If there were a secret ingredient that made Kiva Confections one of the most successful edibles brands in the U.S., it might just be “desperation and opportunity,” co-founder and head of business development Kristi Palmer says with a laugh.
When Palmer and her husband Scott founded Kiva in 2010, during California’s medical market days, they were both a few years out of photography school and were growing in a small, backyard cultivation shed and looking for what might be next.
“We were trying to make ends meet,” Palmer says of those days. “We were starving artists.”
But the Palmers saw their opportunity: a chance to reinvent cannabis edibles in the Bay Area market and deliver a more consistent, professional — and professionally packaged product — than consumers were used to at the time. Edibles then were improperly labeled, if they even had a label at all.
“You really didn’t know what you were getting in terms of cannabis content,” Palmer says.
Kiva set out to change that.
“What we founded the company on was consistency. That was huge. What an advantage that put us at in the timing prior to regulation,” she says. “Consistency still sets us apart today.”
Today, Kiva Confections are available in seven states, and the company employs more than 360 people, a far cry from that Bay Area kitchen where it began more than a decade ago.
Palmer says the company was a “labor of love” when they started and they spent 2009 doing product development, branding and developing the company’s vision and operating principles, which include professionalism and information-forward packaging, as well as delicious flavors and focus on “natural, healthy, high-quality ingredients.”
“We’re very passionate about food and quality,” Palmer says, “and our consumer is definitely passionate about that as well.”
And though neither she nor her husband are chefs, she likes to say they are consumers and therefore are very close to the product in that regard. Palmer says Kiva relies on its employees, whom she was quick to cite as key to their success, particularly the innovation team and the research and development team that help keep the company on the cutting edge of consumer preferences and flavors.
She cites as an example the company’s Lost Farm brand, which packages strain-specific live-resin extractions with fruit flavors to create a full-spectrum edible product. She says the focus on innovation also led the company from its initial chocolate-based offerings into the gummy category, which is a major driver of sales in the cannabis industry, despite being a much smaller sector of the traditional candy market.
Palmer says the Kiva team is still hard at work, with plans to not only explore new markets through manufacturing partnerships, but to find new products, such as those highlighting minor cannabinoids, and new product forms, like the fruit chews it most recently launched.
“We started in 2010 with a mission to make a better edible experience for consumers,” she says. “And our mission hasn’t changed a whole lot.”