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Interview: Keef Brands CEO Travis Tharp

June 15, 2021

Travis Tharp has been with Colorado-based Keef Brands since 2017 as COO, during which time he has overseen the development of numerous new products for the cannabis beverage maker and expansion into states outside Colorado. He recently took over as CEO for co-founder Erik Knutson, who will remain on the company’s board. Keef’s beverage line includes sodas like Original Cola, Root Beer, Purple Passion, Orange Crush, and Blue Razz, which have 10mg of THC a 12-ounce can and retail at around $7. SND associate editor Danny Sullivan spoke with Tharp about increased acceptance of the cannabis beverage category and further expansion plans.

SNDC: How has the beverage segment taken shape in the last couple of years?

Tharp: It’s been a really fun last year and a half of seeing how new customers are embracing the beverage category as a whole, and to see all of the new entrants that are coming to it. We always thought that the social consumption lounges would be the time where it really kicked off, but it turns out Covid and isolation also prompted people to try different form factors. One positive to come out of the pandemic is we’ve been able to meet a whole bunch of new segments of customers.

SNDC: You’ve also been expanding, adding new states and markets pretty consistently.

Tharp: We’re now in seven states plus Puerto Rico. The traditional way that we’ve entered has always been through the medical side to meet the market where it is, because each market develops completely differently on its own timeline. We went fast and furious on going to Missouri, Ohio, and Maine in the first quarter of this year and those launches have been the smoothest launches to date, which means that our process is working. We’re seeing adoption both by stores and by customers at an accelerated rate versus the previous three markets that we’d launched. We’ve got our eyes on expansion in Illinois and the northeast. Maine was our first foray into the northeast, and we’re really excited about that market and hoping to add a couple more in the region over the next six to 12 months.

SNDC: How has that translated to Keef sales?

Tharp: We did 1.2 million units across our territories in 2020. We’re already up basically double this year in our core existing markets compared to last year. I’m really seeing an adoption of beverage as an acceptable format in consumers’ minds and the addition of all of these new competitors coming into it with different types of beverages I see as validation. We have a long way to go. We’re still under 1% of the total market, but it’s an exciting time because I think it’s becoming more accepted and more people are trying it.

SNDC: What’s the update on expanding to Canada?

Tharp: I would expect that if not at the end of Q2, maybe right at the beginning of Q3 we will launch in Canada. We’re excited that we’re going to be able to have some product in the market because there have been a lot of people that have come from up north and have visited Colorado and tried Keef. One of the really great things about working for a brand as established as ours is that people have associated their trips and their good memories with us.

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