Fritz Chess, the founder of Eden Labs, has been manufacturing extraction equipment for cannabis companies longer than just about anyone.
“We put extractors in some of the first dispensaries in San Francisco in ’97,” he says with a hint of pride in his voice. “So I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
It was way back in 1996 when Chess started advertising his “Coldfinger” units in the back pages of High Times magazine, complete with a disclaimer that it could not be used for any illegal purposes. That phrase actually boosted sales when people realized what the warning was about, prompting Chess to use it as a marketing angle.
“People picked up on the cue,” he says.
Soon after, Chess started making the CO2 extractors for which the company is best known today. He says CO2 equipment passed ethanol as Eden Labs’ main source of revenue in 2010, and the company has shipped nearly 500 of the units in the past decade.
CEO AC Braddock says the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that essentially legalized hemp production only added to a boom that began in 2014.
“2019 was fantastic,” she says, adding that industrial hemp producers seem to be moving from ethanol extraction machines, which the company also produces, to supercritical CO2 extraction, which is used more often in industrial production of extracts.
While Eden Labs is nearly synonymous with cannabis extraction today, it was a different botanical extract that led Chess to start the company back in 1995.
“I didn’t get into the extraction business because of cannabis,” he says, citing kava as the plant that initially interested him the extract industry.
But when California’s medical marijuana law went into effect in 1996 and cannabis producers began to inquire about machinery, Chess turned his attention in that direction.
Braddock, who joined the company’s marketing and sales department in 2006 and became CEO in 2009, remembers the early days and the push in the purely medical years for concentrates as “higher-end, pure product” and a better, more accurate way to deliver medical treatments.
“We can’t treat illness with joints,” she says.
Chess says he practically had the cannabis extraction equipment industry to himself until around 2012, when states began to legalize adult-use marijuana and the industry exploded, with extracts becoming a larger and larger percentage of sales. In recent years, newcomers have been “appearing like fruit flies,” he says.
But despite growing competition, Chess and Braddock say Eden Labs remains a market leader because of its craftsmanship and because of the experience and partnerships the company brings.
“Eden has gone out of its way to be a trusted resource and provide equipment and experience to businesses to be successful,” Braddock says, adding that when people call to inquire about equipment, they often ask “what are you going to make?” in order to connect the buyer with the right machine.
Chess says the company also builds automated systems, including a newly released fully automated system, but doesn’t push them for cannabis extractors. He says automation is something that can break and that he can get his manual units shipped, set up and running in shorter amounts of time than any automated unit, allowing the customer to begin extracting faster.
“Our systems are designed around simplicity and to be maintenance-free,” he says. “They are designed so that so that if something breaks it can be diagnosed over the phone, and if you don’t have the part we can overnight it to you, and can be back up and running the next day.”
Chess says there are no other units designed so that anyone can do the work on them, one of the things that sets Eden machines apart.
With a 20-year head start on most competitors, Chess believes the future for Eden Labs is bright. The company’s plan is to keep making cannabis extractors, as well as equipment for the botanical medicine and perfume industries (Chess is keeping the secrets of a new sandalwood extractor close to the vest).
Along with the new automated CO2 system, Eden Labs is releasing a new continuous feed ethanol system, which Braddock says is the first of its kind.
It’s a long way from those kava extracts Chess was making decades ago, but it is exactly that eye on non-cannabis extraction that helps keep things fresh and new.
“There’s nobody else that makes an extractor that can be a vessel for so many different things,” Chess says.