Fritz Chess was a legend in the cannabis industry without even realizing it.
Chess founded Eden Labs in 1996 — the same year Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in California — and the company has been building state-of-the-art refining machines ever since.
In those early days, only about 10 percent of Eden Labs’ sales came from marijuana-related businesses, Chess estimated. However, following almost two decades of a national trend toward legalization, Chess said currently 80 to 90 percent of Eden’s sales are from the cannabis industry.
Chess said businesses with an I-502 processors license are best suited to take advantage of Eden Labs’ systems for producing extracts and concentrates.
Eden Labs is positioned perfectly not only for the legalized marijuana industry in Washington, but also for the rise in popularity of edibles and concentrates.
That popularity is going to force most processors to offer more than just typical dried and cured buds, Chess said.
“If all you’re going to do is sell bags of flowers, you’re not going to get too far in this market,” he said.
Chess said he didn’t realize how much the cannabis extracts market had expanded until attending the 2013 Cannabis Cup in Denver.
While he was in Colorado, he realized a lot of people “didn’t even smoke pot any more. They only did dabs and concentrates,” he said.
Eden builds machines ranging from personal units that cost a few hundred dollars all the way up to 500-gallon stainless steel systems than can cost more than $100,000.
“And everything in between,” Chess said.
Perhaps the crown jewel of the company is its Hi-Flo CO2 system, which was perfected in fall of 2013, Chess said.
Eden Labs first put its new system on display in Denver in April 2013.
Chess said the Hi-Flo unit immediately became a bestseller for Eden Labs.
“Just in a year, the volume we’ve done in Hi-Flo surpasses what we grossed in the whole first 10 years Eden Labs was in business,” he said.
“It’s pretty significant. It’s not just that we have the new design. It’s also market forces at work. Everybody that’s in this business that’s good and serious has seen dramatic increases in revenue.”
Part of the success of the Hi-Flo unit in comparison to past designs has been developing a more durable pump.
“It’s been very gratifying to finally figure out a pumping system that works properly and quickly an doesn’t require constant repairs,” Chess said.
One of the biggest challenges for Eden has been keeping up with the demand. The company, which features 11 employees, recently moved into a larger facility to help meet the rapidly growing demand of the market.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s the best kind of stress you can have in a business — growing so fast that it’s hard to deal with.”
The machine itself is nearly a work of art, a melding of stainless steel tubing and fittings, gauges, compressors and levers.
“Admittedly, it’s a little more complicated than our old design,” Chess said.
He described the machinery as “a little intimidating or bewildering when you first see them. But in the end, we’ve never had anybody who couldn’t operate this equipment.”
Eden Labs offers customers several training sessions to help acclimate them with the controls.
Eden Labs uses a 10 percent yield as its baseline for the Hi-Flo system — 10 ounces of marijuana leaf will result in one ounce of concentrate.
However, Chess said 12-15 percent yield is more accurate for indoor-grown cannabis, while yield is typically lower for plants grown outdoor.
Interestingly, Eden Labs wasn’t always rooted in the cannabis industry.
“In 2005, if somebody called and said, ‘I need a supercritical unit to make hash oil in Los Angeles,’ I’d just say goodbye,” Chess said.
At the time when 90 percent of the company’s sales came from other avenues, Eden Labs sold a lot of equipment to the flavoring industry, Chess said. Vanilla and cinnamon extracts, and various medical purposes were among the chief uses.
“The last big boom before cannabis was algae biodiesel,” Chess said. “In 2009-2010, the phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to extract algae for biodiesel.”
“We started this company in 1996 and back then concentrates or hash oil were a very obscure product,” Chess said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of interest in it. It was kind of a niche thing.”