For the past 12 months, the editorial staff at Marijuana Venture has compiled a list of candidates for our third annual 40 Under 40 feature. This year, we narrowed our list down from hundreds of worthy candidates to come up with a cross-section of personalities across the U.S. and Canada, from salt-of-the-earth farmers to tech savants. All of them have unique stories, successes and ambitions and all represent the excitement and promise of the cannabis business. We feel honored to share their stories and look forward to watching them push forward in our ever-evolving industry.
Rebel Coast’s marijuana-infused Sauvignon Blanc begs the question: Is the combination of wine and cannabis the next big thing or just a genius marketing ploy?
The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
As hemp-based beers and other alcohol-removed, cannabis-infused products begin to hit the market, few things are more uniquely California than good wine and great weed. And Alex Howe, co-founder of both Rebel Coast and the full-service communications and marketing firm Powerplant Strategies, is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the entirely new category.
Marijuana Venture: You’re involved in two very different types of companies in the cannabis space with Powerplant and Rebel Coast. How has that gone and what is your role in each company?
Alex Howe: As an entrepreneur in the edibles space it’s given me insight I couldn’t gain anywhere else and I can provide that expertise to my clients through strategic communications and partnerships counsel.
I co-founded both Rebel Coast and Powerplant so I have seen — and continue to work through — the early stages of a startup with the challenges they bring. It’s incredibly interesting and helpful to be involved on both the company side of things with Rebel Coast and the client service side with Powerplant. I’m very pleased with the growth of both companies.
Powerplant works with some of the top names in the brand, investment, ancillary services and nonprofit worlds of cannabis and we’ve helped many of our clients become the dominant organization in their verticals.
Rebel Coast has generated tremendous interest and demand around the world and we have created an entirely new category. Our product will be on store shelves throughout California in the next two months.
MV: What does a typical day in your life look like?
AH: No two days look alike, which is the type of world I thrive in. On any given day I’m providing strategy and go-to-market counsel for my own company and my clients.
I work remotely so my days are pretty filled with calls and emails in the morning for my partners and clients on the East Coast and I do most of my writing and thinking in the afternoons. Other than that, you can catch me at coffee shops and solid Indian restaurants throughout the west side of Los Angeles often.
MV: What kind of overlap do you see in the marketing/branding between cannabis and wine?
AH: Both product categories have a ton of competition and consumers will value products based on their experience with them and also the brand authenticity. We have always ensured that we are living the lifestyle we portray in the Rebel Coast brand (check out our Instagram) and have spent considerable time to ensure the taste, quick onset and effects are in line with the ritual people expect with a traditional bottle of wine. That took some time to accomplish.
I expect that both categories will continue to come up with smart ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors and will develop unique followings from different demographics of consumers.
When we launched Rebel Coast we wanted to do something against the grain, particularly as wine hasn’t changed in 2,000 years, and cannabis in the public is the most exciting category to be involved in. We wanted to give people an option for dinner parties, dates or nights in by themselves that still allowed them to be social and not require them to head outside for a smoke.
Unfortunately, cannabis is more limited in the types of places they can market their products but I expect these restrictions to ease with time and fall into the general provisions that guide alcohol marketing.
MV: Why did Rebel Coast choose a Sauvignon Blanc for its first cannabis-infused wine?
AH: We found that of all the wine varietals, the traditional qualities of a Sauvignon Blanc — citrus, grassy notes — lend themselves best to pairing with cannabis and many of the attributes consumers expect with the plant. We also wanted to provide our consumers with an uplifting and social experience with Rebel Coast and we are very pleased with the Sauvignon Blanc and happy, giggly sativa we infused together to keep people dancing and having a great, but not overwhelming, time.
MV: Combining wine and cannabis seems like a natural fit in California. Do you see this as a major growth category in the coming years? Do you think the infused wine can provide a marketing boost for Rebel Coast’s non-cannabis wines? Or vice versa?
AH: We think the alcohol-removed and in particular, the wine/cannabis category, will see significant growth in the coming years. The beauty is that it never existed before now so the sky is the limit. California has a long and proud history in both the cannabis and wine industries and we find significant crossover interest between both in many consumers across age, sex and other demographics. We are based in California and wanted to launch this product in the Golden State first where we have already seen incredible demand and interest.
We have already seen sales of Rebel Coast’s non-cannabis wines increase from the announcement of our cannabis product and we expect to continue seeing benefits to both companies as consumers associate the company with both categories.
It’s pretty difficult to find anyone who hears about cannabis-infused Sauvignon Blanc and isn’t at least curious, if not insistent, on an immediate sample.
MV: How do you see the role of companies like Powerplant in shaping and projecting the story of the cannabis movement?
AH: My team at Powerplant has decades of experience in other industries and verticals helping companies and organizations tell their stories, develop strategic partnerships and with their investment needs. This experience is vital for the companies we work with and ensuring they project an image that is innovative, experienced and responsible as the industry matures.
We all believe strongly in the transformative power of cannabis from medicinal, economic and social justice standpoints and will continue to partner with companies who are moving the industry forward responsibly and giving patients and consumers an alternative option no matter their needs or lifestyles.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.