Wana Brands CEO Nancy Whiteman heads the company that leads the industry in production of gummy edibles. Courtesy Wana Brands

Whiteman, Wana Brands takes on CBD industry

BOULDER — Wana Brands, a Boulder-based cannabis company that has emerged over the last decade as one the nation’s most prominent edibles makers, has quietly expanded its operations north to Longmont, where the company makes its new Wana Wellness product line, which features gummies made with CBD rather than THC.

The company’s pivot into the health and wellness supplement business is just the latest evolution for the firm and CEO Nancy Whiteman, a Cornell University graduate who cut her teeth as a marketing consultant and has since been dubbed the “Martha Stewart of Edibles” by Green Entrepreneur and the “Queen of Legal Weed” by Inc.com.

“I’m not sure anything prepares you for this business!” she told BizWest with a chuckle during a February interview. “But all kidding aside, my marketing background has been extremely helpful in terms of brand-building and leading product development initiatives. It’s all been very, very applicable, but the cannabis industry is its own strange animal.”

Unlike many other ganja-preneurs in the early 2010s, Whiteman did not get into the industry as a result of personal experience with medical marijuana in Colorado.

“There are many wonderful people who have gotten into the cannabis space because they’ve had a loved one who used it and found it effective. I just had a neighbor who was getting into the industry, and I decided to partner with him,” she said. “The reality for me is that I didn’t know all that much about cannabis from a medicinal prospective. It’s not that I didn’t believe that it had medicinal qualities, it’s just that I’d never used it that way myself.”

While that initial partnership was short lived, it sparked Whiteman’s interest in the nascent medicinal edibles industry and Wana — a trade name for Mountain High Products LLC — was launched in 2010.

Four years later, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, and Wana’s customer base expanded. Four years after that, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed certain federal restrictions on hemp products and paved the way for Wana’s entrance into the CBD gummy market.

“Obviously the CBD industry is exploding, and we think there are benefits to expanding the brand outside of THC,” Wana Wellness food safety and compliance manager Michael Kramer said.

Wana’s history as a cannabis industry leader has paved a lane for the Wana Wellness in the increasingly cramped CBD market.

“For the most part, the products are basically identical,” Kramer said. “We try to make our products as consistent as we can” with Wana’s popular THC gummies in terms of characteristics such as flavor and texture.

The consistency of its products has always been key to Wana’s success, Whiteman said. Customers can expect the same results from each Wana gummy batch they buy — an important trait when you’re dealing with a product capable of getting users very, very stoned.

When the company launched there was no legal requirement to have products tested by a third-party lab for potency or contaminants.

“But we always did, right from the first batch. I’ve always felt really strongly that people need to know what they’re taking and how strong it is going to be.”

Whiteman credits some of Wana’s innovation success to partnerships with technology companies such as Cannabics Pharmaceuticals Inc., an Israeli company that has developed an extended release capsule to be used with cannabis products.

Wana also takes advantage of close relationships to cannabis retailers such as Denver-based Native Roots Cannabis Co., which has locations in Boulder and Longmont.

“We have such a strong relationship with them that they’ve let us use their budtender council to do ideation and market research. They’ve let us pilot new products at their stores and helped us set the price for them. We really try to turn our customer relationships into partnerships — it’s a core competency for us and something we spend a lot of time on.”

One of Wana’s competitive advantages over its peers in the cannabis edibles space has been the firm’s success expanding beyond Colorado. Wana sells its products in seven states and will soon launch in three others, “which gives us the largest footprint of any edibles company in the country.”

Wana’s market share is likely to widen as more states legalize marijuana and the federal government eventually drops its prohibition on the plant.

“I think it will happen,” Whiteman said of nationwide legalization. “I don’t think it is going to happen in the next 12 months, but I would say within the next five years it is certainly possible.”

In the meantime, Wana will continue to find new ways to dominate the markets where the company is allowed to operate, and Whiteman will continue to be one of the industry’s top female executives, she said.

While Whiteman, who was named third on Cannabis Business Executive’s 2019 Power Women of Cannabis list and one of only a handful of women included on the High Times 100 list of the industry’s most influential players, said she is proud of her accomplishments within what is often considered an old boys club-type industry, she doesn’t dwell on that.

“I have been in other industries that tend to be male-dominated — financial services and technology for example. So I don’t tend to focus [on being one of the industry’s leading female executives] very much,” she said. “I’m actually sort of amused about the fact people seem to want to cover that aspect. My hope is that the quality of our business speaks for itself. We have the number one position in the country as the leading edibles brand; we’re really profitable; it’s a well-run company.”

While other local manufacturers have outgrown their Boulder production facilities and left the area in search of cheaper real estate and labor, Wana has stuck around.

“The cost structure to do business is a little bit higher” in the Boulder Valley compared to other regions, Whiteman said. “But I think there are a lot of other advantages that make it a good place to do business.”

One such advantage is the area’s culture and history of embracing cannabis.

“Boulder has its own vibe, and I think that vibe fits really nicely with the cannabis industry,” Whiteman said.

And it’s not just the cannabis industry that thrives among Boulder’s vibes, she said.

“There are so many natural foods companies here and so many companies that focus on different aspects of health and wellness,” Whiteman said. “So while cannabis might be a little bit outside of the mainstream [in other markets around the country], I think it’s the perfect Boulder fit.”

BOULDER — Wana Brands, a Boulder-based cannabis company that has emerged over the last decade as one the nation’s most prominent edibles makers, has quietly expanded its operations north to Longmont, where the company makes its new Wana Wellness product line, which features gummies made with CBD rather than THC.

The company’s pivot into the health and wellness supplement business is just the latest evolution for the firm and CEO Nancy Whiteman, a Cornell University graduate who cut her teeth as a marketing consultant and has since been dubbed the “Martha Stewart of Edibles” by Green Entrepreneur and the “Queen of Legal Weed” by Inc.com.

“I’m not sure anything prepares you for this business!” she told BizWest with a chuckle during a February interview. “But all kidding aside, my marketing background has been extremely helpful in terms of brand-building and leading product development initiatives. It’s all been very, very applicable, but the cannabis industry is its own strange animal.”

Unlike many other ganja-preneurs in the early 2010s, Whiteman did not get into the industry as a result of personal experience with medical marijuana in Colorado.

“There are many wonderful people who have gotten into the cannabis space because they’ve had a loved one who used it and found it effective. I just had a neighbor who was getting into the industry, and I decided to partner with him,” she said. “The reality for me is that I didn’t know all that much…