Mike Hennesy knew early on the cannabis industry was right for him.
After seeing how cannabis helped his college roommate, he set out for Colorado after the state legalized cannabis use in 2012. He’s now director of innovation for Boulder, Colorado-based Wana Brands.
Hennesy is set to speak at the inaugural Cannabis Products Exchange event, set for July 30-31 in Denver. This interactive two-day conference is designed to inform and inspire the ideation, innovation, research and development, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and consumer safety of legal cannabis edibles and beverages.
Hennesy recently spoke with Cannabis Products Magazine about challenges product developers face, trends in the cannabis gummies space and how collaborating with other industry professionals is a must for a fast-growing industry.
CP: How did you get into the cannabis food and beverage business?
MH: I was really turned onto the positive benefits of cannabis during my undergrad education in the early 2010s through my own personal use and seeing how it helped a roommate who had frequent seizures. When he would feel one coming on, he would immediately smoke cannabis and it would completely prevent the seizure. It was like a miracle, because when he did not have cannabis available (it was not yet medically approved in Maryland, so he frequently experienced shortages) he would have intense and painful seizures that would leave him debilitated for a day or more.
Around that time I knew I wanted to pursue a career in cannabis, so when Colorado voted to legalize cannabis the year I graduated college, 2012, I decided to move there. My first job in the industry was a courier legally transporting cannabis flower, infused products and payments between growers, manufacturers and dispensaries. I had an opportunity to learn and see how the whole industry worked on the inside and meet many of the founding businesses that are still around today.
CP: What challenges do product developers in the cannabis food and beverage space face?
MH: Cannabis and cannabinoids would not typically be considered great ingredients to incorporate into food or beverage products, and they pose issues to any product development. They are botanic ingredients, and the quality and composition can change from grow to grow and harvest to harvest, even between plants of the same strain, leading to issues with consistency. Wana has partnered with some of the nation's largest leading growers to ensure the highest quality product, sourced from producers large enough to guarantee consistency of the active cannabinoids ingredients in our products.
Cannabinoids are also very insoluble in water, meaning they will not dissolve into drinks and have difficulty being absorbed fully by the body. These challenges require product developers to examine and understand the chemistry of cannabinoids and use technologies that emulsify or encapsulate the active ingredients to properly infuse them into products. As cannabis science advances quickly, it is vital for leading producers to constantly research and vet new emerging technologies. Wana Brands is always keeping a close eye on research as it is published, as well as technology startups that are offering new ways to combat the challenges faced by the chemistry of cannabinoids.
CP: Why are gummies an ideal application for delivering cannabis compounds?
MH: Consumers are familiar with the gummy platform as a delivery format for supplements, and it works perfectly for THC as well. Gummies are shelf stable and easy to transport. Wana Brands differentiates its gummy line by leveraging a decade of tried-and-true cannabinoid expertise along with our premium best-selling edibles recipes. It can be challenging to mask the bitterness of cannabis oil, but Wana Brands has dedicated extensive resources to perfecting our recipe, which is vegan, gluten free, all natural and kosher certified.
CP: What are a few trends you’re seeing in the cannabis gummies space?
MH: Innovation and product development are flourishing in the cannabis gummies space, and Wana Brands is one of the primary companies leading that charge.
Right now we are focused on trends such as quick onset and highly bioavailable cannabinoid delivery, ratios of CBD and THC, consistent and broad blends of terpenes and minor cannabinoids to deliver the entourage effect, and a move toward organic ingredients and recipes.
Wana Brands has a long history of advancing technical and scientific innovation in order to perfect its products’ medicinal efficacy and ease of use. It’s also a company that remains true to its original belief that edibles should be a treat as much as a health supplement. And that’s why it has put so much consistent effort into ensuring that the flavors of its edibles come through, instead of the taste of the cannabis. At Wana, we’ve developed new products that have quicker onset times and more bioavailability. This includes:
- On the Wana Brands side (THC), Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummies feature new Happy Hour flavors launched in March 2020 and provide a novel edible experience, with an onset of 5-15 mins and Delta-9-THC effects (similar to an inhalation effect rather than an edible effect) lasting up to three hours.
Traditional edibles have an onset time of up to two hours, with effects lasting up to six hours. The new Wana product line features an all-natural recipe, with no high fructose corn syrup. Each gummy offers 5mg of THC, with 20 gummies per package. Fast, effective and innovative, Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummies harness TiME (Thermodynamic Individual Molecular Encapsulation), a new quick onset technology from Azuca.
While traditional edibles convert Delta-9-THC in the digestive tract to 11-Hydroxy-THC, Wana Quick gummies feature individually encapsulated Delta-9-THC cannabinoids with greater bioavailability that work at the molecular level to bypass the liver and enter the bloodstream immediately. This means onset in less than 15 mins for most, and a Delta-9-THC experience that lasts two to four hours. Featuring different cannabis classes, Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummies include:
- CBD/THC 1:1 Strawberry Margarita: Fast-acting technology is paired with sweet and citrusy flavors of a strawberry margarita with a hint of salt. Infused with CBD and THC terpene-enhanced distillate, this popular 1:1 ratio offers psychoactive effects while promoting relaxation and tranquility. 5mg CBD / 5mg THC per piece, 100mg CBD / 100mg THC per package (20 pieces).
- Sativa Peach Bellini: Fast-acting technology is paired with the juicy peach flavor of a sparkling peach bellini. Infused with sativa terpene-enhanced distillate, which has been known to cause a more uplifting and motivating effect. 5mg THC per piece, 100mg THC per package (20 pieces).
- Indica Piña Colada: Fast-acting technology is paired with the rich and creamy pineapple and coconut flavors of a piña colada. Infused with indica terpene-enhanced distillate, which often results in a mellow, stress-relieving effect. 5mg THC per piece, 100mg THC per package (20 pieces).
- On the Wana Wellness side, we just launched our Wana Wellness Quick Fast-Acting Hemp Tincture, infused with Colorado-grown, broad-spectrum hemp oil, Wana Wellness Quick Fast-Acting Tincture acts within 5-15 minutes.
Powered by Quicksilver Scientific’s advanced nanoemulsion technology, this product is five times more bioavailable than traditional tinctures, making it quick and easy to keep up with your dietary needs. Leveraging functional ingredients, Wana Wellness offers three options:
- Wana Wellness RESTORE Fast-Acting Hemp Tincture contains naturally occurring cannabidiol (CBD), essential terpenes and other plant compounds that support a healthy lifestyle.
- Wana Wellness RELAX Fast-Acting Hemp Tincture is supplemented with 5-HTP and a proprietary blend of GABA, L-Theanine, skullcap herb extract and rose flower oil for relaxation. Our tincture contains naturally occurring cannabidiol (CBD), essential terpenes and other plant compounds that support a healthy lifestyle.
- Wana Wellness REST Fast-Acting Hemp Tincture is supplemented with melatonin to support sleep and a proprietary blend of GABA, skullcap herb extract and liquid passion flower extract for relaxation. Our tincture contains naturally occurring cannabidiol (CBD), essential terpenes and other plant compounds that support a healthy lifestyle.
CP: What role does branding play in creating a successful cannabis product?
MH: At Wana, we put a lot of resources into branding initiatives, particularly to support our dispensary partners. We have invested heavily in POS displays, videos and radio ads, new eco-friendly packaging with shelf appeal, digital channels and custom content, education, influencer programs and CSR efforts.
There are a lot of brands and product options out there, and more are hitting the market every day. But dispensaries need to have good brand partners that they can trust and that will support them. The reason Wana Brands remains the top-selling brand in Colorado is two-fold: Retailers trust us for our professionalism and our unwavering commitment to quality and reliability across all of our products, and consumers know that Wana Brands products will not disappoint.
This is incredibly important for edibles because many people have heard about or have experienced taking a larger dose than is comfortable for them. Wana Brands’ products all undergo rigorous internal and external testing to ensure precise dosage and consistency. That means that the experience for our customers is the same each time.
We have found that once customers find a consistent product that they like, they are very brand loyal. Beyond our outstanding product, Wana provides multi-tiered support with marketing, training, consumer education, POS displays and more. Our dispensary partners’ success is our success. You can’t have one without the other.
CP: How can learning from and collaborating with other industry professionals help product developers?
MH: Every industry benefits from collaboration and learning from peers in the space, and this is doubly true for rapidly growing and evolving industries like cannabis. To properly innovate a cannabis product, developers should be thinking critically about every step from growing, to extracting and producing products. By collaborating with others we can be introduced to new ideas such as growing or curing techniques that boost terpene ratios, or improved extraction methods that can remove unwanted flavors, to new technologies that improve the solubility and delivery of cannabinoids.
If you only focus in one area of product development, you may very well miss the big picture or the newest paradigm changing invention. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum, but instead breeds from the exchanging of ideas and investigation of new topics.
The absolute best way to do that is by getting out and meeting other industry professionals on a regular basis, and sharing information amongst your network. Wana is an avid supporter and attendee of a wide range of industry events across the country, both brand and retailer focused, but also scientific conferences.