Q&A with Stephanie Gorecki, director of food science at Cresco Labs
Gorecki talks Cresco Labs’ growth, Crain’s 2020 Notable Women in Manufacturing honor.
Cresco Labs is expanding its footprint in the cannabis edibles space.
The Chicago-based edibles manufacturer recently upgraded its confectionery manufacturing equipment, moving from small, artisanal batches to producing more than 100,000 gummies a day. The equipment upgrade allowed for the reformulation of the Mindy’s Edibles line, featuring flavors developed by James Beard Award-winning chef Mindy Segal.
Stephanie Gorecki, director of food science at Cresco Labs, helped see the company through the process change, earning her recognition as one of Crain’s 2020 Notable Women in Manufacturing.
Gorecki recently spoke about the honor, her background in manufacturing and Cresco Labs’ growth.
CP: What manufacturing experience did you have before joining Cresco Labs? Did you have experience in the cannabis space?
SG: The first company that I worked for post-college was a flavor house. I was a technologist, and this company is where I received my first exposure to working in a manufacturing setting. Flavor manufacturing has many parallels to the various aspects of manufacturing seen in the cannabis space: extraction, distillation, spray drying, fluidize bed drying, emulsification, liquid blending and dry blending.
Later, I spent six years as a senior scientist at a company where I was involved with the commercialization of several major custom ingredient launches for global brands. Most of my current work involves bringing new products on-line with the implementation of new equipment and processes. There are significant amounts of troubleshooting and problem solving involved in the commercialization of new formulas, and I have been able to directly apply my past career experiences to my role at Cresco Labs in the development and manufacturing of edibles.
CP: What appealed to you about Cresco Labs?
SG: In 2019, I attended a two-day short course presented by Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) on cannabis-infused edibles. After seeing all the attention being brought to CBD as an emerging ingredient of interest by food manufacturers, I realized that the quickest way for me to become hands-on with THC and CBD was to make the jump into the cannabis space. I began researching Cresco Labs and discovered this company aims to become one of the most important companies in cannabis. They had a role open for director of food science, and after interviewing and meeting the team, I knew I had found my people.
CP: What was the inspiration behind reformulating the Mindy’s Edibles gummy line? How did that process go?
SG: There were several layers of inspiration behind the Mindy’s Edibles gummy line reformulation project. New flavors, micro-dosing, automation, and enhanced shelf stability were some of the key drivers. The new line is flavor-forward and now made using sophisticated depositing equipment instead of a cooling table. The new equipment allows us to manufacture precision-dosed edibles.
We currently make products with 5 and 2 milligrams of THC per 3-gram gummy piece. The flavors were created by celebrated Chef Mindy Segal who takes you on a flavor journey with multi-dimensional flavors such as Lush Black Cherry and Honey Sweet Melon. Commercializing the new gummies had its challenges since this was a new manufacturing line for us, but that is to be expected with any new process. We got through it and now we produce well over 100,000 gummies per day. We continue to increase production as more cannabis oil becomes available to edibles through our cultivation and extraction processes.
CP: How would you characterize the process Cresco Labs used before it switched to more advanced confectionery equipment? What kinds of equipment were installed?
SG: Prior to automation, everything was produced in small batches in an artisanal fashion. Production and packaging by our amazing kitchen team were labor-intensive. The earlier days of production involved cooling tables and wrapping taffy by hand. Now, we have automated our processes with top-of-the-line depositing, forming, tableting, packaging and cutting and wrapping equipment that has allowed us to produce more product for the growing demand of consumers in the states that we operate in.
CP: How has the more advanced/larger-scale equipment helped Cresco Labs’ production process?
SG: We have launched several new products that are micro-dosed. Our advanced equipment has allowed us to produce precision-dosed edibles accurately and consistently. When we discovered that Illinois was going to make cannabis products available for adult-use customers on Jan. 1, 2020, we had our new equipment in place and were able to ramp up production in anticipation for the new increased demand and have the reformulated Mindy’s Edibles on shelves by January 2020.
CP: What’s the importance of a pilot lab? How has developing one helped Cresco Labs’ business?
SG: We are now fully operational in the new Cresco Labs R&D and Innovation space. We conduct non-infused edibles R&D and pilot plant trials at The Hatchery, the best-in-class food incubation space located here in Chicago. In our pilot plant, we have production-sized equipment that allows us to test new products prior to moving into the production space in Joliet, Illinois. We can trouble shoot and problem solve in advance, which makes the commercialization process more seamless.
This space allows us to test new ideas and processes and to freely innovate. This space is also where we produce all our non-infused Mindy’s gummies samples, which are then distributed to dispensaries so customers can taste our product prior to purchasing infused gummies. It’s important for us to keep all non-infused work separate from our cultivation center. We have several tools for conducting “mock infusions,” such as using oleoresins as a substitute for cannabis distillate or using imitation cannabis flavors from well-established flavor houses to better understand how terpenes will contribute to flavor in a finished product.
CP: How does it feel to be recognized as one of Crain’s 2020 Notable Women in Manufacturing?
SG: It is an honor to be recognized as one of Crain’s 2020 Notable Women in Manufacturing. Cresco Labs is dedicated to implementing the highest manufacturing standards in the industry, and I am excited to be a part of this endeavor. It’s imperative that we bring awareness to the focused efforts and work being conducted in the cannabis space, and I thank Crain’s for recognizing the important work that we are doing.
CP: How would you describe the representation of women in the cannabis edibles industry? What would you like to see?
SG: There are more women who are becoming interested and aware of how enriching a career in the cannabis industry can be. Before I joined Cresco Labs, it was extremely appealing to me that their top edibles brand was chef-led by Mindy Segal, who is a strong woman pioneer in her industry. For years, Mindy has worked hand-in-hand with Lisa Kamerad, our vice president of strategic development. These women and the work they have done are why I am able to have a career in edibles with Cresco Labs. I am proud to be a part of an organization where our senior leadership team makes it a priority to hire and promote women into leadership roles.
CP: Do you have any advice for manufacturers looking to enter the cannabis edibles industry?
SG: There are many regulatory and compliance details that will need to be worked through as you grow and expand in the legal cannabis market. This industry is highly scientific; the analytical equipment and production equipment needed to create products that consumers can rely on and trust is costly. On the flip side, the industry is extremely rewarding to be a part of. Many of our customers rely daily on our products, and we are dedicated to delivering the highest quality possible to our customers across the country.