Taking a Bite Out of the Edibles Market with Kelly Flores (Wana Brands)

Episode Description

On this episode of the Kaya Cast Podcast, Tom Mulhern interviews Kelly Flores, the Chief Operating Officer of Wana Brands. Kelly brings her expertise in consumer goods and cannabis industry knowledge to the table to discuss the future of edibles and how brands can survive.

Tune in to hear Tom and Kelly's conversation about how the cannabis industry is rapidly expanding and how smaller brands can take a bit out of the ever growing Cannabis Industry.  

Find out more about Wana Brands at:

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Episode Transcript

Kelly Flores: I think our consumers are incredibly knowledgeable and they're asking for more sophisticated products. I also think that cannabis is not just hitting the heady consumer any longer. In cannabis , if you take your eye off the ball for even for a month you could completely lose a pulse on what's going on in the industry.

Tom Mulhern: Welcome back to the Kaya Cast podcast. I'm your host, Tom Mulhern. Today on the show, I have an interview that I did at MjBizCon with Kelly Flores.

Kelly Flores is the Chief Operating Officer at Wana Brands, and if you are into edibles, into gummies, into those sort of things, you are probably familiar with Wana. They are the leading edible company in North America.

I had a great conversation with Kelly. She comes from a long history of working in consumer goods, from working with Nestle to working with Monster Energy Drinks, and she brought all of that expertise into her role that she's doing now at Wana Brands.

She really dives into kind of the future of what she sees in the cannabis industry, in the consumable goods in the cannabis industry, and kind of how brands can survive. Oncoming onslaught of these huge companies that are gonna eventually enter the market. so we have a great conversation. Stick around for the podcast and we're gonna jump right into the show.

Tom Mulhern: In the role of Chief Operating Officer Kelly Flores's vision and experience guides, Wana strategy and organization for all business processes. As the company continues its expansion into new markets, as well as innovating an ever-growing list of new product.

Her role includes the management of all of Wana's business functions across all markets, identifying and implementing day-to-day operational improvements, and working with other senior leaders to set and meet the overall business objectives of Wana brands. In addition, as a key member of the leadership team, Flores's guidance creates opportunities as the company expands both nationally and internationally.

Her cannabis industry experience combined with her consumer packaged goods history provides experience necessary to manage the logistical challenges of a multi-state and international brand presence. Wow. That's a lot. Kelly, welcome

Kelly Flores: to the Thank you so much podcast. Thank you so much. I'm wonderful to be here.


Tom Mulhern: it's so, it's so great. And where are you originally from?

Kelly Flores: I'm originally from California. So I grew up in Ranch Cucamonga. Moved to Pennsylvania for a little while. Came back to California, bought a house. Summer in 2021. a few months later got a call from Wana, so was barely moved in and then moved house again.

And so now I'm actually, I'm residing in Boulder, Colorado.

Tom Mulhern: It's, It's great to have you tell me a bit about your background.

I know you have a long background in CPG and mm-hmm. , how did you end up in cannabis?

Kelly Flores: So, I started off my career at Nestle Waters and I was there for about 10 years. And I think just like any traditional CPG Swiss company, you become very good at process. You become excellent at your function and your.

But what one of the things that I was, what I felt like I needed more of was breadth of knowledge. So I ended up moving over to Monster Energy, where at Monster Energy, it was a graceful transition into, into cannabis coming from Monster because it was such a fast paced environment, high growth international markets and really because you were growing so fast, you just wear multiple hats.

And so it's really where I got the breadth of my exposure to different types of disciplines. And then, you know, I'm about six years into working for Monster, which was again, a fantastic experience. I was sort of having this internal dialogue with myself of do I Wana go into business for myself? What's next?

Do I want to, you know, really health and wellness resonated with me. And so I thought, I don't know what that is, but I Wana do something in the health and wellness. And I ended up getting a phone call from a company by the name of dosist, which was an LA based vape brand, which was essentially, essentially their motto was helping people manage their health and happiness.

Okay. Naturally. And so I thought this is, this is perfect between cannabis. Fantastic. Trying to figure out how to bring regulated. To all of the different markets. Love it. Yeah. And you know, and then trying to figure out kind of how, how does my CPG experience layer into it? So it was, as soon as I got the phone call, I thought, you know what this is, this is exactly, this is exactly me.

So I started working in the vape business in California. Met some wonderful people. It's a battleground state. And then about three and a half years into it, I got a call from Nancy. So right after the canopy transaction, she gave me a call, said they were looking for a new COO and to work for somebody like Nancy.

And then work, you know, obviously Wana being one of the leading gummy brands in North America. It was just one of those positions you just couldn't pass up. Did your experience in, you know, Nestle and Monster? Like now my, if my son was listening to this, my teenager, they'd be like, what? She works at Monster. That's all they would care about. Yeah. But did that kind of shape what you've done in your role at Wana Brands?

Absolutely, I think the step progression in my career going from Nestle to Monster and then coming over into the cannabis industry has sort of gracefully allowed that transition where I think if it would've gone from. Nestle, where it's incredibly process driven. And then going into cannabis where it's feel, you know, it's scrappy, it's, you know, it's roll up your sleeves and get it done.

I think it would've, you know, it might've been much more of a culture shock. But working at Monster trying to figure out how to bring regular regulated products international. I think it allowed me to think a little bit more creatively and coming from an operations perspective, it's not very often that we get to be creative.

Moving from Monster and then over into cannabis, it's really been, I feel like anything goes as long as you're, as long as you're doing it legally, whatever idea you have, it's on the table. And so it's been a really fun experience for me. And I would also say the culture that the cannabis group sort of brings.

There's this, just this legacy embracement that comes with, especially being a female coming in, you know, you see all these cool cannabis ladies. Yeah. You know, they just really embrace all the other women that are coming in. So, so yeah, I think definitely it's allowed me to understand obviously the CPG process side that comes in, but understanding cannabis is not that.

Yeah. Right. I mean, you need to be scrappy. And if you try to force certain types of business process in an industry where that just doesn't, it's just we're not ready for some of those types of things and it's really not appropriate for certain aspects of it. I think it's allowed me to understand that just because that there's a, a process that may work for one industry.

It doesn't necessarily work in this one.

Tom Mulhern: It's such a unique industry that like, it does feel like a family. Like we're all working towards a single goal and so, yeah. What's one of the most surprising things that you found being in cannabis?

You know, coming out of a different world like that you were like, oh, that is not how I thought it would be at all.

Kelly Flores: Getting paid in cash. Yeah, yeah. I thought, okay, that's a little different. That was a little different. You know, I would say the, the speed at which cannabis moves mm-hmm. and both on the retail, on the branding, on the innovation.

I think our consumers are incredibly knowledgeable and they're asking for more sophisticated products. I also think that cannabis is not just hitting the heady consumer any longer. In cannabis , if you take your eye off the ball for even for a month you could completely lose a pulse on what's going on in the industry.

Tom Mulhern: That's so true. Talk to me a bit about what Wana does like, I mean, I'm sure most people are familiar the gummies, but what, what is Wana Brands and what, what are some of your like top things that people would recognize?

Kelly Flores: It's a brand that I think is trying to hit all different consumers at we don't have a target consumer. It doesn't even come up in our discussion. We really think cannabis should be accessible to everybody. Whether you're looking for a fun, heady experience or if you're looking for something to help you manage your sleep or whatever other need state that you have.

Maybe it's a non intoxicating product that just helps you. Ease into your day. I think one of the things that Wana does incredibly well is exactly that we innovate and we try to bring products to, to the market that can meet everybody's needs. And I don't know if everybody else I'm biased, does it as well as we do.

Tom Mulhern: And what does some of that innovation look like? Like I know you said there's all sorts of different product for different experiences and I've had the Wana the quick acting mm-hmm. , for sleep because that's what I usually use cannabis for, is for helping and. , it was such like a mellow, balanced experience.

I wasn't like, what am I getting with this? Like there's other edibles where you're like, what am I getting? So, what does innovation look like for Wana

Kelly Flores: It's a very good question because innovation for us comes in all different kinds of facets. Sometimes it's looking at flower strains backing into some terpene profiles. Sometimes it's a non intoxicating, we call it. We have an optimals line, which is specifically for use case. Okay. Situations. And you mentioned the quick, fastest sleep, which is my favorite product. Yeah. Outside of our live ROS and gummies our fastest sleep, and it's a low dose THC, but it does have the Asuca technology, which is, it really almost gives you more of a smoker's high rather than an edible high. But it hits you fast, allows you to fall asleep. And it does have a melatonin base in it. So we do try to use some other functional ingredients where, where appropriate. And then we just launched in Colorado a product called Stay Asleep.

So what we found is that we had consumers that were having a hard time falling asleep, and then we have another set of consumers that were having. They had no problem falling asleep. Yeah. But they couldn't stay asleep. That's me.

Tom Mulhern: Yeah. That's a hundred percent me. Yeah. I can fall. No problem. Maybe I'm a dad of teenagers and that makes me fall asleep, but I can't stay asleep.

So you guys have created something for consumers like myself.

Kelly Flores: It's kind of a, a bumped up version and it's also a melatonin free Okay. Alternative. So we do have some consumers that prefer that, but it's 10 milligrams of THC, 20 milligrams of CBD. It's got five milligrams of CBN and five milligrams of CBG.

I think from an innovation perspective, we're, we're sometimes trying to figure out where we think the industry is gonna go, because if there is something specific in a minor cannabinoid that we wanna do some research on, it does take us a little bit longer, obviously, to try to get some of that research done.

And then there's other times where you're just trying to keep up with the market. So what's happening and, and what is, what are the consumers want, what's hot right now? And so it's, it, our innovation group, I think is. They do an amazing job of all balancing strategic and kind of tactical. How do you, how do you meet the consumer's needs at this specific moment in time?

And then how do you continue to look into science and figure out what else we think we can do with the plant?

Tom Mulhern: What does that research look like? Do you have like a team, like an R&D team that is like, you almost need two, you need like the scientists and then like the marketing people that are doing that, like market research and seeing, is that how it kind of works?

Kelly Flores: We do have an, an innovation group that right now with, with Wana the way that our current structure is, we have a gentleman by the name of Mike Hennessy, who is our head of innovation, and he does an incredible job of balancing that, you know, the white lab coat, trying to really understand the science of what's going on. And then also trying to bring product and really make it a commercially viable product. And that's one of the things that I think Wana does well.

It's taking the science and then getting it into a product that's in the consumer's hands relatively quickly.

Tom Mulhern: Now looking at the edible market as a whole, like I feel like the edible market is exploding and for non flower smokers like myself, that's not how I want to consume. Why do you, why do you think it's growing?

Like, is it because of people like me that are like, like I usually do an oil and I, the reason I do that is convenience. So why do you think that the edible market is exploding the way it is?

Kelly Flores: Well, I think it's for what you just mentioned.

There's some people that like flower or like vapes, but it might not be something that, that they're able to access at all times. I think that gummies or edibles just sometimes are more accessible or a little bit more discreet. I also think that a gummy is, generally more measured so you know exactly.

You know, if it's 10 milligrams or it's five milligrams or whatever it is, you know exactly the effect that you're gonna receive. On a vape and it's something that you've never tried, you may not, you don't necessarily know how that's gonna impact you at that time. So, and that just depends on all kinds of things.

But I think that for, I think it's a couple of things. I think it's one, it's the delivery system for some of these other functional ingredients like melatonin or, you know, other things that people are, are adding to their, to supplement their, their effects. But I also think that you can be very custom in the terpene profiles that you choose.

You can be very specific on the, the dosage that you're looking for. thought.

And I think it's also for somebody that has never smoked before, it's a nice entry point because it's, it's less intimidating. We're all used to taking gummy vitamins, So I think it's, I think that there's a couple different reasons, but I think that it's, I think it's, it's a nice entry point for pretty much anybody.

Tom Mulhern: Like you said, it's that front door, that entry point for people that are kind of cannabis can, you know, curious and Wana find out about it. Yeah. What do you thinks gonna happen? Like when, I mean, down the road, when everything's legalized and Coca-Cola puts out, you know, infused beverages or mm-hmm.

There's infused Doritos or whatever, like as those big players come, Like, how is that gonna affect brands that are smaller, like in more niche in our industry? I mean, you guys are the, the largest, but that would, it's hard to compete against a Coca-Cola or something. Sure. How do you think that would, what would that look like?

Kelly Flores: I think there's a place for craft beer and then there's a, a space for, you know, your traditional, your traditional beers, right? Yeah. And so I think cannabis is gonna be the same. There's gonna be the consumers that. Their craft product. And then I think that there's gonna be ones that are looking for something a little bit more mainstream.

I think that it's gonna be a while until the larger Coca-Colas, enter into the market. And I think at this point you have groups like some of the other MSOs, you know, canopy obviously, that I, I think. Are here first, and I think we have first movers advantage.

So I think that, I think that brands will stick around. I think consumers know their brands. I think that there's a, a culture around the brands. I, I think it's gonna be a long time for until that happens.

One of the things that I love about this industry is there's so much craft to it.

I don't know if that can be done yet mass scale and still keep, I'm not, you know, I'll eat my words. I'm sure you're gonna call me back in 10 years and be like, remember, let's replay this . But I think it's gonna be a while until something like that happens.

And I think the brands that are, that are here now, they've just created some wonderful products.

Tom Mulhern: You guys can create such custom profiles for different use case scenarios, for different experiences. Where with Coke you're like, yeah, they have all these different flavors, but it's just Coke.

Like there's, there's one type of Coca-Cola. Coke Zero or whatever it is, it's the same. And you're gonna get that same where people are looking in their cannabis experience for something that's unique. Like a little bit more curated. A little more curated. So I think it, I, I agree with you. I think it is gonna be, sure they may eventually, years down the road enter that, but it'll be a long, a long ways.

And I think brands like, like what, what you guys have built are. Are gonna stand the test of time for sure.

Kelly Flores: I, I think so. I hope so. ,

Tom Mulhern: what, what do you kind of see as the future of these infused products and edibles and like you were here at MJ Bizcon, obviously there's so many different booths and growing and it looks like a robot, like there's like robots everywhere.

But what do you kind of see as that future of those products of edibles, like as we look down the road?

Kelly Flores: Well, you know, you mentioned robots and coming again from operations, I see, you know, Chrome and it's, you know, and you see all these automated pieces of equipment and you're just like, oh my gosh, people are now using robots to make gummies.

And you know, I remember the days of like packing them yourself. So, which wasn't that long ago. I, so I think obviously automation, you know, there's gonna be a lot more efficiencies in the supply chains. I think as time goes on, and that's just as every market we start to, you know, we start to see some of that start to level out as time goes on.

I think there's so much more science to be done that we're just, now we understand that the gummy is a wonderful delivery system and it's, there's so much more that can be . Done. And I don't, I don't know if you saw the news a few weeks ago, but Nancy Whiteman, so the CEO, co-founder of Wana Brands, after the Canopy transaction, she basically set aside majority of those funds.

God bless her. And created a foundation where she's now trying to fund science, the biggest donation that she's made thus far is a 3 million donation to John Hopkins.

Oh, wow. And it's for cannabis research it's through the Wana Brands Foundation. But I just, I'm really excited to see the amount of science that's able to come out of these studies that they're working on. And I think when I think of this, the, the future of the gummy, I, I think there's gonna be a lot more work that, you know, we're playing with strains and we're, you know, all these different kinds of things and.

More of the craft side, but there's also so much more functional work that can be done. And we've looked at things from intimacy. We've looked at things from anxiety. There's so many different things that gut health, I mean energy. Things that people are using other substances for. It's just a matter of time before gummies are accessing those consumers.

Tom Mulhern: Does Wana have any sort of educational resources for bud tenders or dispensaries to kind of know, okay, this is the product. because you, you are so tailored to different experiences and at the end of the day, you guys don't get the chance to, you know, actually get that in the hands of consumers.

So how are you teaching and training bud tenders to get the right product to the right people for the right experience?

Kelly Flores: Yeah, absolutely. The bud tenders are, I mean, they're gold Yeah. For the cannabis industry. And they're a wealth of knowledge. For us, all of our engagement with our bud tenders, we try to have that as a personal relationship so that we're hitting them with the information and being able to explain things quickly, succinctly, and because I mean they're how many consumers they have coming in and really have them make sure that they are able to have access to this information quickly.

Most of that we try to do in person just because of the bud tenders are just such a valuable asset to the, to the community.

A hundred percent.

Tom Mulhern: Are there ways that you guys are kind of giving back to the community and, you know, kind of sharing the goodness with the rest of you know, humanity? Like I know lots of companies, they support different organizations.

What's kind of the passion for Wana in that?

Kelly Flores: Nancy's passion has been around food security mental health, cannabis science. There's a lot of donations that she does through the foundation, and then there's a lot that goes directly through Wana Brands. There's a lot that we do kind of even in the community within our, in our Boulder, our little Boulder home.

Yeah. There's a lot of funds that go through and I, a lot of that stuff is just sort of stuff that we do. We don't really advertise it. But yeah, absolutely there's a lot that Wana does and those are really the three pillars that, that Nancy has st stood on and that she's passionate about.

Tom Mulhern: I think giving back to the community that you're in, like you guys are in Boulder, Colorado, and you know, investing in that community helps change that stigma, like that normalization of this plant that can really help, you know?

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I want to know what is Wana go-to-market strategy in new markets? You know, your, your job as the COO you're going into new markets. So what does that kind of look like and what are some of those new markets you guys are exploring?

Kelly Flores: Yeah, so New York is on the radar right now. And I think it's on the radar for everybody. We have a CRO by the name of Eric Block, who's our Chief Revenue Officer, and then we have a chief marketing officer. His name's Joe Hodis. And those two are the brains of the brand and how to get to the consumers and how do we bring the products to market.

And you know, Nancy has a saying that every market is a market and what works in one market does not always work in another market. And so we really try to understand, one, the regulatory footprint and then obviously all of the supply chain and you know, all of the constraints that come along with it, but what is it that the consumer's looking for?

And that's really where we try to start. And so when we look at product launches, what does the consumer want in that particular market?

What are some of your, your core things that you're focusing on in the year ahead?

Kelly Flores: We're still trying to get the, all of the products into all of the markets that we're in because there's just, it's trying to push out as much product as you possibly can. So I think you'll see a lot more product launches in some of the, the areas that we're already in. So you'll start seeing some more product differentiation.

And then trying to figure out more innovation and bringing more product innovation to the market, which is something that Wana stands, you know, I think that that's really where we differentiate ourselves. So you'll start seeing a little bit more innovation coming through, and then also just new market development.

Because there's just, I think New York is gonna be, big Jersey's gonna be big. We're just really looking forward to continuing to expand. You know, I think we're still considering some different international markets. So it's, it's on the radar. It's something that we're looking at.

So, we'll, we'll see what ends up happening in Germany and some, some of these other markets. Yeah.

Tom Mulhern: Well, and if Germany opens, like do you, do you see like other markets in Europe opening pretty quickly?

Kelly Flores: I think that there is a really strong cannabis culture in Germany. Yeah. And so I think, you know, there is some markets that I think might be a, a graceful fit. So yeah, it's all stuff that we're just kind of scratching the surface on.

Tom Mulhern: And now you work with all sorts of different dispensaries. What is one tip that you would give to a dispensary to help them kind of grow their business, like just one little nugget that you would have? No,

Kelly Flores: One little nugget. I don't know if I have one. My, the dispensary owners are so knowledgeable. I don't know if I have anything that's gonna be revolutionary. I'm, I'm gonna say two things.

One, especially in new businesses, cash management, especially in this business, whatever you think your opex. Double it. Yeah. Because you also might not be getting paid. Who knows what's going on. I mean, the whole industry is, is, is crazy when it comes to cash management. And then also I would say partnering with a few brands that can help with category management and category development, because I think the race to the bottom on price isn't serving them or us.

And so it's not serving the brands. It's not serving the shops. So really making sure that it's not just trying to drop the price to just drive velocity, because then you end up having to have more consumers coming through your shop to try to make, the same revenue.

I feel like the, the retail shops probably would give me more advice than the other way around. But for me, those are the two pieces that I feel like it. When there's this race to the bottom, it just starts to kill the market for everybody.

Tom Mulhern: If you're like differentiated by price, like there's so many other better things you could choose to kind of stand out.

Mm-hmm. , like you guys stand out in your quality, in your ability to fine tune that experience. And so if you were only known as the, the cheapest gummies in town, like you would have some customers, but people are looking for all different levels of experience. Price points, right? Everything. So that's a really, really, I.

Insight that you have there. Yeah. And now walking, I don't know if you've had the chance to walk around. What is like the coolest thing that you've seen? The coolest at MjBizcon?

Kelly Flores: Wow. I don't know if I could say the coolest. One of the things that I did notice this year was that it was less OG and more tangential businesses.

Mm-hmm. that were here and you know, and years past, you're trying to figure out how do you get health insurance into this industry? Yeah. And how do you get 401ks to your employees? And what does, what does just standard business insurance look like?

And it's just shocking that the amount of businesses that are one at the expo that maybe are not necessarily plant touching, but that cannabis isn't just for the brands, it's not just for the retailers, it's for so many different types of businesses.

And so when we talk about, oh, you know, the how much money was sold or how the revenue in a particular market. The amount that, that we don't measure is all the other businesses that are growing because of it.

Tom Mulhern: Well, now if people want to connect with you and Wana Brands, maybe it's a, someone that wants to get your product into their store. What's the best way to connect and find out more about. You know, what's upcoming and how to, how to partner with you guys?

Kelly Flores: Probably going to our website, If you hit me up on LinkedIn, happy to help you to at least direct you to the right person.

Tom Mulhern: Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to chat and to share all about what you guys are doing. II love the fact that you guys are so focused on research, development, innovation, and creating products that aren't just like getting people high.

You're creating products that serve a purpose and an experience. Each individual and it's different for every individual. So yeah, thanks for being on the show and thank you.

Kelly Flores: It's been great. Pleasure. Yeah, thank you very much.

Tom Mulhern: And again, I want to thank Kelly for being on the show and for sharing all of her insights as kind of a market leader in this space. You know, she's one of the first brands that we've talked to that is creating consumer goods that dispensary owners carry. And just like any other sort of product in your store, I would encourage any dispensary owners to check out what products you're are selling really well, what products your customers are loving and invest in those brands. And it could be Wana, it could be something else, but talk to the, the brand leaders and find out more about how you can help encourage the education of your bud tenders, of your customers. Maybe they can do an in-store kind of demo of some of the upcoming products they have because Wana is not the only brand that is doing new, innovative, cool stuff.

There's so many brands, so many companies out there that are trying to do something new in the cannabis space, and I'm thankful that I gotta talk to Kelly. And she really kind of brought some new insights into those products that are on the shelves and how they get there, and the research and the work that goes into bringing those into your favorite dispensary.

So go check out her website. Go check out Connect with Kelly online on LinkedIn.

And I also wanna encourage you to go and subscribe to the podcast. You know, it's so encouraging to see more and more people subscribing and listening to the podcast every week because we put a lot of time and energy into finding the right guests, interviewing, editing, doing all of this so that we can provide you with an amazing experience, amazing conversations.

And so I want to thank all of my subscribers out there and encourage you if you're not subscribed to the podcast. Go out, subscribe and leave a review with some feedback of how we can make this show even better. So thanks again for listening to the Kaya Cast podcast and we'll see you next week.

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