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Interview: Wana Brands CEO Nancy Whiteman

April 7, 2020

Nancy Whiteman is the CEO of Colorado-based Wana Brands, one of the largest edibles producers in the U.S. Known for its namesake brand of gummies, among other products, Wana is present in Colorado, California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, Oregon, and Oklahoma dispensaries, with Maryland, Missouri, and Florida also set to come online. The company’s home state of Colorado accounted for $24 million in revenue last year. Wana has also recently partnered with Canadian company Indiva to bring its portfolio to the Canada market. SND assistant editor Danny Sullivan recently spoke with Whiteman about Wana’s strategy for edibles, the appeal of cannabis gummies, and how COVID-19 has impacted business so far.

SND: What are you seeing in the edibles market since the start of the coronavirus crisis?

Whiteman: Sales are all over the board and probably will continue to be for the next few weeks. We saw an enormous uptick in sales the first week of the stay-at-home order, followed by a normal week, followed by a slow week. I would expect this up-and-down pattern to continue for several more weeks. The longer-term issue is whether the widespread layoffs will ultimately result in people having to cut back on cannabis consumption for economic reasons. We’re seeing now, however, that many people clearly do consider cannabis to be an essential good, especially in these anxious times, and are prioritizing it as such. The good news for Wana is that in most markets, edibles are disproportionately benefiting from the increase in consumption as people look for alternatives to inhalation.

SND: How has the crisis changed your operations?

Whiteman: In the beginning of March, we began instituting safety measures to ensure we can operate safely and still get our products to market for those who rely on Wana to provide support in daily life. Following guidance and regulations from our state and national government, we have all of the sales, marketing, and administrative staff working from home. Our operations staff is working in new configurations that allow for extreme social distancing.

SND: Where do you see consumers gravitating within the edibles market?

Whiteman: As it turns out, the gummy platform has a couple of advantages that has led it to be the largest category within edibles by far. One advantage is that they’re familiar as a platform for taking vitamins, so people are used to eating just one of them. You don’t take your gummy vitamins and say, I think I’ll have six of these because they’re so yummy. It’s become a really efficient way for people to enjoy an edible. You’re getting a delicious, small little treat and then you’re done. You don’t have to have a whole meal that tastes like cannabis.

SND: How do you approach new product development?

Whiteman: It’s an art as much as a science. I’m looking for a combination of what the marketplace is ready for in terms of awareness and understanding, and also what’s available in terms of the constituent components of the product at an affordable price. So, for example, you’ve probably been hearing about the rare cannabinoids, or the minor cannabinoids, like CBC, CBN, CBG, and THCV. Until recently, these compounds were extremely expensive because the plant produces them in very small quantities. So we consider whether we can turn this into a product that people can afford, and that they’re ready to accept. Can we educate people on it? There’s already a lot of confusion in the marketplace about the difference between THC and CBD, which are the two most well-known products. So if you start introducing a lot of other components, unless you have a crystal clear story to tell about it, you’re going to have to rely on a budtender to carry that story forward.

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