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Interview: Part 1: Bill Silver, President, New Markets, CannaCraft

May 19, 2020

Bill Silver was formerly Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University, where he played a key role in establishing the Wine Business Institute and its Wine Spectator Learning Center as training grounds for the next generation of wine industry leadership.Since 2018 he has been with CannaCraft, a Santa Rosa-based cannabis product manufacturer and infuser. Operating in California and Colorado, the company has a portfolio that includes Lagunitas HiFi Hops, Keef Cola, Satori chocolates, and Care By Design CBD products, among others. SND assistant editor Danny Sullivan recently spoke with Silver about Covid-19 and the tumultuous year that preceded it.

SND: How has the pandemic affected business trends at CannaCraft?

Silver: In March we saw a spike in sales, which we attributed to a week where there was widespread hoarding behavior. Since then it’s gone back to the sort of modest growth that we projected. We’re a mature company by cannabis standards. We’ve only been around since 2014, but that’s a lifetime in the cannabis industry, especially in California. Our average growth rate each year has been about 50%. With the base expanding, we were projecting growth this year of around 25%, and we’re hitting that target. California’s had a little bit of growth. There are differences by state, and I think that has to do, to some extent, with regulations. California, for instance, is ahead of Colorado when it comes to delivery and e-commerce. Colorado has had a bit of a drop in sales, attributable in part to not having the e-commerce and delivery infrastructure available to quickly pivot to those channels.

SND: How has CannaCraft been dealing with Covid-19 operationally?

Silver: With CannaCraft being in the industry a long time, we’ve seen crises before. It’s a core skill set to be able to navigate crises, especially operationally. So we were on top of it early and adjusted pretty quickly. The workforce that can do their job at home—the non-manufacturing side—has been able to accomplish that. On the manufacturing side, we spread out. We have a large facility. We had to change some of the standard operating procedures to keep everyone safe and make sure we distance people. In the community, we wanted to offer support by producing hand sanitizer. We had the ethanol and the capacity to do it, as well as an R&D team that was able to put the recipe together. We had intended initially to get it out to our dispensary partners, but there was such a demand from first responders and healthcare workers that we ended up getting it there first. It was an interesting day when the Santa Rosa Police Department came through the front door and walked out with some Care By Design hand sanitizer.

SND: Aside from the pandemic, how has the cannabis business evolved for you over the past year?

Silver: The past year feels more like seven. In that time, there have been four major developments for the industry. The first was federal legislative activity like the House passing the SAFE Banking Act, which looked really promising until the vape crisis hit. Then the bottom fell out of the cannabis capital markets, and then we rolled in the Covid situation. If you had those things happen over the course of a decade you’d say, “Wow, this was an interesting and turbulent decade.” But they happened in less than a year, and we’ve had to navigate through all of them.

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