three years ago, what I can put in. And we have an adjustment on the industry [where customers] used to pay COD, and now they're paying moving closer and closer to net 30. So, it's been challenging for a small company to adjust for those 30 days.
"And we're also working on a new inventory system. That's been challenging, because we have to maintain inventory with the [state required] seed-to-sale tracking, but it's not a useful tracking system for a kitchen, transferring that into the customer data base. That's been a big challenge."
Opportunities: "Now, bringing in a real sales team with a real marketing budget -- and all that that implies -- we expect to double the amount of shelves we're on, which in theory should triple my sales," says Dooley. "And the opportunity for me is that I'm only on 125 shelves in Colorado, but, talk to me in a year, and I should have gone well over the half-mark, if not two-thirds of dispensaries. I don't know if I can be in every one, because my product is expensive; it's definitely not the least expensive."
Her medical line of edibles retails from $18 to $20 for 150 to 200 milligrams of THC. Dooley says of her product line, "I want it to be thought of as special and that's part of the marketing idea -- that we will always be perceived as a little bit more expensive. Kind of like Whole Foods vs. King Soopers."
Needs: "We're desperately in need of an office manager, and I'm pleased to report that it's in this year's budget," says Dooley.