Jones Sodas’ cannabis-infused spinoff hits shelves with four bold flavors and plans to expand into recreational markets throughout North America
Jones Soda, the iconoclastic craft soda brand that is known for its wild and unusual flavors and fun marketing ploys, has made its first play in the adult-use cannabis space, unleashing apple, berry, root beer and orange flavored sodas with 10 milligrams of THC per bottle under the new Mary Jones brand.
Mary Jones products are currently available only in California, though the parent company, a publicly traded enterprise based in Seattle, plans to launch in recreational markets throughout North America as soon as possible.
Marijuana Venture spoke with Bohb Blair, the company’s chief marketing officer, about the future of the Mary Jones brand and the opportunity and challenges presented by Jones Soda’s first foray into cannabis.
Marijuana Venture: How did Mary Jones first come about?
Bohb Blair: Jones Soda and cannabis seem to go together naturally, and as soon we stumbled on it, everyone we’ve talked to internally and externally thinks it’s a perfect match. So it didn’t take that big of a leap.
Jones has a really great reputation and has had a passionate fan base for a long time. As we looked across the cannabis landscape, there’s all this momentum going on in beverages, but there seemed to be a gap in big, bold flavors, like we bring to the table, and the brand personality of Jones Soda matches up perfect with cannabis. We just thought it was a natural crossover.
A lot of what’s been going on in beverages has been in the seltzer space, a lower dose, a lighter flavor profile. For us, we can come in and complement what’s already going on with something that sits right next to the seltzers on the shelf, with a bolder flavor profile and a higher potency.
MV: Is it a big benefit that Jones also has some expertise and history in producing at a larger scale than most of the cannabis beverages on the market right now?
BB: Yeah, without question the infrastructure for cannabis beverages is still under development. So we’ve been leaning into that, and as we look at any marker we’re going into, the manufacturing capability is a part of that equation.
MV: You’re starting out in the California market, right?
BB: Yes, we’re on shelves right now.
MV: Do you have your own production facility in California?
BB: We’re an unlicensed brand, so we work with licensed manufacturers in the state of California right now. We have four flavors out, with 10 milligrams of THC in a 12-ounce bottle.
We actually did a pretty limited production run for our first run and wanted to get everything in order before we turn the big light switch on. We were just thrilled at the response from dispensaries and consumers.
MV: How many dispensaries carry Mary Jones?
BB: Right now we’re in 71 dispensaries around California.
MV: Can you talk about the next markets you’re looking to enter? What is the process for expanding into future states?
BB: For us, every recreational market is where we want to be. We want to be a national and even international brand as soon as possible. Those in the industry know that that takes a lot of state level relationships to bring each state to market. So we’re actively in conversations with people in all the obvious places, including our hometown of Washington and places where the Jones brand has a huge number of fans, like New York, New Jersey and Michigan. And we’re a really big soda brand in Canada, so we’re obviously talking to players up there as well.
MV: How much do those two components of the company — Jones Soda and Mary Jones — play off each other in terms of building a consumer base? Do you primarily look at states where you have a strong presence on the soda market to build out the THC brand?
BB: They help each other. But what I think is interesting is that our audience for Mary Jones isn’t a subset of the existing Jones Soda brand who happen to drink cannabis beverages. What we’ve found is that people who enjoy cannabis love seeing that the Jones brand is there. But where the Jones brand is strongest, where we have the most passionate fans, is where we have the most brand equity, so we feel the relationship between those two things, no question.
MV: Jones Soda already does some fun, interesting things in terms of marketing and branding that, say, a Coca-Cola or Pepsi probably can’t do. Does the cannabis brand give you an opening to take that to another level?
BB: We feel like we’re just getting our feet wet right now with that kind of stuff. First of all, we’re doing all the things that Jones does, like putting the photos on the labels. Now that Mary Jones is up and running, we’re soliciting people to submit photos just for the cannabis side and having fun with that. However, the cannabis brand is also doing its own stuff. Right now we’re in the process of publishing our first edition of Mary Zine, which is our independent zine that we distribute for free only at dispensaries. We’re having a lot of fun with the brand, but Mary Jones and Jones Soda are in the same brand family, and the brands play off each other quite a bit.
MV: How big of a play is Mary Jones for the company as a whole? Is this something that’s expected to become a substantial part of the company or is it destined to be more of a smaller spinoff?
BB: There are probably two ways to look at it. One is we’re all in on this: we’ve got our fundraising for it, we’ve structured ourselves for it, we’ve done all of our insurance and financials and banking. So we are not just a flash in the pan as far as cannabis goes.
That being said, we purposely are building certain firewalls between the parts of our organization so that we can keep them isolated. It’s important because legally you need to make sure that certain aspects have firewalls between them.
The way we market the soda brand is predominantly to adults, but we want to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the cannabis brand never crosses over those lines. So we do run it independently on purpose, with certain back-of-house things shared. For example, as we bring flavors to market, we’re tapping all the expertise of the Jones family.
MV: There has to be tremendous potential for crossover between the flavors of the soda brand and the cannabis product.
BB: Yeah. We launched Mary Jones with four flavors — berry lemonade, green apple, orange cream and root beer. We purposely pulled those from the top six flavors of Jones Soda. We thought, right out of the gate, let’s bring the fan favorites out first.
But we have a flavor library of 150 flavors at Jones that we’ve put out, so there’s plenty to work with and so many fun ones that it would be hard to ever need to come up with a new one.
MV: Will the company do seasonal flavors with Mary Jones?
BB: Oh, yeah. Without question. The same things Jones is known for.
MV: Do you have a couple personal favorites out of Jones’ huge flavor library that you look forward to bringing out with Mary Jones?
BB: Well, we’re also making edibles in addition to our beverages. Right now we’re in the process of formulating our fizzy tabs, which are carbonated candies that fizz in your mouth and are just wonderful. Jones has had carbonated candy that’s been out for years, and I’m in love with our Fufu Berry flavor in that.
Then there are some old-school flavors — I love the fact that you get to swear when you say some of our names — so we have Motherfucking Grape, MF Grape, and I’d love to bring that one over for cannabis. That would be really fun, great flavor.
MV: Aside from the edibles, do you have plans for expanding the Mary Jones portfolio?
BB: Yeah, in the next few weeks, we’re going to have our 100-milligram, 16-ounce cans hitting the market in California. We think that’s going to be fun for people who want a higher dose and we think that’s going to be a big hit.
MV: Do you have any time frame on when we can find Mary Jones products in states beyond California?
BB: We are just hellbent on being in our hometown, so we are pushing on Washington real fast. In fact, we would have started in Washington, except that the California market presents so many opportunities to really get out there with product and develop and prototype your product. But it’s not lost on us that our hometown, Seattle, Washington, has been a legal state for a long time. And we feel it deep in our DNA that we need to be up and running in Washington as soon as possible.
MV: Were the opportunities in cannabis something Jones started to look at in the early stages of adult-use legalization?
BB: It was discussed two or three times before my tenure and didn’t quite get traction. Sometime around 2020 and going into 2021, they decided to make the investment in fundraising specifically for cannabis. I joined the company about a year ago, and I had the enviable role of taking that funding and turning it into a brand.
MV: There’s obviously a very definite parallel with the Jones Soda brand and Mary Jones. How much are you trying to create a new, separate brand versus evolving the existing brand to a wider range of products?
BB: Honestly, I’d like it to feel like a line extension, but it’s a much bigger and bolder difference than, say, Budweiser coming out with Bud Light. For us, it’s part of the family, and while there are very meaningful differences between the brands, there’s also so much that is the same. And that’s what we love about it. Mary Jones only exists by the awesome authenticity and badassery of Jones Soda, so we love it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.