Kristi Palmer, along with her husband Scott Palmer, founded Kiva Confections in their home kitchen in the early days of cannabis legalization when it was easier for smaller, mom and pop companies to find a place in the market. Today, Kiva has a foothold in several different states where cannabis is legalized. Kristi Palmer sat down with High Times to talk about her company’s journey from its humble beginnings to the booming business it has become, as well as about what the industry is currently doing for women and why that inclusivity is important.
Let’s start off with how you first got into the cannabis industry and how you eventually became co-owner of a cannabis company.
I got my start in the cannabis industry back in about 2008. My now-husband and I started a cultivation in our garden shed here in the Bay Area, trying to make ends meet when the economy was completely crashing. That got us exposed to the market to see what consumers were really demanding. We were like “Okay, I think edibles is the place where we can stand out.” First, we thought, “We need a product and a package.” We met with some designers and brand builders that we knew from our photography days, and they were like, “You need a brand.” So we sat down and [asked] what would Kiva stand for? Kiva would be professional, honest, information-forward, holistic principles that we’ll stand by today.
So this is truly a story of scaling the brand from a tiny startup to a huge company versus getting a job at a company that was already huge. As a woman in this industry, do you feel like it would have been much harder to join an existing company like that?
I think there was a lot of opportunity, even in the early days [of the cannabis industry], for women. When we were building on our sales team in the early days, we had hired a sales director and he pointed out that all of the sales reps were women. The culture of including women was just written in from the get-go.
We’ve gotten feedback in the past that Kiva used a female marketing company to appeal to women. That wasn’t explicitly the intention; that was the rumor. That was the vibe that the company was giving off: We were very approachable. We didn’t exclude anyone. We didn’t look like we were designed for the cannabis connoisseur. Our brand was just friendly and welcoming, and I think that got interpreted to mean that we specifically had women in mind.
What have you continued to do to make sure that the brand is inclusive and accessible for everyone?
Information-forward is huge for us. Now it’s required for regulations, but just simply displaying THC content on the front of the label [and] the specific attributes of the product. We have products for sleep; we have products that [have] uplifting effects or relaxing effects. Products like that, when they’re use-case specific or tailored to the realities of your everyday life, those tend to be easier for female consumers to get on board with.
Is there anything specific you wanted to promote and highlight right now?
We’ve got five items in our sleep lineup now. The newest ones are the Camino Sours sleep product. That one is 10 milligrams of THC, and three milligrams of CBN. It’s our blackberry flavor, and it’s incredibly delicious.
Why do you think that’s such an important thing to highlight?
Sleep is the number one reason that consumers are looking to use cannabis. We want to put sleep front and center because so many folks are looking for help with sleep. We were in the cannabis industry 12 years now so we have a bit of experience launching items but, man, you launch a sleep product and people just flock towards it.
Looking 5-10 years down the line, what are some of the broader goals for the brand that you hope to see come to light?
We’re continuing our out-of-state expansion efforts. There’s just incredible demand for safe, tested, trustworthy, edible products. New York is such an interesting market because it hasn’t truly opened up quite yet, but Kiva products can be found there because consumers are carrying them in their suitcase. And then [we’re] also looking at other types of cannabinoids [such as] THC-V and CBG that offer consumers a more targeted effect than you get with THC.
There’s a lot of women in the industry, but when you go to the conferences you don’t necessarily see women. You don’t necessarily see women around the boardroom table or in those executive-level roles. That’s something that we’re working on at Kiva. So if you have this job in marketing, what are the other jobs that you can have that you can work up to? What skills do you need to progress your career? So that would be something I would like to encourage the rest of the world, in cannabis and outside of cannabis, to try to do. In cannabis, we need to do better at moving people up and creating diversity at all levels.