In a competitive and constantly expanding industry, many producer/processors look to white labeling for other brands, including celebrity brands, as an additional line of income, or even as a main source of revenue.
The publicly traded Hempacco company makes smokable CBD products for both its house brand, The Real Stuff, and in partnership with rapper Rick Ross and legendary stoner comedians Cheech & Chong. All three of the hemp-based products are manufactured at the company’s San Diego facility, using different flavors and color schemes.
“Each one has their own personality, each one has their own product profile,” says Hempacco co-founder and CEO Sandro Piancone. “So it looks like the same product, but it’s completely different.”
Marijuana Venture spoke to Piancone about the differences involved between developing and launching a celebrity product and a house brand.
Marijuana Venture: What is the process of developing a cannabinoid product with a celebrity?
Sandro Piancone: We meet with them, and we ask them what they want their brand to be known for. So, for example, I’m going to use Rick Ross; he has a champagne called “Rozay.” So we got the champagne, we sent it to our tech team and we matched the exact flavor of the Rozay to be on the smokable. Then, we asked, “What’s the look and feel, so his looks and feels completely different?” His is black and pink and gold. After we had that, we did our research and development, and we sent product to him for testing. It took maybe three to six months, back and forth, to get the product just right.
It’s a lot of R&D, a lot of product, a lot of smoking, all to get the perfect feel and look and smell of what he wanted. So we start with the celebrity client first, and then we work backwards.
MV: How is that different from manufacturing general consumer products?
SP: Someone needs to decide what the product is. So on (house brand) The Real Stuff, for our board art, we decided we want the early adopters. We wanted to come out with something that looked earthy and grainy for the early adopters, so we came up with a product that looked and smelled completely different than the (Rick Ross) Hemp Hop product, which is completely different than the Cheech & Chong product. They came up with different flavors they want, a different look and feel.
From the consumer standpoint, we put out a product, and the consumer liked it. But then Cheech & Chong wanted their own brand, their own look and feel. So it was different, but the research and development is the same. You do tastings, you show people different products, you show them the taste profile and see what they think and then you adjust it from there.
MV: What has it meant for your company and how has the experience of releasing a celebrity brand differed from releasing one of your own?
SP: As proud as we are for our brand, it’s hard to start a brand. It’s hard to go knock on doors and open an account. But when we started with Hemp Hop and Rick Ross, we got a call from a beer distributor asking if they can carry the brand. That’s never happened before. Rick went on TMZ to do an interview. It brings a lot to the table. When we did his launch, he was doing a car show, so we timed the launch at his car show. That’s doing it with celebrities. There’s a reason you do it — because it brings a lot of eyeballs, a lot of publicity. But you still have to have a great product, and you’ve got to have distribution and all those things. I would say it’s easier. But you’ve got to have all the other things in place when you do it.
And it just took much longer than we thought because on our brand, we live it, we love it, we work 80 hours a week to get it done. So we move a lot faster. With the celebrity brands, that’s not their full-time job. They have other commitments, other businesses. So that’s why it might take us two weeks or six months. It could take two weeks, but because of the back and forth, and who else they get involved, it could take six months.
And you need to get approval for the artwork, the website, all those things they have to sign off on. So even when we do a flyer or a trade show, they have to sign off on everything. It’s their brand, they need to.
But now we’re used to it. Now we know what it takes.
MV: Is the extra work worth it in the end?
SP: Yes, because once you have it, then you don’t need to go back for those approvals. Then we’re out selling, we’re getting market share and it’s a wonderful partnership.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.