Building Brand Integrity and Sustainable Cannabis Products with Alex Boone (Botani)

Episode Description

Some of the best business ideas come when we take the time to reflect on innovative ways to think outside the box. The best place to reflect is sitting on a beach in Florida, with a cold drink in your hand, watching the ocean waves.  That's exactly where Alex Boone was inspired to start Botani, a premium hemp paper company for cannabis products.

From there, the idea developed and Alex has now created a company that works with cannabis producers to create premium cannabis products that are sustainable and consistent every time. Botani provides all natural hemp rolling papers and booklets, and they have invested in new equipment to reduce energy and water consumption.

We also discuss brand integrity and how brands should ensure that products that are labeled as natural are actually natural.

Alex Boone is managing director of Botani, maker of premium botanical and hemp paper products for cannabis use. Botani, is an offshoot of the SWM Group of Mativ Inc. (formerly SWM international), where Alex is also VP/GM alternative markets.

With nearly 20 years of experience within SWM, Alex has led sales, marketing and product development teams for North American and international markets. In 2018, Alex was a part of SWM's entrance into the cannabis and hemp markets. Alex received his bachelor of arts in management from Gettysburg College.

Find out more about Botani at:

#BusinessIdeas #Innovation #ThinkOutsideTheBox #Reflect #FloridaBeach #AlexBoone #Botani #PremiumHempPaper #CannabisProducts #Sustainable #NaturalHemp #BrandIntegrity #NaturalProducts

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Episode Transcript

Tom Mulhern: Welcome back to the show. I am your host, Tom Mulhern, and today I have another interview from my time at MjBizCon Man. When I was there back in November, it felt like a whirlwind. And now listening back to these recordings, I see why. It felt so invigorating being able to talk to so many industry leaders, but I was also exhausted from my time there.

But one conversation that I really, really enjoy. Is my conversation with Alex Boone. Alex Boone is the managing director at Botani Paper Products, which they are a sustainable company working to make hemp rolling papers and, and other products using reclaimed materials, using sustainable methods to help in their paper making process.

And we dive into what it kind of takes to run a business in this industry. They built a company out of a 400 year heritage of tobacco into stepping into a brand new industry like cannabis and sort of the crossovers between the two industries and had a great time.

And he even brought some samples, which was really cool to see firsthand in a tactile way, the products that they're building at Baton. So enjoy this podcast, this interview from MJ Biz Con with Alex Boone.

Tom Mulhern: Alex Boone is managing director at Botani, maker of premium botanical and hemp paper products for cannabis use. Botani is an offshoot of the SWM group of Mativ Incorporated, formerly SWM International, where Alex is also General Manager of alternative markets.

With nearly 20 years of experience with SWM, Alex has led sales, marketing and product development teams for North American and international markets. In 2018, Alex was a part of SWM's entrance into the cannabis and hemp markets. Alex received his Bachelor of Arts in Management from Gettysburg College.

Alex, welcome to the Kaya Cast podcast.

Alex Boone: Thanks, Tom. Appreciate it. Yeah.

Tom Mulhern: Alex, tell me a bit about your background. You know, your background with SWM, but then how did you end up here with us cannabis people.

Alex Boone: Yeah, I think you named it. Well, I'm a sales and marketing professional. Yeah. When I came in 2001 to Swm, that's what I did. Sales and marketing. So I've helped him grow into my career over time and selling primarily to the tobacco industry. Moved up management , product marketing business management, product management.

And running teams for international teams, for sales of tobacco products. And the cannabis idea came to me way back in 2014 as a good story cuz you'll like this. Okay. I was sitting on the beach Nice. In Florida. All everybody likes doing, sipping a nice drink. The family next to us that was there, the whole week.

Their nephew just graduated from School of Agriculture at Auburn University. He was going to work for a pot farm in Colorado and I said, very interesting. What do you do with your waste? And he says, what do you mean? I said, the product that you're going to extract, what do you do with it?

I can use it to make paper. And boom, the idea came up right then and there at the beach that maybe we could do something with that in the future. As a public company though, couldn't mess with it at that point. So wind the clock to the Farm Bill pitched the same idea In the fall of 2018, I came to my first MJ BizCon and went, oh wow, there's some opportunity here.

Came back, went to our lawyers, said, Hey, I have an idea. Can we do it? Yeah. Alex, go do it. Yeah. So that's how we felt we needed to get involved in cannabis. So that's how I got involved in it.

Tom Mulhern: It's funny, you're the second marketing person that. I got an idea and I went to the lawyers. That's .

Alex Boone: That's the first, you know, you gotta make sure you're legal, right? That's right.

Tom Mulhern: Out of curiosity, going back to the tobacco, is tobacco, as for sales and marketing, is it as like regulated as cannabis is for marketing. Like you can't do very much with your marketing Yeah. In cannabis.

Alex Boone: Sure, for sure. Tobacco over the years have become very highly regulated. Yeah. In fact, there's a lot of things you can do, but there's more things you can't do.

Okay. Within the industry. So there's a lot of restrictions, mainly on the brand owners, you know, for us as a paper manufacturer provider for the industry, we do what we can, but we're very used to legislation and regulation. We understand how it works. Yeah. And so knowing that and knowing that eventually this could happen to the cannabis industry, we've got a good handle on what needs to be done for our brand owners so that we can also be compliant with their needs.

Tom Mulhern: So it's still as regulated, even though it's been around for however many hundreds of years. Absolutely.

Alex Boone: Very restrictive. A lot of things you can't do. You can't add flavors to things. Certain things like that. So yeah, advertising, forget about it.

Tom Mulhern: Well, that's interesting cuz I think a lot of people, as they think about like legalization, they're like, oh, and then we'll be able to do anything.

But that's not necessarily the case. Even if cannabis gets legalized and decriminalized and descheduled and all of that, there's still gonna. Regulations in place for some of that.

Alex Boone: That's exactly right. Yeah. And those that know how to work in it and know how to deal with it are the ones that are gonna win.

It's gonna happen. You can't cut corners. It's gotta be done. You gotta be prepared to be able to do that. And I think what we bring to the table is that we know how to do that in scale.

Tom Mulhern: Botani is 400 years old, right? Talk me through around there, talk me through the history of this company that's been.

Alex Boone: The corporation in which we work from has heritage dating over 400 years. Oh, okay. We've been in paper making for 400 years and we, reason we wanted to start this brand was cuz we felt we needed this grassroots industry.

Needed a voice. And needed a common voice, not the tobacco view. It needed a cannabis view. But needed to leverage the history, the legacy, and the innovations that we've done, the know-how Yeah. And bring it to this new grassroots industry. That's why we decided to brand Botani as part of SWM International.

Tom Mulhern: Was it difficult to, you know, with a, with an corporation that's been around for that long to kind of launch this new brand? Or was it when you went to the lawyers, were they. Let's do it. We believe

Alex Boone: in, I think, I think there's probably con confusion. We were a very finite industry being tobacco. So we're very product oriented.

Well, this is market oriented, a market brand. It's a market segment brand that pulls from all of our different departments and knowhow to bring products to cannabis. Not a specific product that's, but all of our knowhow coming, so there's a lot of difference. So there's some teaching and to knowhow to legacy companies. It hasn't been an easy road. But it's been a great learning and people are very, sorry for the pun. Intended high on the fact that we people have really resonated the brand. Yeah. It's really caught on very well with the company.

Tom Mulhern: Well, with a such a successful company why even enter into the cannabis industry?

Like, I mean, obviously you had that great idea of like repurposing, and I want to dive into that more, but like Sure. Why not stay in one lane and, you know, it's been good for 400 years. Like why enter in with all these crazy cannabis people?

Alex Boone: Well, I think the reason we've been around so long is we, because we can reinvent ourselves.

And we can move to other adjacencies. But I would call this more in our vertical. We're, We're right in our lane. Yeah. Because we've been in tobacco for a long time. It's com. Combustion or heated products. This is the same thing. It's combustion, heated, vapes, oral, whatever. We're in that lane. So essentially we're just moving over a little bit and bringing the same know-how that we've done for many years been successful and bringing here, and there's no secret tobacco's declining.

We need to grow. If we want to be viable for the future, we believe this is a future. Yeah. And we'll have a good future. So we're bringing that to a company. Value for our employees. Value for our shareholders.

Tom Mulhern: And what makes Botani unique in other, there's probably a lot of different rolling paper companies and stuff.

What kind of makes you guys stand out?

Alex Boone: Botani centers around some of our processes that are certainly unique and those processes being. Unique reconstitution process of botanicals.

So we have the ability to take a natural botanical and turn it into a very homogeneous product in product for consumers that tastes great.

What we're focusing on the paper side for wraps and for papers, for booklets. No one in North America has that capability. That's outside of the tobacco industry. So we bring a process that's unique that we invented way back in the fifties, and we've turned it into something that's useful for the cannabis end user something that highly compliments because it's made out of your base product. It's not made outta wood. It's made out of hemp botanicals.

Tom Mulhern: Well, and it's not made out of tobacco leaves either, which, it's not made, which a lot of cannabis smokers don't want tobacco's. Exactly. Right. And so it's made to work with cannabis.

Alex Boone: That's exactly right. Yeah. And the fact that tobacco is so regulated, especially in the United States, Brands can introduce new tobacco products now without FDA oversight. Very long and arduous process. Now we have a product that will allow users to be able to use accessories that are non-tobacco without current direct oversight.

Now we wholly expect that there will be at some point in time, but right now it gives some freedom to some of the brand owners to diversify and bring something new to the market.

Tom Mulhern: How did that kind of, that go to market strategy work?

Alex Boone: You know, from a go to market, you know, a lot of it, because it was so new for our corporation and even new for me, I've been in legacy businesses throughout my career, so I've always had the crutch up.

Someone's always done it before me. And a lot of people have that right now. You're also creating it from, from scratch in an industry that's new. It's the wild west. Supply chains aren't easy, they're not mature. You know, regulations aren't there. People are still navigating those and there's so many different brands out there.

It's hard to have those brands differentiate. So we hope that we're bringing something that can differentiate. So when going to market from our strategy is we want to bring something that's different. What is different about ours? Our product is natural. . So our go to market is botanicals that are natural and something that you can rely on and attest to your consumer, a brand owner's, consumer, that indeed you have something that's natural. There's not a additives in there that's gonna make it non, yeah, not that way. And the smoke is incredible.

So this, that's the story we want to bring and our strategy of doing that, but bringing that with the cannabinoid mindset. Dedicated team. Dedicated brand.

That's listening to the cannabinoid, not indirectly through our tobacco hat

Tom Mulhern: What sort of mindset from your tobacco past did you bring into your new cannabis focused brand? Like, was there a certain certain aspects of the business that kind of helped you? Because I mean, if someone was starting out fresh, they had this idea.

Yeah. They didn't have that legacy of 400 years of tobacco processing and paper. What were some of the positive things that you brought in to this, to launching this brand?

Alex Boone: So again, a lot of the products are the same as tobacco. you have these new people that are coming in with not a lot of knowledge.

We bring a lot of knowledge to the table. We work not only just selling products to converters that will help brand owners, but we're bringing on how to design. Here's what will work. This will work in this aspect, this will work in that aspect. We also, not only making wraps, but we're also making what we call fillers and fillers that can be used to make hemp sticks.

So instead of using raw hemp, we now have a homogeneous product that we know you can control, a dose flavor, you could potentially dose it with CBD and or THC in exact dosing as. And create a hemp consumable like a cigarette that's definitely can be regulated and controlled. That's one of the things that a hemp flower or even a marijuana flower doesn't bring you.

You can't control that crop. I can now control and create a consistent experience each and every time, so that background. That knowledge that we have, we're bringing those ideas to the brand owners who can then in turn design products around it easily. And consistently.

Tom Mulhern: And that consistency is so key because when someone's, buying cannabis now, they expect, you know that you can look on the label and see what you're buying.

Like That's right. Back in the day, you couldn't do that. You're getting it. You know, the dude on the corner. The dude on the corner, you weren't sure what it was. And so you guys have kind of been able to create something that is so consistent, so good. That's right.

Alex Boone: And so look, we're not here, when I talk about our filler, we're not here necessarily say, to replace flower because flower is is the way to go.

But if you're talking about scale, and if you have a company that wants to say non-tobacco, non-nicotine smoke, who wants to scale? I want the same pack when I buy it in Nevada versus when I buy it in Colorado, I want it to be the same. Yeah. Well you can't get that with marijuana today because number one, you can't go cross state lines number one, but two, if you did it consistent dose each time with a consistent base, you can do it.

Yeah, and that's what our point is. This is the kind of knowledge that we can bring to the table in our developments, in our science knowhow.

Tom Mulhern: What's the difference between your filler and like a pre-roll? Is it the same?

Alex Boone: So filler is intended to replace or compliment or mix with flower.

So let me give you an example. Let's just say, and this is a what if, this is an idea. So all you dispensary guys out there, get your pens out who have an idea. Let's say I sell a pre-roll. It's a hundred percent flower. I got a guy who doesn't wanna smoke the whole thing. It's too expensive to have a hundred percent flower pre-roll, or it's too potent.

I can't smoke the whole thing. Boom. Take our filler. That doesn't have anything in it. Mix it consistently with your flower. Create a value product. Oh, by the way, if you want to flavor that, you can flavor it consistently. Now you have a value stick. Maybe it's half and half.

Maybe it's three quarters in one quarter, you can create a different price point at your dispensary by using our flower. Now, I'm not saying I'm gonna do that directly for an for a dispensary, but there's guys who can do that. The TURPs guys, the whoever guys. The flavor guys know how to do that. They can help you blend, help you do things that can bring different products to your consumer.

So it's just an idea. Yeah. It's not put out there. I'm putting it out.

Tom Mulhern: I went to your website and you have this video. It's like ASMR, like it's so there's like snow in this like, small New York town. What are you guys kind of doing in that local community to kind of help develop that community? Because it's a small town where this Yeah. You know, this mill has been there for, it's

Alex Boone: been very, it's a pre-revolutionary mill.


Tom Mulhern: It's been there for hundreds of years.

Alex Boone: Hundreds of years. And so, you know, it's, it was an iron forgery of those who haven't seen the uh, the website. Go to see it. The video's pretty cool. It was iron forgery, did the chain across the Hudson to keep the British warships from sailing up the Hudson.

It's a crazy history that this thing has but now has been making papers since the middle 18 hundreds, so you know, really the town that is a big income producer for the town. So the viability of that mill for that area is just paramount for, our business. It's a location that resonates with our customers.

It is a very highly profitable mill for us over the years. It's contributed to our shareholder value from our shareholders and our employees for many years because it's produced quality products. That our customers have trusted tobacco guys, other guys. Now we want our cannabis guys to trust it.

And there's generations that have been at that factory. Want to keep that going. And that's what that means for the town. Does everybody live in the town?

No, but there's a lot of people who do. And it's very important for the for that area.

Tom Mulhern: That mill is keeping that town sustained. And so that's exactly right. There's so many stories of, mill closes down, the town goes out.

So keeping those running it's, well, that's exactly right. It's keeping a heritage.

Alex Boone: And so for, from a cannabis perspective, this is the next growth area. The next growth area for that factory. That's where the passion comes. You want to keep that thing sustained for years and years to come.

Tom Mulhern: Speaking of sustainability, how important is sustainability and conservation? You talked about reusing different parts of the plant. Yeah. Like how important is that in your processing of making the paper?

Alex Boone: Yeah, absolutely. So our products out of that mill in New York have always been very biodiverse.

So they're all been very plant-based. So we've believed in the sustainability life cycle of a plant for. You know, not going to wood as an example, because it's a seven year process to go it from tree to pulp and then back into the process again. We're talking about annual crop type products.

Very important to us. I'll take it a step further though. We have a lot of European footprint factories as well, and energy consumption. As well as water consumption are very big factors Yeah. In paper making. And so we have this new, I'd say mantra, what we call thin pact, which is thin pact PACT for making thin papers.

And we have a pact that we will help reduce energy consumption as well as water consumption over a period of time and still make the same quality products that we've done. We're doing investments toward. Whether it be for new equipment that allows us to do that, whether we work for alternative fuels such as solar and or bio using biomass boilers to get our heat and our energy for our our paper mills.

Those are the things that we're looking at doing in investment. So it's become a mantra of the corporation. What can we do? Anything that we do going forward has a sustainable mindset. We are gonna reduce the use of natural resources in order to produce the same quality products that we've been doing for years.

Yeah, that's the goal.

Tom Mulhern: I noticed that you partnered with local farmers for some of that reusing product. How is that sus that sustainability? And revenue generation with farmers. How do you build that?

Alex Boone: It doesn't matter where they're, whether local, whether it's Oregon or Colorado, where it is. We've seen over the past two years the price of CBD oil and isolates drop. So what does that do? All that heavy investment that was done early on for those extractors, it's very difficult for them to sustain their businesses.

So what we're doing is we're creating another revenue stream. Instead of them throwing this away or paying them to get rid of their product, we're paying them to take it so they can create another revenue stream so they can continue their good manufacturing practices. Sustainable farming organically. That's what we look for. We want our farmers to do.

That's how I think that we're creating I'm gonna continue to do that. That's why I want everybody to buy this paper so I can continue creating income streams for the farmers. Yeah, that's right.

Tom Mulhern: Well, there you go.

And that really is, I mean, that's the compelling business story is when what you're doing is supporting more than just the pocket books of the ceo. Like what you guys are doing is helping with sustainability and re reducing waste and energy use. It's also creating, you know, future revenue streams for these farmers.

Like I think it's really important to invest in companies like Yeah. What you guys are doing. Exactly. It's encouraging to hear that that is core to who you guys are.

What is, as a business person, a marketing person, what's one tip that you would have for a cannabis retailer? Out there to help them grow their business.

Tom Mulhern: What would you say, this is one little nugget of how to grow your business,

Alex Boone: Put your money where your mouth is literally. I mean, if you're going to, if you're going to have the list of the most natural products and this and that. Make sure the brands that you have in there are.

Make sure that they are, and tell your, tell the brand owners, I want products that are natural. If you're gonna say your product's natural, make sure that it is.

Brand integrity is huge, you don't want to come out and say something then, and not be, and someone find out the brand. It takes too long. You spend too much money at building your brand. Why have one little thing mess you up along the way? Spend a little bit extra if you have to make that product true.

Tom Mulhern: Consumers aren't dumb anymore. We want companies that are investing in the future. I think what you guys are doing is awesome. How would someone connect with what you guys are doing or, you know, start getting your natural rolling papers?

Alex Boone: Look, I have no problem for people to reach out to us. One of the things that's made us successful in a very competitive market is to stay true to our brand owners and be loyal to them by not revealing who we work with. So we need to stick by that. Yeah. That's how we've been successful in a very com How are we successful in tobacco when there's four or five players?

We don't talk about it. Okay. So we don't talk about what we do. We want to talk, tell the story to start asking for it. So if a brand wants to call us or dispensery wants to call us, we'll hook you up to the right direction.

Tom Mulhern: Alex, thank you so much for being on this show. It's been awesome for sharing, bringing some of your papers so we could see what you guys do.

So thanks again for being on the show. Yeah, thanks a lot, Tom.

Tom Mulhern: Well, everybody loves show and tell and I'm no different. And it was really cool to be able to hold the products and see in a tangible way what they're building.

And I was really, I was really struck by this company that's been around for 400 years, building on this heritage that they are so dedicated to sustainable efforts reclaiming products, creating new streams of revenues for C B D farmers, for hemp farmers. and really trying to create a product that's sustainable, but also is based on the root plant of cannabis.

And you know, I would encourage you if you're a dispensary owner, to look into bringing Botani rolling papers into your dispensary because, I mean, why would you use anything other than the plant for, uh, a premium joint? Thanks again, Alex and the crew over at Botani and head over to their website. We have all the links in their bio, but really check out the video.

The story of their company is so interesting, and like I said, it feels like a calming winter scene, which is perfect for right now. I also want to thank you for listening to the Kaya Cast podcast for tuning in for subscribing. Um, we've got some really, really great episodes coming up and you won't want to miss a single one.

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