First crafted in a Colorado kitchen more than a decade ago, the Wana Brands infused gummy has grown to one of the best-known products in the cannabis industry, available in 15 states and Canada, making it among, if not the largest edibles companies in North America.
“The gummy just kind of rose to the top as the real star,” says chief marketing officer Joe Hodas. “They’re really the most efficient and effective delivery mechanism for cannabinoids that we can find.”
But over the past four years in particular, as the company has grown in to more and more state markets, it has faced more and more regulations, highlighting one of the difficulties in becoming a national edibles brand in a still-federally illegal industry.
In fact, this spring, Wana Brands has redesigned and is relaunching its packaging to not only refresh the brand, but maintain a consistent look across various states, instead of what Hodas says was a variety of packaging, all specific to their state markets and rules.
“As more and more states come online, that brand consistency becomes more and more important,” he says. “It’s really difficult to have a consistent brand look and feel and message across every single market.”
Wana Brands launched in Colorado in 2010 and Hodas says the company grew slowly at first, perfecting its formulas and building out a Colorado following before beginning to expand to other states in 2016, first with Nevada and then into Oregon.
“In 2010, Wana was really just a kitchen here in Colorado and had all kinds of different products initially from experiments with some beef jerky to hot chocolate, to different chocolate products,” he says.
Wana fine-tuned its formulas, including the use of organic sweeteners and pectin to create a vegan product, as well as the reintroduction of special terpene blends to help enhance the products’ effects. The company’s gummy became a customer favorite and Wana focused on the product, building its brand and presence, but always keeping an eye on what else customers wanted,
“As more and more companies come into the space, and as markets become more price compressed, we’ve managed to maintain our premium position because we’ve continued to innovate,” Hodas says, noting the fast-acting, full-spectrum and minor cannabinoid formulations to go with its classic distillate gummy.
Hodas says Wana was strategic in its growth, trying to move into markets early — including medical markets — and develop a foothold by presenting a fully established product while local companies were still working to perfect their formulas.
“That was an intentional strategy in terms of planting flags in a lot of these states that maybe didn’t look so sexy on the surface,” Hodas says, noting that those states have become great markets, despite maybe not being as appealing at first to other brands with a national vision. “Everyone’s going to California. We were like, OK, what about Ohio? What about Missouri?”
But in the cannabis industry, growth never comes easy and each new market presents its own set of challenges.
Because each state makes its own rules and regulations regarding how cannabis is processed, packaged and sold, companies like Wana Brands must adapt their procedures and marketing to an ever-widening range of regulator whims.
According to Hodas, the disparity of regulations resulted in “five or six packaging schemes” for the company. Hodas says that for a company featuring fruit-flavored products, it would be logical to have fruit on the packaging, however, while that worked in some states, it would not fly in others.
“But of course, this is cannabis, so logic may not apply and many states have said, ‘well, we don’t want fruit on the packaging (because) fruit can be attractive to children,’” he says.
So the company’s refreshed packaging does away with the large pictures of fruit, relying instead on the now-known Wana brand name and color schemes to suggest flavor. But even that won’t be allowed in all of the company’s markets. Florida, for example, only allows black and white packaging with one logo and no additional information, something other states are also considering. Florida also requires an inside wrapper on edibles, meaning an additional step in the process. And in Canada, the packaging has to be monotone. It can be any one color and logo.
Some states, in fact, don’t even allow use of the word “gummy.” In New Jersey, Maryland and, yes, Florida, the product must be called “chews.”
“So it’s not going to solve all of our problems, but it certainly allowed us to have greater consistency across the majority of our markets,” Hodas says of the new packaging.
Packaging design is not the only concern for a multi-state edibles brand. Some states require changes to the product itself.
While Wana uses geometric shapes for it gummies, preventing it from running afoul of state laws against appealing to children, Florida law also outlaws the use of color in the product, forcing companies to produce clear gummies.
“Each state has decided to regulate non-THC ingredients differently, everything from minor cannabinoids and terpenes to other [Generally Regarded As Safe] ingredients,” he says, noting that some states, for example do not allow melatonin, which is part of Wana’s “Fast Asleep” product in states that allow it. “So we have to make sure that our formulations fit on a market by market basis.”
Different markets also have different rules regarding the amount of THC allowed in any particular edible. Hodas says Wana works hard to ensure the dosing is right for every individual market, whether it is a 50-milligram THC product for a medical market or a 5-milligram candy for a recreational customer.
“We can customize on a per market basis,” he says.
Adding another wrinkle is the company’s Canadian business. Canada allows only 10 milligrams of THC per package and edibles have to be sold in a monotone, heat-sealed flat pack.
But for the team at Wana Brands, it’s all just part of becoming a national — and international — leader and major player in the infused edibles side of the cannabis business.
“We are hopeful for a day where we have consistency across states, because there’s so many great products that we can bring to consumers in states that currently don’t allow all those products,” Hodas says.