Malek Noueiry moved to Colorado 10 years ago in order to grow cannabis.
Growing with the industry, he started at a small, organic medical grow and worked his way up to lead grower at one of the state’s largest recreational operations. During that time, Noueiry became “obsessed with the science behind strains” after winning a pack of seeds from The Cali Connection seedbank. But Noueiry “wanted to create totally new flavors.” After winning a Cannabis Cup with a seed from The Cali Connection, Noueiry collaborated with one of the bank’s cultivators on a project called The Vault Genetics, learning the ins and outs of breeding and cannabis genetics.
“Releasing that project is really when I started getting into seed breeding,” he says.
Using strains he created, Noueiry began entering competitions, eventually winning more than 20 international competitions with his own seeds.
In 2020, he used those seeds to start his own company, Malek’s Premium Cannabis, a Denver-based indoor craft cultivation business that grows in small batches of 8-10 lights per strain. The company’s exclusive genetics — like Noueiry’s favorite, Panda Puffs — can be found in more than 50 dispensaries throughout Colorado. Malek’s is known for its “hand rolls,” which contain 1.75 grams of flower — not trim or shake — that are skewered down the middle with an organic, gluten-fee rotini noodle crutch and won Westworld Magazine’s Best Pre-Roll of 2022 award.
Marijuana Venture traded emails with Noueiry and Katherine Wolf, chief marketing and operations officer, to talk about breeding, the importance of in-house genetics and how the company’s unique branding and marketing is leading to success for one of the newest competitors in an already-full marketplace.
Marijuana Venture: Why did you branch out and form your own company?
Malek Noueiry: I branched off and created my own brand so I could not work for other people and be able to control variables. I wanted quality control to be something I had complete control over, to do something that I was proud of — work that was more fulfilling for me, work that was based off of quality and passion and not income or profit.
MV: Is there a guiding philosophy behind the company and the brand? What sets you apart and how do you as a company try to tell that story?
Katherine Wolf: Our guiding philosophy is our motto, “Flavor First,” because everything we do truly starts and ends with flavor. Our grow team chooses phenotypes based on taste and our flower is grown in small batches, then slow cured, hand-trimmed and packaged to order. I think this attention to detail and focus on taste and quality over yield is really what sets us apart.
I try to tell that story through education and transparency, giving detailed flavor profiles on our exclusive strains, showcasing our passionate team members and providing that behind-the-scenes look into our unique process. Taking people along on this journey really makes them feel a deeper connection to our brand and know the story behind what they’re smoking.
MV: Much of the company’s focus is on its in-house genetics and breeding. What do you look for in a phenotype and how important it is to have and maintain unique genetics in the modern industry?
Noueiry: I’m looking for an original flavor that is new to our menu. It’s very important to have and maintain unique genetics because just like in any other industry, people want variety. Even though they’re down to have a staple, say Pepsi or Coke, those companies are continuously innovating, whether it’s putting out new flavors of soda or entirely new products.
It’s almost like Baskin-Robbins where, yeah, people like chocolate and vanilla, but they also want the Superman and Rainbow Sprinkle Crunch and all the other more unique flavor profiles. I think it’s just as important in cannabis to be able to evolve with the market and give people fresh flavors and products.
Wolf: From a marketing perspective, the cannabis market is so saturated and competitive that brands need a way to stay fresh, and I think having unique genetics is a key part of that. There’s always the hunt for that next exciting thing, so you have to release different strains and bring new products to market to keep people interested.
Having an exclusive lineup of genetics and in-house crosses has really helped us stand out and gives customers a more memorable experience with our brand. No matter where you are, you can walk into most dispensaries and find a Blue Dream or a Jack Herer, whereas Panda Puffs is an in-house cross that was bred by Malek and exclusive to us in Colorado. You can’t find these genetics anywhere — and that’s what makes people seek them out.
MV: I specifically want to ask about the “Quarantine Kush.” What’s the story there?
Noueiry: Quarantine Kush is a cross of Sour Kush and Chem 4 that I made in collaboration with Breckenridge Organic Therapy and The Cali Connection. We launched it in 2020 right after quarantine had ended.
When we create a new strain, we sit around and smoke it as a collective and come up with name ideas. Then we cross reference them to make sure they’re not already taken and as long as we all like it and think it’s a good name, we go with it. So that’s essentially what was going on with the Quarantine Kush; we launched a new strain shortly after quarantining and took a marketing approach of naming it after something that was happening in our lives.
MV: Your branding has a unique look and color scheme to it. What’s behind that design and how has that helped sell your products?
Wolf: We felt like cannabis brands were all starting to look the same with a lot of green and black color schemes. We wanted to be different and do something nobody else was doing — something brighter, something not so obvious — that would stand out on crowded dispensary shelves and be memorable to the consumer. We landed on the pink and the “pink pack” has really been our signature ever since.
I love the way the accent matte black and teal shades pop against the pink, and it reminds me of the retro Miami Vice color palette which really sets us apart in Colorado where a lot of brands are leaning into the mountain theme. We get a lot of feedback from dispensary partners that shoppers come in and may not know exactly who we are, but have seen the pink on Instagram or our pink table at an event and are like, “I want the pink brand.”
MV: Tell me about the NFT collection and how you got involved with that and what benefits they bring to customers.
Wolf: We’re the first Colorado cannabis brand to use a no-gas, NFT-based rewards and loyalty system and it’s been really exciting piloting this technology. We have our own branded Malek’s Wallet and you just come out to one of our events, log in and scan that event’s unique QR code. Then the limited-edition NFT with that event’s unique design is added to your wallet and minted with your token number. I like to think of them almost like collectable digital baseball cards.
Now that we’ve built this community, we’re taking it a step further, doing giveaways and hosting invite-only gatherings exclusively for our NFT holders. This gives us an opportunity to engage with our customers in a completely new way, bridging the gap between traditional marketing in the digital space and experiential marketing in the physical space.
MV: What does the future hold for Malek’s?
Noueiry: We hope to continue to grow in Colorado and produce better quality products and flower, solidifying our position as a premier brand in Colorado. We want to scale up to produce more, launching more SKUs and products over the next few years, from different types of joints to solventless concentrates and new flavors of flower.
I think the future includes doing more live events, potentially getting a lounge and our own dispensary. I would really love to have a dispensary and lounge combination spot. Then eventually moving out of this market and expanding into others across the country and hopefully one day across the world.
Wolf: Our focus is just on continuing to innovate and crush the Colorado market. We have some new genetics and collaborations coming out, and working with artists and other local brands is something I want to do more of in the future. I agree with Malek that opening a consumption lounge and dispensary is really the long-term dream. Having a multi-use space where our team, partners and customers could all come together to get and enjoy our products would be awesome. And it’ll definitely be a pink building!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.