Nancy Whiteman knew there was no magic bullet for success when she launched cannabis-infused edible products company Wana Brands in 2010 with less than $60,000.
Boulder-based Wana makes gummies of multiple potencies in many flavors — infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — for both recreational and medicinal purposes. It also makes tarts, drops and capsules for recreational use.
“We didn’t raise any capital. We bootstrapped it,” Whiteman said.
Whiteman, who also is the CEO of Wana, focused on “doing a lot of things the right way,” being aware of the constantly evolving regulatory environment and building trust with customers by offering them consistent-quality products.
“We did batch testing of our products when it wasn’t required,” Whiteman said. “We wanted to be consistent with our products. We refined our recipe for gummies, which are vegan, gluten-free, and taste better (than the competition).”
Wana also educated budtenders in dispensaries about its products, and developed partnerships in other states to expand sales, Whiteman said.
Those efforts resulted in big things for Wana.
In 2018, Wana had revenues of $18 million with presence in Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Wana doesn’t make direct sales to consumers, but sells through dispensaries.
Wana is the no. 1 brand in Colorado in the ingestible category with its confectionery products, said Roy Bingham, co-founder and CEO of Boulder-based BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry.
In Colorado, ingestibles generated $23.5 million in sales in June, an 11% increase from a year ago, Bingham said. The share of ingestibles is steadily growing within the cannabis industry, he said. In Colorado, it has grown to be 15% of total combined sales of cannabis products at $1.6 billion, Bingham said.
The adult-use cannabis products market is larger than the medical use market, and it is continuing to grow, thanks to edibles and concentrates, Bingham said.
There are more than 100 manufacturers of edibles in Colorado, he said. Customers are recognizing brands, and selecting products based on their reputation and recommendations from family and friends, he said. “When they find something that works they stick to it. Wana has been able to establish customer loyalty.”
Whiteman is now considering adding investors to support Wana’s expansion in new markets in California, Florida and New Jersey. The challenge is to find the right partners, and to make sure product quality is constant in all markets, she said.
Jason Pasko, chief operating officer of High Life Farms in Michigan, said his company’s background in “nutraceuticals” and the fact it was the first medical cannabis licensee in Michigan, helped form its partnership with Wana less than two years ago. He said he found Whiteman to be a passionate business leader. “It takes passion to be in this business.”
High Life makes gummies using the licensed Wana recipe from the cannabis it grows. “There’re 350,000 medical patients available to us in Michigan,” Pasko said.
Once the Michigan market opens up for recreational use next year, the market will grow exponentially, he said. High Life Farms has extended its partnership with Wana to California, which has both medical and recreational cannabis markets.
“Wana has a great product. It’s not gelatin-based. Being a truly vegan product is very powerful in the state of California,” Pasko said.
The strategy to educate budtenders in dispensaries and developing one-on-one relationships with them is crucial, Pasko said. The more they know about Wana products, the better they can explain it to consumers, he said: “They are the top people promoting our products. We have to educate them.”
Wana recently hired a new chief revenue officer to support the company’s expansion plans in the United States and internationally.
Initially, the company tried its hand at infused-baked goods and beef jerky, eventually finding its niche in confectionery products, Whiteman said. Wana’s edibles have a long shelf life, are easy to transport, and the market preferred them as well, she said, recalling the company’s early days.
With the opening of Colorado’s recreational cannabis market after voters passed Amendment 64 in November 2012 legalizing cannabis for recreational use by adults, Wana worked to develop a range of products with different dosages, onset times, and duration of effects to help customers get the specific cannabis experience they sought, Whiteman said.
The commercial sale of recreational cannabis to Colorado adults began in 2014.
In 2015, Wana launched extended-release cannabis capsules (developed through a partnership with Cannabics Pharmaceuticals Inc., a U.S.-based drug development company) that provide medicinal benefits for up to 12 hours.
In November, Wana introduced disposable vapes in the recreational marketplace, and last month expanded its vape line with new cartridges featuring eight CBD and THC ratios and flavors, Whiteman said.
Wana soon will bring out a quick-release THC-based tincture, Wana Quick, a fast onset option, she said. Wana combined its expertise in THC, and terpenes (the essential oil in cannabis plant that provide distinctive aromas) with a proprietary “nanoemulsion delivery technology” licensed through Lafayette-based QuickSilver Scientific for a discreet and cost-effective alternative for cannabis consumption.
The technology allows for a quick oral delivery of a micro-dose for rapid absorption in the body, said Chris Shade, founder and CEO of QuickSilver. It allows nano-sized cannabinoid-containing oil droplets to rapidly diffuse through mucus membranes into circulation, helping the product to take effect almost immediately, similar to smoking or vaping, Shade explained.
“Wana is a great brand to work with. It has a great management team. When you find a partner you trust and really like, it’s a pleasure,” Shade said.