Kiva Confections founders, Scott Palmer and Kristi Knoblich, are two of the kindest people in the cannabis business today, unassuming, ethical, and socially responsible. They met in 2004, while attending photography school, and ended up growing a couple of cannabis plants together. After visiting a few dispensaries, they realized that a market existed for an edible product that was “healthy and safe” and labeled with cannabinoid content. At that time, most food-based products were still packaged in plastic wrap, with no ingredient or dosage information on the label.
They launched Kiva’s first products in 2010, 60 mg dark and milk chocolate bars, and got their first big account at Elemental Wellness of San Jose. The line quickly expanded to include their 180 mg strength bars, featuring flavors like Tangerine, Blackberry, and Mint.
“We knew we wanted to make a high quality edible, and were looking for the right medium,” Scott says. “Kristi and I looked at a lot of potential products before choosing chocolate. We were not experienced chocolatiers, but we were avid fans, and had a lot of trial and error to start.”
They travelled to the middle of Ohio, where they were lucky to gain the mentorship of a master chocolate maker at a 100-year-old factory. This was particularly important for the development of their High Times Cannabis Cup winning chocolate covered espresso beans, Terra Bites. As Scott explains, “There’s a lot of artistry that goes into them, and even though the process isn’t complicated, it has to be consistent every single time.”
Kiva makes delicious products. “Yes, we love cannabis,” Scott says, “but when we work on a new product it has to taste like really great food. You only get one chance with patients, and if you don’t have a good product you will lose their trust.”
Craft packaging helps Kiva stand out in a crowded marketplace. “Cannabis is a product of the earth, and it’s a natural medicine.” Scott says, “Chocolate is a very similar pure product. We wanted to carry that through to the Kiva packaging, earthy and natural.” Their packaging features recycled materials and soy based ink. Scott says, “It is about the company ethos. We are trying to be conscious and take a holistic approach to our impact, including how we treat our customers and employees.”
With 50 employees in California, and with products on the shelves at 700 dispensaries across the state, they are succeeding. “As you grow, it is important to have a positive impact with what you are doing,” Scott says. “Treating employees and customers the right way is essential. We rely heavily on our team, and they get a ton of credit for keeping our mission true.”
Blueberry Terra Bites are Scott’s favorite product. He says, “We were looking for a product that was a little more convenient for dosing.” Each blueberry is coated in 5 mg of cannabis chocolate, with 120 mgs total in a full tin, so patients can easily self titrate the product to their specific needs.
With their newest confection, a high CBD chocolate bar, they knew it was important to source their cannabis from small, ethical farmers. So, he and Kristi travelled to northern California, meeting growers in Mendocino County who use holistic growing techniques like permaculture. “There are a number of people there who have been growing their own strains without knowing the cannabinoid content,” Scott says, “and thru trial and error, they grew plants with special healing properties. It was only after testing came online that they realized they were breeding high CBD strains, inadvertently growing this amazing medicine.”
Kiva is looking forward to the legalization of cannabis in California. “The fact that it is not legal for recreational use is preventing people from using medical cannabis,” Scott says. “More patients will come on board, once prohibition is not creating fear,” but after Proposition 19’s slim loss in 2012, he knows this is not a sure win.
Regardless, Kiva has a huge future ahead. They are already in two dispensaries in Arizona, and have plans to expand to Nevada in 2016. Right now, they are looking for the “next big state,” which may mean Colorado, Washington, Nevada, or Oregon; but no matter where they go, you can be sure that they will spread the kindness.