Bringing Cannabis to the Beverage World
CanCore Concepts Inc. was established in 2009 to provide a full line of cannabis beverage products under the name Keef Brands. The brand’s name comes from keef: the term for the resinous parts of the dry cannabis flowers that are high in cannabinoids.
CanCore started with a selection of traditional soda flavors – cola, root beer, lemon-lime, orange, and grape. By late 2010, it had begun manufacturing a pocket-sized, two-to-four ounce cannabis drink, and for the following three years, the company focused all of its attention on those two product lines.
In 2013, Keef Brands launched a line of personal vaporization devices called OilStix, and CanCore became one of the first manufacturers of oil-based vape pens in the state of Colorado to use a CO2 extraction technology. Around that time, one of the two Knutson brothers who founded the company branched off to create a new company called Isolate Extraction Systems (IES) which provides its CO2 extraction technology to other edible cannabis manufacturers. Today IES has approximately 150 extraction systems in the field, from Canada to Jamaica.
“Through the founding of that extraction business, we really inserted ourselves into the value chain of the industry from an educational standpoint and a production standpoint. We went from competitors to partners with a lot of other edible manufacturers around the country overnight because we began supplying the technology they use to extract oils,” says CanCore Concepts Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Erik Knutson.
Originally based in Boulder, Colorado, CanCore began looking for expansion opportunities outside of the state in 2014. It found a partner in Arizona in 2015 and commenced operations in that location by 2016. Following closely were sites in California, Puerto Rico, Nevada, and Michigan. In Jamaica, CanCore sells its vape pens, and it is looking to expand full operations once cannabis beverages become legal. It is also expecting to have a Massachusetts location running by the end of 2019 and, eventually, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The edible cannabis industry was focused primarily on brownies, cookies, gummies, and other sweets in the beginning. The founders of CanCore realized that these products were not as appealing for social settings, and this is the reason they focused on beverages. Traditionally, groups of people may socialize over cutting a brownie into pieces, mainly because it does not take long to consume; beverages are a different experience, and throughout history, having drinks has been one of the most commonly accepted forms of adult social interaction.
In 2016, CanCore launched Keef Sparkling, which is a product line of cannabis-infused sparkling water, and in 2017, it began working on its first high milligram recreational use products called Keef Life. The company encountered numerous difficulties, particularly as a result of packaging requirements.
The single-serve products containing ten milligrams of THC are easier to package since the childproofing only has to work once, and there is no concern about re-sealing for multiple uses. “One of the key regulations that have been put into effect in almost every market, is if you have a product that is over twelve milligrams of THC, you have to find a way to not only re-childproof it after every opening but also dose and meter the amount that is coming out,” says Erik.
CanCore started with a bottle design that featured a dosing cap on top of the lid but quickly had to find a new direction when the regulations changed, stating that the dosing device had to be fully attached to the cap. It joined one of the largest master pharmaceutical packaging suppliers in the United States, Drug Plastics and Glass Co. (DPG), to develop a proprietary system that allows the user to dose and meter high milligram liquid products in single portions and completely reseal it afterwards with a childproof lid.
At the beginning of 2018, CanCore was approached by a company it had previously worked with named ebbu, Inc. to create a THC beer in collaboration with a brewing company called Ceria, Inc. Ceria was founded by Keith Villa. He had been the head brewer at Coors for over twenty years, working to create Blue Moon as well as other popular beer brands. Keith left Coors several years ago and had been eyeing the cannabis beverage industry. Ceria and CanCore worked together to make a THC nonalcoholic beer and eventually found the proper techniques to completely dealcoholize it without ruining the flavor.
At the end of 2018, the product – Grainwave – was launched by Ceria in Colorado and was the first non-alcoholic, mass-produced, cannabis-infused beverage in North America. The ten-ounce drink contains five milligrams of THC and has a similar onset time as alcohol. Grainwave has been very well received so far, so Ceria is uniting with CanCore to provide the product to other states through its licensed distribution network.
Thirty people work for CanCore in Colorado, and the company has done a great job of creating a positive culture that makes everyone wants to come to work every day. “We’ve definitely tried to build an environment where everybody has a voice. It’s been really critical for me since the beginning to keep a very transparent, open workplace,” says Erik. “It’s a fun industry, and I think people should have fun when they’re going to work.
Cannabis has come a long way in recent years, but there is still a regulatory battle to fight in the United States. Erik Knutson helped to cofound the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH) in 2014 and remains actively involved today. The organization works to expand laws and open access across the country since cannabis is still illegal in many states. Erik also helped to create the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF), an organization of cannabis-related companies that have come together to push for legalization and raise awareness about current legislation.
“One of the big things people need to be educated on is a bill called the STATES Act,” says Erik of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. “And the STATES Act is a bipartisan piece of legislation that is currently being backed by Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner in the Senate, along with David Joyce and a number of other representatives in the House.”
The bill has tremendous support from much of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the president. “The more pressure we can apply to legislators to get them off of the fence on this issue, the quicker we’re going to be able to resolve a lot of these criminal issues surrounding cannabis and regulatory issues surrounding the businesses.” For both social justice and economics, the STATES Act is the key to growing the cannabis industry and eventually removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.
“One of the big struggles we deal with, as a multi-state operator, is the difference in laws in every state. From labeling to packaging and distribution, the variance of laws is still extreme, and I think that as this opens up more and more, hopefully the regulators start working together, and federal agencies get involved to help standardize it,” says Erik.
The regulatory issues are the company’s largest challenge; however, beverage logistics and distribution come with plenty of issues as well. Fortunately, there are any good models from which to learn.
Lower alcohol consumption levels seem to have a direct correlation to lower violence and crime in social situations, so it is hoped that with the legalization of cannabis and the increase in people using it to replace or supplement alcohol use, society may see a decrease in multiple forms of crime.
“I am very excited about people being able to have access to this plant, both from the medical and adult use recreational side. I think it’s much safer than alcohol, and I’m very excited for that from a social standpoint. It’s going to have a tremendous effect on our whole country,” says Erik.