Written by: Owen MacMillan
As cannabis brands expand, partnerships with trusted cultivators is crucial to ensure product consistency in new markets and keeping up with customer demand.
Cookies, the cannabis brand founded by Bay Area rapper and entrepreneur Berner, recently entered a cultivation partnership with Veritas Fine Cannabis, a cannabis cultivator based in Denver. Veritas is the exclusive grower of Cookies cannabis strains in Colorado for at least the next three years, according to a deal signed in October 2019. Cookies products launched in Colorado in July.
Jon Spadafora, head of marketing and sales at Veritas, said expanding can be risky for a company if it doesn’t ensure it is picking responsible partners.
“It was important for Cookies to find someone driven by quality,” Spadafora said. “As you expand one of the biggest concerns you have is maintaining the quality that got you where you are, as you start talking about gardens that you don’t have control over.”
For Cookies’ part, the company had no concerns that Veritas would be an unreliable partner.
“Veritas is one of the kind of gold standard partners and operators, especially in Colorado,” Tori Cole, VP of marketing at Cookies, said. “They have some fire products. When we saw some photos and videos, and saw the test results, we said, ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what our flower should look like.’”
Extensive communication between the companies was crucial to the process of becoming partners, with dozens of phone calls and Cookies sending representatives to tour Veritas’ facility. Feedback and open lines of communication are crucial when one company is trusting another with its genetic library and with creating the products it will put its label on.
Cole talked about entrusting the company’s strains to another company and said that Berner is very passionate about what he puts his name on. Spadafora keeps Berner updated on how the product is coming along, sharing pictures, lab tests and reviews daily to make sure the final product is as it should be. Cookies products first started to be sold in Colorado in May, and are now sold in about 50 dispensaries.“Every grower is very different,” she said. “What we try to do is standardize it so the Gary Payton you smoke in Colorado would be the same Gary Payton experience that you would have in California.”
Gary Payton, named after the NBA all-star who licensed his name to the company, is one of Cookies’ most popular and highly reviewed strains. Cole said learning to grow a new strain is complicated, and that the key to doing it the right way is keeping communication open at every step.
“[Growing a new strain] is like a new relationship, like meeting a new person,” she said. “You have to be introduced to them, learn who they are, what they like, what they don’t like. So, it is always an ongoing conversation that we have with our partners.”
Collaboration expands beyond the interview and production process, as the companies’ marketing departments make joint pushes to advertise new products as they drop.
“We are working in conjunction with the Cookies team in California to make sure that if they are marketing a new strain as it hits the shelf, they probably have that same strain hitting the shelves in multiple states,” Spadafora said. “If you have got Berner rapping about [the strain] and the Cookies team is pushing it hard on the corporate side, it certainly makes our job a lot easier to get a customer to understand and care about it.”
Both Veritas and Cookies repeated that the partnership between them is based on a shared passion and goals, rather than just profit.
“We look to have partners that share the vision of bringing good cannabis to sophisticated connoisseurs, which Colorado is filled with,” Cole said, adding that Cookies has plans to open one of its Cookies branded dispensaries there in the future. “That is why we chose Veritas, and also just what we look for when we choose any partnership.”
Written by: Angela Stelmakowich
Nothing is certain yet, but the owners of the Veritas Fine Cannabis cultivation site in Denver believe a robbery late last week could have involved someone who used to work for the company or was very familiar with its operations.
Having cultivated in the Denver community since it became legal to do so, the company is offering a US$25,000 reward for “any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of these criminals” seen on security footage.
“Let’s catch them before they do it again,” notes a Facebook post, which provides an email address for anyone with information.
Veritas Fine Cannabis supplies strains for Cookies, the brand of rapper and pot entrepreneur Berner, and has a licensing deal with Veritas in Colorado, according to Westword. “I don’t know if it was ‘inside’ in terms of being a current employee, but one of the individuals seen on the video knows the place well, where to go and what to do,” co-owner Mike Leibowitz told the publication.
“We have witnessed and heard stories from many colleagues about break-ins and robberies, some so severe that they toppled businesses completely,” the company notes in the Facebook post. “We can, unfortunately, now say that we understand how it feels to be a victim of this type of crime.”
Leibowitz told Westword that the theft appeared to be “very coordinated, so it tells us someone knew the spot well. That just stings. Money comes and money goes, but the idea that the person who did this is potentially still working for us really hurts,” he added.
Everyone at Veritas Fine Cannabis is back to work, the company reports. “We’re growing, harvesting, trimming and packaging everything by hand and look forward to getting back to normal.”
Written by: THOMAS MITCHELL
Burglars hit a Denver cultivation that supplies two popular marijuana brands late last week, according to the operation’s owners, who are offering a reward for information that helps catch the culprits.
Veritas Fine Cannabis co-owner Mike Leibowitz has experienced his fair share of break-ins during a decade in the legal marijuana industry, where commercial growing operations are a popular target during the off-hours. But the incident on July 10 stings the worst, he says.
“A lot of these people probably get jobs within the industry and case joints, no pun intended. But they do that — and I think our particular job was from an inside influence,” Leibowitz explains. “I don’t know if it was ‘inside’ in terms of being a current employee, but one of the individuals seen on the video knows the place well, where to go and what to do.”
Inside jobs by employees and temporary staffers is an ugly truth in the marijuana industry, Leibowitz adds, though he’s seen a bloopers reel of theft attempts by obvious outsiders, too.
“You have the temporary staffing companies, electricians and plumbers, couriers literally collecting cash; you can’t prejudice yourself against anyone who’s going there to do a job,” he says. “But it was very coordinated, so it tells us someone knew the spot well. That just stings. Money comes and money goes, but the idea that the person who did this is potentially still working for us really hurts.”
The burglarized cultivation grows strains for Cookies, a popular marijuana brand from the Bay Area that has a licensing deal with Veritas in Colorado. Sold for as much as $70 for 3.5 grams, Cookies products have been highly sought after since debuting in Colorado just over two months ago, and were also taken from the grow, according to Veritas.
The Denver Police Department is investigating the theft, and Veritas also plans to hire a private investigator. But the company isn’t depending on either of those probes to nab the thief. On its Instagram page, Veritas is offering $25,000 to anyone who provides “information that leads to the arrest and conviction” of the two individuals seen on security footage; tips can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filing an insurance claim over a stolen-weed incident would’ve been unthinkable for Leibowitz as little as five years ago, but he’s filing one now. There’s property damage to cover, and both marijuana and cash were stolen from the Veritas grow warehouse, he says, though he declines to say how much.
There was a string of armed robberies at Denver-area dispensaries from late 2019 through January, and while the people responsible for those now seem to be lying low, in June the DPD sent a notice to local businesses, warning about a rise in crime at dispensaries and marijuana grows. The department suggested adding security measures; it also offered extra patrols in the neighborhood if the businesses desired them.
Written by: THOMAS MITCHELL
Veritas is one of several wholesale cannabis producers with a growing profile. Scott Lentz
After years of operating under the radar, Colorado’s commercial marijuana growers are now growing their own brands and profiles. Although dispensaries are no longer required to grow the majority of weed that they sell, customers continue to seek out homegrown products, and many owners are happy to oblige. Veritas Fine Cannabis, one of Colorado’s first early wholesale growers to successfully brand itself for quality buds, is a prime example of this shift.
Already respected for its acumen in the grow, Veritas extended its dank footprint by agreeing to a deal with Cookies, which calls for the Veritas growing staff to cultivate the Bay Area breeder’s famous genetics for Colorado dispensaries. Quick popularity can also bring backlash, however, and Cookies caught it for high prices.
To learn more about the business behind buds, we caught up with Veritas co-founder Mike Leibowitz.
Westword: Wholesale growers didn’t demand as much attention three years ago. Now we have Veritas, 710, 14er, Snaxland and more garnering real followings, waiting for strain drops. When and how do you think that changed?
Mike Leibowitz: Consumer tastes have grown more refined as Colorado’s cannabis market matured, which establishes the demand for premium brands like Veritas and Cookies. Selling pre-packaged flower, branded and on display just like well-known edibles, has allowed us and other brands to establish brand loyalty for carefully cultivated flower products, and that is something that was unheard of early on in this industry.
Years ago, flower was just looked at as a generic commodity, and wholesale growers were primarily utilized as a white-label flower source for dispensaries. But it’s not like we’re growing corn or wheat here. It took years for dispensaries to educate consumers on why they should be seeking quality over quantity. Thanks to the success and popularity of brands like Cookies, the market has grown for luxury flower, and dispensaries can no longer get away with selling mediocre white-label products.
I believe that the demand for these luxury products is also rooted in the growing social media influence brands have on Instagram, and being able to turn that hype into word-of-mouth advertising. People tell their friends about this amazing, exotic strain they saw on an influencer’s feed. Now that friend is following the brand and looking for a dispensary that is getting the next product drop. There has always been a segment of cannabis consumers looking for unique products, and now that segment has grown so much that dispensaries are catering specifically to that crowd.
So many strains come and go over the years, and few actually stick around. Why is that?
Strains come and go based on a combination of consumer demand and growers’ interest. To stay relevant as a brand, you have to always have something different and unique to offer. When a cultivator can introduce an exotic strain in limited supply, that’s an ideal situation to build hype and demand for new strains.
From a cultivator’s standpoint, cannabis provides so much terpene-loaded territory to explore. At Veritas, we have a vast library of genetics and we really do thrive off experimenting with different phenotypes and developing new cultivars. There will always be classic consumer favorites, which we have mastered, but we believe we are at our best as cultivators when we are taking strains in new directions.
How much have commercially desirable cannabis flavors developed over the years? I don’t remember doughy, cakey or even garlic flavors being so popular in 2015.
The number of consumers looking for desirable cannabis flavors is growing every year, and the fact that people are lining up for craft cannabis is proof. At Veritas, we were excited to bring in luxury flower brand Cookies to the Colorado market, and it’s a testament to the brand’s reputation that we’re consistently selling out our product drops for these coveted, uniquely flavored strains. There’s only so much Cookies to go around.
We look at the driving force of this consumer behavior as a result of the generational changes in cannabis purchasing decisions. It’s often easy to forget, but we are coming up on a generation of adults in Colorado that have only purchased cannabis from dispensaries. With that comes a different level of product knowledge and more educated consumer preferences. Older consumers were used to buying cannabis under the table and having very limited options, so they are not going to have the same motivations, like making terpene-driven purchasing decisions. Younger generations are also more brand-conscious and looking for unique experiences.
Cannabis prices are increasing again at the dispensary. Do you think cannabis will ever reach a point of consistent price points, like a $10 six-pack?
As the cannabis business becomes more normalized over time, I think yes, we will have consistent price points. However, the current market is still so reactive that it will be some time before we get to that. The coronavirus really affected the forecasts for this year’s market. It wasn’t particularly bad for business, but it played a big role in supply and demand. Currently, our market in Colorado is kind of dry; however, six weeks ago it wasn’t. That is the instability the pandemic caused to the supply chain. Purchases are being driven by outside factors like stay-at-home orders or Denver momentarily deciding to close dispensaries. Some dispensaries may keep prices consistent to establish their store’s reputation, but you won’t see harmonious pricing across the board any time soon.
Speaking of prices, I saw an eighth of Cookies Pancake for sale for $70 yesterday. What are your thoughts on that? Would you ever pay that much for an eighth of weed?
If you are hunting for boutique cannabis, the price is 100 percent worth it. For a special occasion, you might splurge on $100 champagne instead of $20 sparkling wine. You are paying for a higher-quality product, and you will, in fact, get what you pay for. If you want to experience Cookies, it’s understood that you’re not buying a mass-produced, low-tier eighth with a high price tag. You’re paying for a unique, painstakingly cultivated cannabis strain. The demand for Cookies is through the roof right now.
The pricing backlash comes from the old-school mindset of buying the most you can for the least amount of cash. With Cookies or the Veritas suite of flower, less is more, and our quality is bar none. It’s time to start thinking about cannabis like any other consumer good. The more cannabis can be accepted as something normal and not vilified, the more the market will be normalized. Thinking about cannabis in the same light as other mainstream retail products will lead us to appropriately valuing quality.
What are some of your favorite strains right now? Any new cultivars we should be looking for this summer or fall?
I am in love with all of the Cookies strains, but I think, so far, Cake Mix and Project 4510 are at the top of my list. All Cookies strains are a hot commodity right now and hard to get, but they are unique and well worth it. From Veritas, our Granola Funk and Scooby Snax are my go-to strains. Also, at Higher Grade dispensaries (I’m a co-owner), we have some in-house crosses that have been really interesting, like Birthday Dawg (Birthday Cake x Stardawg) and our new Koko Puffs (Kimbo Kush x Triple OG) strain, which is coated with crystals. Fruit strains always pick up in popularity during the summer, so be on the lookout for those. At the end of the day, there are so many great strains to choose from right now, my advice would be to try something new.