Products: Cannabis-infused edibles
Co-founder Kristi Knoblich Palmer oversees a cannabis edibles business that prizes quality, consistency, and aesthetics.
When Kristi and her husband Scott Palmer began their edibles business in 2010, she says they focused on the "basic principles that would guide it: it would need to be professional, it would need to be holistic, and really convey that sense of trust that was lacking in the other products available at that time."
In 2010, cannabis edibles in California weren't being tested for potency (now required), they weren't professionally packaged ("They were in saran wrap wrapper with an Avery label -- something that looked very homemade," says Palmer), and they weren't consistent from batch to batch.
"We set out to provide a consistent and high-quality product that was tested and delivered the same amount of THC in every batch, in every piece, every month and every year, so that we could give customers a predictable and reliable experience," says Palmer. "We removed that guesswork and that lack of trust from the edibles that consumers had been experiencing at that time."
First came its chocolate Kiva Bars, which incorporate ice water hash, sometimes made in-house. Flavors include a Ginger Dark Chocolate, which has 1:1 ratio to THC to CBD, and Mint Irish Cream Milk Chocolate with 100 milligrams of THC at five milligrams per serving.
Then there's the rounded chocolate-covered Terra Bites, which also guarantee five milligrams of THC per serving. Palmer says there's an art to the panning which coats the blueberries and espresso coffee beans with the right dosage of cannabis-infused chocolate. "It takes a lot of finesse and hands-on care from the chocolatier making the product," says Palmer.
A clear distillation of cannabis oil is infused into the company's mints and gummies. Palmer says, "The oil works better with those mediums both from a taste perspective and a manufacturing perspective."
Each of the company's Petra Mints (there's Moroccan Mint and Eucalyptus flavors) contains 2.5 milligrams of THC, which is considered a microdose. "We're seeing Petra really beginning to grow as new consumers, who are more timid or who have a lower tolerance, are coming [into cannabis dispensaries] looking for consistent, reliable products," says Palmer.
Sometimes the effects don't just come from the THC, says Palmer. Some of Kiva's Camino Gummies have terpenes, which already occur naturally in the cannabis plant, added to them. "Terpenes are super-exciting because they . . . have the ability to influence that affect that one feels," says Palmer. For instance, she says a terpene found in the lavender plant aids with relaxation in the brand's Wild Berry gummies.
Kiva's products bound for the California market are crafted in its 13,000-square-foot space in Oakland. The company employs melting tanks and tempering machines for its chocolate bars; tablet presses for its mints; and depositors for its gummies. "Most of our manufacturing is done by hand," says Palmer.
"The Kiva brand is well-loved among consumers in California," says Palmer. The company's products are available in 475 shops -- out of around 550 -- in the state, and Palmer says Kiva is the share leader in the edibles category in the California. Kiva also has licensing deals in Arizona, Nevada, Illinois, Michigan, and Hawaii, with Massachusetts and Florida on the horizon.
Prior to beginning Kiva in 2010, the Palmers ran a wedding photography business together. Asked what skills have translated from their previous work, Palmer says, "I think customer service, how to treat people, and how to create things that were beautiful and had a nice aesthetic, that's what photography taught us."
That sense of aesthetics includes the labels on their products. Palmer says engendering trust with consumers through professionalism is paramount. "We put a lot of thought and energy and heart and soul into our packages, because they really are the first thing that the consumer will see," says Palmer.
She adds, "We've really tried to honor the consumer, and bring them [products] that . . . will be delicious and consistent and high-quality for them to consume."
Challenges: New regulatory guidelines in California, following the advent of legalization. "For the past twelve months, the biggest challenge has been our new regulations," says Palmer. "We came from an environment with absolutely no regulation into an environment with probably a bit overbearing regulation. . . . But the light at the end of the tunnel is consumer demand is so strong for cannabis, and is continuing to grow. So, even despite all of the difficulties around regulation, the business and industry continue to grow year after year."
Opportunities: Innovation and product development, say Palmer. "As new people come into the stores -- and they are looking for new products, they're looking for new flavors, different potency levels, different product mediums -- I think that a huge opportunity is in innovation. There's so many cool new items that come out every day, and we're barely scratching the surface of what products are available to consumers right now. So, I think innovation and product development is where we're going to see a lot of change and a lot of momentum."
Needs: Palmer points to banking. "That's a safety and security and liability issue. It also adds an extreme amount of cost to process cash on any [cannabis] business."
There's also a need to reschedule cannabis at the federal level: "I think there's so many consumers that are still very interested in cannabis as a wellness product, but the fact that it's federally illegal is enough to chase them away from wanting to try it. So, I think when that finally changes and cannabis is legitimate in this country, that will [remove] a huge barrier, and [lead to] some amazing days and market growth."