Words by Dana Kelly
Photography by James Carriere
There are very few smokers who don’t have an insane edible story. These stories all tend to have one common plot twist. “I waited an hour and I didn’t feel anything. So then I ate ANOTHER [insert homemade edible with unknown dosage], and before I knew it, it all hit me.”
The common pain point in these stoner PTSD tales is the uncontrollable high that edibles induce. Because of this shared experience from unsafe edible highs, the category as a whole has suffered from a reputation for being too much of a wild card. It’s not uncommon to hear about people who have had a bad edible experience and stayed away from marijuana indefinitely.
Beyond the world of cannabis, the food industry as a whole has undergone a transformation over the last decade. Millennial consumers have fundamentally altered the food industry by increasing the demand for sustainably sourced, minimally processed ingredients. The experimental flavors, cross-cultural fusions, and accessible dining trends that millennials steer have trickled down the food pyramid and effectively impacted the way that consumer packaged goods (CPGs) are developed, marketed, and sold. Millennials strongly believe that they consume healthier, more natural/organic, less processed and better tasting foods than their parents. This shift in conscious-consumerism, paired with millennials’ $200 billion in annual buying power, influence the way older generations consume and interpret products as well.
The impact millennials are having on the food industry has knock-on effects for the cannabis community, which has simultaneously been maturing on its own. The way that the cannabis industry develops, markets, and produces edibles for the modern marijuana consumer has had to evolve. The opportunity for cannabis entrepreneurs to ride the millennial-induced foodie wave and dismantle stigmas around edibles was created.
Enter KIVA Confections.
Amidst this landscape of conscious-consumers and product stigmas, KIVA Confections has managed to assert itself as an aspirational brand that produces the new standard for edibles.
The Springboard Thought
In 2010 the medical cannabis market was lacking quality edibles. There was white space for a brand to innovate and pioneer a new standard for the category. KIVA was that brand.
Reflecting on KIVA’s inception and sustained vision, co-founder Kristi Knoblich illustrates the early 2000’s cannabis market in Oakland, California that paved the way for her and partner Scott Palmer’s early entrepreneurial efforts:
“Back then there was a lack of high quality edibles out there on the market. That was from a dosing standpoint and also just from a packaging and product standpoint. The products out there were the rudimentary brownies wrapped in cellophane, so we just saw a huge need for a product that was consistent, delicious, and most importantly, safe to consume. We spent the better half of 2010 developing a formula, working with a testing lab out here in Oakland to get the consistency to where we needed it to be. We launched with two products and KIVA was born at the tail end of 2010.”
Some five years and change later, the KIVA team still prides itself on developing innovative ways for people to consume cannabis which nurture, enhance & improve lives. The recipe to do so relies on a hybrid of quality assurance, educational marketing, lobbying efforts, and thought leadership in the Bay Area’s dense cannabis community.
From Farm to Chocolate
Crafting a KIVA chocolate is a highly technical process that goes far beyond your homemade brownie attempts in college.
“We start with trim that’s grown up here in California in the Emerald Triangle,” Palmer explains. “We process that. Really it’s about using water and ice, so a very simple low-cut method. And we’re just basically breaking off, or collecting the resin off of the plant material. What we collect is then dried and we heat that mainly to kill off anything that could be in there from a micro standpoint. The last thing that we want to do is get a potentially sick patient even sicker by giving them something that has some type of microorganism growing on it. We bake all of the actives before they go into the product.”
KIVA’s facilities only produce one type of bar per day. Chocolate batches start in a giant melting tank, where, once melted, cannabis actives are added. It’s critical to the KIVA process that cannabinoid content is profiled before it’s added to the melted chocolate. “With cannabis, our active ingredients are always different, it’s a very natural product and the potency will always shift,” Palmer explains.
KIVA works with a local third party lab in Oakland to test and identify the potency in its starting materials before it’s added to the chocolate. The potency levels then inform a given batch recipe to ensure consistent dosage amongst the brand’s milk and dark chocolates, as well as terra bites. With products ranging from 15-180mg THC, it’s easy to understand why consistent dosage is as important to produce and communicate to medical patients.
After the chocolate, the actives and the batch’s flavor profiles are combined, the mixture is transferred to temper units. “The tempering process is similar to freezing water to make ice. The water will start to freeze in a crystal structure. The same thing happens with the coco fat in chocolate and so by tempering it, you’re encouraging those crystals to form a certain way.” Palmer’s passion for KIVA’s products is evident throughout his chemistry-heavy explanation of the tempering process that is responsible for the final product’s sheen and snap. His voice vibrates with pride, further illuminating his passion for healing people through natural ingredients.
For the grand finale, the chocolates are then precisely molded and weighed. Each unit must be exactly the same. If the bars are too heavy or too light that will affect the overall potency in the final product. The meticulous details could be transcribed for days. But it’s these details that separate Knoblich and Palmer’s vision from their competitors.
“We used to not really market ourselves. We were kind of quiet, and that’s the way you marketed yourself back then. We just came out with a great product and sort of let word of mouth do our marketing efforts for us,” Knoblich reflects. But the industry has matured, and in its adolescence, so has KIVA’s brand positioning.
The primary focus for KIVA is education. “There’s absolutely a vacuum for education around cannabis right now,” Knoblich explains. The brand works hard to create product sampling opportunities at dispensaries throughout the state, further encouraging dialogue between their brand ambassadors and patients. Unsurprisingly, the first question out of most patients’ mouths is about recommended dosing. The anxiety of accidentally recreating past experiences with edibles is palpable.
“Ten MG is the recommended dosage in both Colorado and Washington, and we go even a little bit more conservative and suggest people start out with 5MG. It’s all about helping people prepare for the experience that they’re going to have when they’re using cannabis, and making sure that it’s a positive one,” explains Knoblich.
KIVA’s grassroots educational efforts have paid off in the form of brand loyal consumers who endorse the products’ benefits. This consumer confidence has paved the way for new product development at the KIVA headquarters. The brand is currently developing a CBD product with local farmers, which has been a feat in itself to find partners with the resources at scale and who have the same philosophy on growing marijuana in a chemical and pesticide free environment.
“This will be our first CBD product so we’re really excited about that. Outside of chocolate, we’ve got some exciting things that we’re currently working on. You’ll see some of those products from us next spring,” – 2016 or 2017? hints Knoblich.
California’s Cannabis Climate
As KIVA continues to diversify and expand, California is expediting its cannabis legislation. Medical marijuana generates around $1.3 billion annually for the state, which is long overdue in its efforts to regulate the industry.
Palmer and Knoblich harmoniously agree that the new California regulations introduced by governor Jerry Brown will benefit the cannabis industry as a whole. The trio of related bills signed by Brown in October will commit more resources and government oversight of state’s medical cannabis industry. While medical marijuana has been legal in California for nearly two decades, legislation has lagged in providing the industry a proper infrastructure and governance. Even though some of the new standards being set forth won’t go into effect until 2018, it’s a step in the right direction for not-for-profit companies like KIVA. “It looks like we’ll have a system more akin to Colorado or Washington and those states that have done a really good job implementing regulations and oversight to an industry that desperately needs it,” says Palmer.
The fact of the matter is simple: the industry wants government oversight so that cannabis can become the booming, tax-paying, job-creating industry it’s been poised to be. More regulation means higher safety standards and over time, hopefully stigmas around cannabis and edibles can be eradicated.
Aside from supporting governor Brown’s cannabis agenda, the KIVA team is extremely active in state lobbying efforts. Knoblich is on the Board of Directors of the California Cannabis Industry Association, or CCIA alongside other prominent industry veterans.
“California is such a unique place and the cannabis business has existed for so long. It’s so ingrained in our culture and our communities that if we didn’t all get together and form an opinion or policies that we think are going to work best, then somebody else will come up with a policy that wont work best,” Knoblich asserts.
The two hypothesize on the future of cannabis tourism in the Bay Area and the boom that legalizing recreational cannabis will bring to California. KIVA is preparing itself for this surge of demand, optimizing its products along the way and transforming people’s perceptions of edibles once and for all.