Kristi Knoblich Palmer is the co-founder of one of California’s most established and successful edible companies, the award-winning Kiva Confections. The company was founded in California back in 2010, aiming to provide safe, consistent, and enjoyable edibles. Their lightbulb moment happened after visiting a local chocolatier, and since then Kiva has grown to include a vast range of chocolate edibles, and more recently their Petra mints and Camino Gummies. They command a loyal customer base throughout hundreds of dispensaries in California, Arizona, Nevada, Illinois, and Hawaii.
Civilized caught up with Palmer to talk about the evolution of the edibles industry, guidelines for novice edible consumers, the biggest lessons she's learned since entering the cannabis industry, and what the future holds for Kiva Confections.
Where did the name "Kiva" come from?
A Kiva is a beautiful, partially underground dome-like structure made of stone, traditionally used as a ceremonial or religious meeting place of the Pueblo Indians. We thought it fit perfectly for a cannabis using ingredients sourced from the earth.
How have you seen the edible industry evolve since you launched back in 2010?
Edibles in California have largely existed in the absence of regulation, with many brands not doing any sort of testing, labeling, or quality control. Today, regulations require everything to be consistently dosed, and ingredients and allergens labeled. Edibles as a category are much more professional than we’ve ever seen before, and that is very good for consumers. Edibles are in a great place now and are continuing to evolve.
Has the introduction of new regulations caused you any setbacks from a production and business point of view? If so, what’s changed and how have you overcome them?
The roll out of the regulations in California have been rocky to say the least, but it's a much better world that we live today with them, than without them. To overcome the hurdles of regulation you have to have a talented team to stay plugged in.
We have seen changes in packaging regulations affect the production line, slowing down volume, and requiring more packagers to get the same amount of work done.
The lag of licenses being issued is a huge problem that remains unsolved. Many city governments have chosen not to allow cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdiction, even though residents voted in favor of it. Without enough businesses being licensed to satisfy the demand, California’s illegal market rushes in to pick up the slack. It's extremely frustrating. It's a missed business opportunity for licensed operators, missed tax revenue, and is not safe for consumers.
You are recognized as one of the leading edibles companies in the cannabis space. How do you maintain this stature and stay ahead of competition?
At Kiva, we are very passionate about doing the right thing for the consumer. Whether it's our quality control procedures, our product innovation pipeline or our customer service, we are always thinking of our consumers and how we can best serve them. People like delicious taste, interesting flavors, good ingredients and convenient form factors, so we keep using that formula to stay fresh in their minds and come out with products we hope they will love.
Walk us through a normal day.
There’s no such thing as a normal day in cannabis! That’s a total misnomer.
This past Wednesday started with the Kiva innovations meeting, where we taste the latest confection inventions and give feedback to the team — more mint, add citrus, what if it was sour? We use spittoons and swish with water to clean out our mouths, or else my day will come to screeching halt an hour later and we don't have time for a day off!
Scott and I interviewed with candidates for a general counsel role we had available at Kiva. I’ve never interviewed an attorney for an in-house role, so that required a fair amount of interview prep and research beforehand.
At the end of the day Scott and I had to give a performance review to my mom. We’re a family-run business, and my mom runs the office. She’s best known as Mama Kiva and she’s a superstar.
In the late evening the Kiva team attended an employee appreciation party hosted by one of our dispensaries. Those events are super important to attend — I make a concerted effort to spend time with the Kiva team outside the office and show appreciation for our partners at retail. It was a great party.
Who might be interested in consuming your edibles?
People looking for new ways [to boost] wellness find Kiva products very appealing. Our angle is to provide reliable consistent dosing in a delicious format. With our latest product, Camino Gummies, we tailored terpene blends to achieve a certain effect with each of our gummy formulations. Our Wild Berry flavor has a chill effect, so it's great at the end of a long, hectic day. Our Pineapple Habanero is uplifting and people love that one before a concert or event.
For anyone new and interested in consuming edibles, what dosage guidelines should they be following and can you recommend a specific entry product of yours?
Whatever edible you choose, start small with 2.5-5mg THC. Edibles can take an hour or two to take effect, so give it time before you increase your dose. Increase your dose if you need more only after you’ve given it the full two hours to kick in. Be good to yourself and don't over do it on the first try. All Kiva products are scored into 5mg THC pieces or less, so it's easy to get started.
You started with edible chocolates but as your company has grown, you’ve expanded your product range into edible gummies and mints. What other consumables would you like to combine with cannabis?
All kinds of things! We love to experiment with form factors. We’re sugar-aholics at heart, so there’s nothing sweet we won’t consider infusing. We’re also looking at non-sweets, continuously trying to find innovative ways for people to enjoy cannabis.
What has been your biggest lesson about working in the cannabis industry, and in business in general?
In business, just keep swimming. Things can get really overwhelming in running a cannabis business, there is so much change. The problems just keep coming and eventually pile up on top of each other. But my husband and Kiva’s co-founder and CEO is really good at helping me keep perspective. Break it up into bite sized pieces; just start somewhere; take that problem and put it on the shelf for later; here, smoke this. He’s full of positive support!
In cannabis especially, stay in touch. The friendly vibe is very strong in cannabis. Relationships are key; building new ones and growing existing ones. I do my very best to make connections, take phone calls, and generally make myself available to the world. It's a collaborative approach and making connections helps get business done.
What’s next for Kiva confections?
We have so much awesome stuff planned for this year, there is great potential this will be Kiva’s best year yet. We have lots of fresh, new talent at Kiva, so we are ready to unleash the hounds; we plan to release new flavors, new marketing programs, and just generally have fun and kick butt in the work we do. We’re pretty jazzed. Last year was really hard with the unfolding regulations, so this year we look forward to some big wins, having fun while we do it.
Do you eat your own edibles? And if so, when is your perfect time to consume and which is your favorite product?
I do consume Kiva products, but ironically I have a very low tolerance so I’m very careful not to over consume. My favorite right now is our Petra Mints. They don't melt, so you can toss a handful of them in your jacket pocket so you always have them when you need them. That could be any situation: a football game, a trip to Costco on a Saturday, the day after drinking too much… the use cases are truly endless. And with our mints being microcoded, one is just enough to feel good without an intense effect. You can still answer emails!