Hannah Whyte of Emerald Queen Farms, Loudpack’s first Legacy partner. Photo courtesy of Loudpack
As the cannabis industry expands in the wake of legalization and the Green Rush, small farmers often struggle to navigate complex state regulations as they find their place in the newly legitimate market. Growing good weed isn't enough to make it anymore: Growers need not only an avenue to ensure that their weed is compliant with state standards, but also a relationship with legal retailers and brand recognition among consumers. In addition to the difficulties of adapting to a newly legal market, the legendary marijuana farms of northern California have also grappled with devastating wildfires over recent years — making a community of like-minded collaborators a vital asset for craft cannabis producers.
To address these challenges and support local cannabis communities, Loudpack — a brand encompassing its own marijuana farm in addition to a syndicate of other cultivators — has launched the Loudpack Legacy initiative. The idea is to help these small pot farmers thrive in today's market while enabling them to remain focused on what they’re best at: they do the farming, while Loudpack takes care of the rest. “We are thrilled to be a part of Loudpack Legacy and to have this unique opportunity to get our flower into the hands of more consumers, allowing people all over California to enjoy our product,” says Loudpack’s first Legacy partner, Hannah Whyte of Emerald Queen Farms. “Humboldt County is really the bedrock of the cannabis community in California and it is very exciting for small farms like ours to finally have a platform to showcase these traditional styles of farming and spread awareness of our sustainable and mindful practices.”
MERRY JANE caught up with Loudpack CEO John Cochran to learn more…
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MERRY JANE: How would you describe what Loudpack is?
John Cochran: We're one of the largest producers of [cannabis] products in the state of California. We're a rapidly growing family of brands, for whom we produce, package, test, and deliver [cannabis] to retailers around the state. We have twelve different brands now: some of those we created ourselves, like Kingpen and Loudpack. And under Loudpack, we have a host of different branded products: Loudpack extracts; and with our new facility being built and coming up to speed in Greenfield, California, we've added Loudpack flower, prerolls, vapes, edibles, and mints. We also brought in brands from other states, [like] a new gummy brand Smokies, who were doing great already in Oregon and Washington, and we brought in a California brand called Honey Pot, [which] we acquired earlier this year. The entrepreneur who started it, Corey Thomas, has joined our team as manager for the brand. So we are really a brand, a portfolio of bands, and we're also a sales and distribution company. And we do that for all of our own stuff, while bringing on brands that we don't produce — smaller or up-and-coming brands [that are] looking for a route to market. We buy goods from them and sell and distribute those products to nearly 500 stores in California today.
What are the standards for the brands you take on?
We're looking for brands that complement the portfolio. We want to believe in the brand and products — do they meet same quality standards we have for our own products? We want to work with people who we want to spend time with, and who are good to work with in a rapidly emerging market like cannabis in California. We don't want to get conflicted in a major way: we want things to complement the portfolio, but that won't stand on top of each other in the market either. There's a balance, and at the same time, there's lots of opportunity as some of these different product segments emerge.
How are these brands cultivating their cannabis? Indoor, outdoor, or greenhouse?
It depends on type of product. It's like anything else — it's [about] how good of a farmer are they, what is the quality of the product, and are they reliable? Once we put a product into Legacy, for example, you want it to be of high quality. Consumers and retailers expect consistency.
On the processed goods side, it's much more of a branding type conversation. It's about brand packaging, people, and personality of the brand — and obviously the features and benefits you're providing to the consumer. Like other markets that emerged over time, with cannabis it's becoming clear: Different consumer demographics and their needs and desires are different than other demographics. Millennial men between 21 and 30 are a different demographic than young mothers between 35 and 45. The products they're seeking, and the brands that match up with those consumers, are all very different — that makes for a patchwork quilt that's becoming what this portfolio is starting to look like.
So tell me about the Loudpack's new program Legacy.
We're just starting to build it up. We have a host of really great relationships all over the state of California, and the Legacy program has really been started mostly because we know there's a lot of great material coming from farmers that are looking for a way to get their product to market; to turn their farming into a return on all that hard work. There's a lot of these small farmers who look at what it takes after harvest to get the product to retailers, and they don't have a way to do it.
The Legacy program affords them a way to do that legally, which makes it easy for them. We're collecting cultivation and excise taxes, taking care of testing, making sure packaging is compliant, and selling and delivering it to the retailer. All of that is a lot of hard work, but when you have the time, assets, and scale we do, it's affordable, and we can do that on their behalf. We give them some exposure with Legacy.
How is Loudpack recovering from recent wildfires in northern California?
Well, we have an outdoor grow in Lake County, [where] we're farming four acres. Next year we’re hoping to farm upwards of 16 to 18 acres, but we're not sure what county will approve that yet. We frankly got lucky this year in Lake County, because our property, [which] is referred to as Benmore Ranch, is in an area that was affected by the fires dramatically, but we were not impacted directly. We had to make sure people were safe and out of harm's way and so on, but that ranch is huge and we're only farming four acres. It's in a spot in an elevated valley that wasn't affected.
It was a different situation [when] we had an accident at our facility in Greenfield; we lost five of the eight greenhouses we have there. No one was hurt, and it was late in the day. Our clone house was not affected, and our other three greenhouses were not affected. We've hired another 20 people since the fire, and we've moved some people around while rebuilding the greenhouses. It's been a bummer because we were getting those greenhouses up and running, faster and faster. Accidents happen. We're using the capital provided by insurance to rebuild greenhouses now. We'll improve them from fire safety perspective and efficiency perspective, because we already learned a lot about farming from those greenhouses. The material we grow in greenhouses is only a small fraction of our revenue.
What's the timing of the Legacy initiative?
Loudpack Legacy is up and running now. It's been very well received. We get calls everyday from more and more small farmers, who want to be part of the program. It's picking up momentum. We're excited about it, retailers are excited about it, and the sales team is excited about it. At this point, the only thing that really throttles [it] is how hard we want to charge at [Legacy] given everything else on our plate. We're trying to be careful, as excited as we are and as the growers are — we want to be careful about making sure it's the right people. We’ve just got to continue to add the right growers.
So who are you supporting through Legacy, and why did you choose them?
Emerald Queen Farms is one. The other relationships are still confidential, but those names will be publicly available in the next [few] weeks. And there will be another three to six farmers, which we'll add to the program.
We're supporting them because fundamentally, it's good business for us and great business for them. We're supporting them, and they need help. Most of these small farmers are looking for a way to participate in the industry in a legal way. This allows them to do so more quickly and easily, and still get paid well for all their hard work. If someone is doing all the hard work to farm, and we do the rest of the work, and we're splitting the profit, the profit is better when vertically integrated. In this we make a little bit of money, but not as much as when we do it all ourselves. It complements our portfolio, and now it's a richer offering to the consumer and retailer.
What's the difference between the Legacy brands and everything else associated with Loudpack?
The difference between Legacy and our own stuff is that they're different strains, they're grown differently, and they're sold at different price points. For the consumer, there's better variety. If you're a consumer and want to support small farmers and like the [Legacy] strain [offerings], now we can offer it, whereas before we didn't grow it, so we couldn't offer it to you. It's mostly that the farmers' practices are different, and in particular, the strains of actual flower are different. It might be higher in THC, it might be lower in THC, higher in CBD — you get the idea. And it certainly tastes different because it's a different strain.
People who are new to the industry don't realize the complexity in agriculture here is high. For those of us who grow and process [cannabis], you have to pick and choose what you want to grow. You can't just grow hundreds and hundreds of little stuff: you need to pick and decide what you're good at, and how it matches up with what consumers enjoy more. This offers us a way to support those small farmers and bring richer offerings to the consumer.
What are the major challenges that small farmers are facing?
From the perspective of the small farmer, the major challenges are fundamental: how much to plant, hoping there's a market for it, and not knowing what the market price will be; then they need someone to help it get to where someone is going to buy it.
Mostly small farmers have their hands full with how much land [they need], how big a greenhouse [they require], what should they grow, and all the challenges associated with growing cannabis, as well. You need to make sure you're doing it appropriately so you're not violating state standards for pesticide and nutrient levels. It's hard work. Then they face, after growing something that's clean, how to get it tested appropriately, how to pass testing at an affordable level, get it packaged appropriately and delivered to a retailer so the consumer can buy it. Most have no idea how to take that on.
Some of them do — they're very sophisticated and don't need us or to be part of Legacy, and that's great. This industry is very fragmented at a grower level. For a lot of people who need help, those are their biggest challenges. ‘Great, I have cannabis, I know I love it, I know it's good and clean and pure, but now I don't know what to do with it.’ This offers them the ability to still enjoy a very fair return on all their hard work, without having to struggle through the rest of it.