Merchandising goes a long way Says Kenny
Kenny Morrison is the founder of VCC Brands based in Venice Beach, California. Kenny established Venice Cookie Company in 2008 with the simple idea that cannabis edibles should be delicious, safe and wellness-oriented. The company owns a collection of California-bred legacy brands and IP, including the Cannabis Quencher and Subtle Tea. In 2012, he established Evergreen Herbal in Washington, assisting the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board in creating regulations. In 2016 Kenny founded the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association (CCMA) and currently serves as President.
Tell us about yourself and your background. What led you to the cannabis space?
I was born into a family that normalized cannabis use. It was never hidden in shame or made to be a secretive thing. This doesn’t mean I was unaware of its potential to be misused or that I thought it was a cure-all, it just meant that I could look at it honestly without needing to overcome any stigma or misinformation. I just couldn’t tell the D.A.R.E. officers at my elementary school, haha. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, cannabis is biphasic. This means that taking a larger dose does not make it more effective. A larger dose might actually be less effective than a small dose or may not work at all.
For example, if you’re using cannabis for the pain you might find that a large dose makes you hyper-focus on the pain rather than put you in a state of mind to forget about it. I’m a low-dose guy for sure. I love to work hard, and I’m convinced that I burn a lot of calories just by stressing out and using my brain so much. So, in the evening when I can’t shut off the events of the day, I find that nothing gets me peacefully writing poetry in my journal quicker than cannabis. At the right dose, it’s an attitude adjuster; at the wrong dose, it’s an anxiety amplifier.
You have vast knowledge and experience in the cannabis industry, How did you come up with the idea to launch VCC Brands? What inspired you?
Around 2007, I spent a few years as a part-owner to a couple of dispensaries. Our budtenders were licensed herbalists and acupuncturists and they dispensed cannabis alongside other Chinese herbs as part of our wellness model. It was innovative and we ended up selling our West Hollywood location to Medmen. I decided that with the number of people we had employed to keep three stores running, it would be more efficient to manufacture and distribute our products to hundreds of stores. My passion has always been branding and communications, it was never retail. After I positioned cannabis in its rightful place within the Chinese herbal pharmacopeia, the thrill of retail started to wear off. It was a great place to understand the landscape and how to position future brands, but it was time to move on. Our flagship retail location was located on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, so calling the original brand Venice Cookie Company just made sense.
Venice has changed a lot since 2008 when VCC was founded, but much of the spirit is still the same. Venice has always been a community that supports ambitious, radical ideas. It was the Haight Ashbury of Southern California, I’d imagine The Doors contributed to that with their presence back in the day. Whether it was the vision of its founder Abbot Kinney in the 1900s, the local art scenes throughout various decades, or the Dogtown skaters of the 1970s, the Venice community has always pushed for progress. From the old hippies educating on the boardwalk in the 80s selling copies of Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes, to the current tech boom happening today, the neighborhood’s been a fertile ground for innovation and progress for generations. Its soul can’t be replicated.
What can you tell us about how customer preferences have changed over time in terms of taste, and dosage?
Customers expect deliciousness now more than ever, but not for the reason you’d expect. In the medical days, cannabis patients were more interested in drinks that were diabetic friendly or used sugarless sweeteners.
Source: Kenny Morrison
What lets VCC stand out from the other edible brands in the market?
Our heritage and what we’ve done for the space sets us apart from other edible brands. All the time, our peers and some of our biggest competitors today tell us that one of our products was the first edible they ever tried. Or that VCC was the first edible brand that they could be proud to sell in their dispensary. Of course, VCC’s 16 years in cannabis haven’t come without its setbacks. We’ve been raided twice by law enforcement and the DEA, and if our roots weren’t firmly grounded in integrity and service, we would not have survived.
Something else that sets us apart is that CQ, previously known as Cannabis Quencher, just underwent a makeover. We are proud to have existed in the space long enough to have needed to undergo a rebrand. We also developed an infused dry tea for Dennis Hopper towards the end of his battle with cancer in 2010. After his nurse came into our store requesting something warm and soothing, I took to personally delivering the tea to his house in Venice. Now Subtle Tea has hit retail shelves as a low dose chilled tea in a glass bottle. We sell a broad spectrum CBD version to health food stores and fine grocers like Erewhon Market.
What is so unique about your drinks, and why do you think it’s gaining popularity?
Our drinks taste great, are fast-acting, and are easy to dose. We challenge any 100mg drink to a taste test. Over a decade of experience has taught us how to mask cannabis in a beverage and dial in the effects with terpenes better than anyone. I worked with California regulators to gain approval for a transparent dosing window on the side of our CQ bottles so consumers could safely and accurately control dosing. Originally, cannabis beverages had to be packaged in completely opaque bottles, but regulators saw the wisdom in allowing our dosing window, and the entire category has benefitted from us taking the lead on this. CQ is California’s original weed drink and Subtle Tea is our first low dose beverage offering. Subtle Tea is keto-friendly and naturally sweetened with zero calories.
What trends are you seeing in the cannabis space this year?
Consolidation. Cash flow issues. Failure. Licensing deals.
Are there any suggestions you would like to give to dispensary owners on how to sell edibles?
When we started out selling edibles (baked goods and later chocolate) in 2008, many stores told us they didn’t carry edibles or devote much floor space to them “because they don’t sell.” I believe there’s a history lesson in this for the beverage category. Merchandising goes a long way. I also believe most retailers will stop trying to make their shop look like an apple store at some point. Grey Goose doesn’t depend on the look of a liquor store to build consumer loyalty. Cannabis is just a nascent space right now–retailers are competing on the aesthetic of their mousetrap rather than the strength of the brands they carry. At the end of the day, only the brands will matter.
Interviewed by Aakriti Rawat, Beverage Trade Network