Cannabis and confectionery products such as gummies, chocolate, and hard candies have long been linked, and their union has only intensified since U.S. states began legalizing recreational cannabis use in 2014.

Confectionery applications in particular are favored for delivering cannabinoids thanks to consumer familiarity, convenience, and consistency, says Kristi Knoblich Palmer, co-founder of Kiva Confections, Oakland, CA. “Edibles are not only delicious, they are consistent, reliable, and easily dosed,” she says. “Strict regulations empower users to trust edibles and feel confident about their experience.”

Consumers continue to gravitate toward confectionery edibles, according to data from Cannabis Products data partner BDSA (formerly BDS Analytics), Boulder, CO. From January to April 2020, candy represented about 80 percent of dollar sales going to edibles and approximately 10 percent of total dollar sales. Gummies continues to be the largest category across all ingestibles, also making up the majority of candy sales.

Kiva Confections Camino Sleep Gummies
courtesy of Kiva Confections

According to BDSA cannabis consumer insights, in fully legal U.S. states, for March and April 2020, about 70 percent of cannabis consumers have tried edibles, and about 35 percent of cannabis consumers prefer edibles. Among edibles consumers:

  • About 60 percent have consumed gummy products
  • About 40 percent have consumed chocolate products

As markets mature, consumers have started to demonstrate that they have interest in more-nuanced products that offer more than just cannabis in a sweet package. Increased control over dosing, quicker onset times, unique flavors, strategic cannabinoid ratios, and inclusion of rare cannabinoids are among the specific needs being addressed by new confectionery edibles.

 

Manufacturing with Quality in Mind

Regardless of their intended outcome, quality confectionery edibles begin with thoughtfully sourced ingredients.

Nancy Whiteman, CEO, Wana Brands, Boulder, CO, notes the company researched more than 30 types of pectin for its gummies with the goal of finding the best option for consistency and scalability while maintaining a soft texture. 

Additionally, Wana Brands has prioritized using natural colors and flavors, moving to a 95 percent organic formula this summer. Wana Brands also refrains from using mineral oil and infuses its gummies within the product matrix, rather than spraying on cannabis oil topically. “That means you’re getting a product that delivers more-precise dosing and a more-robust, fruity flavor without the ‘hashy’ aftertaste,” Whiteman says.

Wana Brands Fast-Acting Gummies
courtesy of Wana Brands

Wana Brands works with cannabis cultivators who follow organic growing practices and produce enough plant material to offer consistent strains. While the company currently pulls off terpenes before making distillate and reintroduces them at the end of the cooking process, the multi-state producer plans to begin using botanical terpene blends this summer.

“We see differences from extractor to extractor, but due to federal legal status of cannabis, we have to produce within the state it is sold, so it’s like recreating the wheel every time,” Whiteman says. “We have to have a process that’s replicable and consistent.”

Creating repeatable, yet flexible, recipes is also key to succeeding in multiple states, Whiteman adds. “We’ve spent a lot of time developing and refining our recipes, both in Colorado and then in each additional state where we’ve launched,” she says. “As soon as we know we’re entering a new state, we dial in the recipe for that specific environment, so we know we’re not going to end up with sticky gummies in the middle of the summer. There’s a lot that goes into having a consistent, quality product.”

Even without federal guidance on cannabis-infused food and beverages, producers of all varieties should follow current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs) to protect customers and the reputation of their brand, as well as prepare themselves for any future audits and regulation.

“Food safety and quality—from sourcing to production, packaging, storage, and delivery—is all paramount,” Knoblich Palmer says.

 

Addressing Needs

Whether they’re looking for relaxation, help with anxiety and sleep issues, or an engaging culinary experience, confectionery edibles can fulfill the unique needs of cannabis consumers.

To help with restlessness, this year Kiva Confections released its Midnight Blueberry Camino gummies, made with relaxing terpenes, chamomile, lavender, and cannabinol (CBN), a rare cannabinoid gaining interest for its calming effect.

“We knew we wanted to make a sleep-specific product since that’s a pressure point that a lot of consumers had shared with us,” Knoblich Palmer says. “CBN has documented tranquil, relaxing properties, so it really is the perfect cannabinoid for sleep issues.”

Kiva Confections Bars
courtesy of Kiva Confections

Sourcing CBN proved difficult—Kiva Confections spent nine months seeking the best supplier—but the efforts seem to be paying off. “We’ve had to ramp up production to meet demand, which is not surprising given the current state of events,” Knoblich Palmer said. “People are in need of some stress relief and a restful night’s sleep, so it really is a matter of the right product at the right time.”

Kiva Confections has also expanded its range of Kiva chocolate bars with nostalgic, comforting flavors: Dark Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip and Milk Chocolate Churro. Featuring 100 mg tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per bar and 5 mg THC per serving, the bars contain cold-water extract to preserve terpenes and offer a superior taste.

The Kiva chocolate range also includes elevated flavors such as Dark Chocolate Toffee Crunch, White Chocolate Raspberries & Cream, Dark Chocolate Espresso, Dark Chocolate Raspberry, and Dark Chocolate Blackberry. 

The Dark Chocolate Espresso bar features a 1:1 ratio of cannabidiol (CBD) to THC, while Kiva’s Dark Chocolate 5:1 bar contains 100 mg of CBD and 20 mg of THC for a lower-dose user experience. “It’s important to us that we offer a full range of not only flavors, but also experiences for our consumers so they can find the best fit for their lifestyle,” Knoblich Palmer says.

Wana Brands also combines CBD and THC in various products. In March, the company launched Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummies, which features a product with a 1:1 ratio of CBD and THC. “We have always focused on helping people have a more-nuanced, effective, and enjoyable experience with our products, which is evident in our wide array of available ratios and classes,” Whiteman says. “We will be exploring those trends further by combining and tweaking variables, including dosage, onset, and the addition of terpenes, functional ingredients, and rare cannabinoids.”

Wana Brands collaborated with Azuca, developer of the TiME infusion process, to create its Fast-Acting Gummies. Available in a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio and flavors like Strawberry Margarita, Sativa Peach Bellini, and Indica Piña Colada, the gummies have an onset of 5–15 minutes with effects lasting up to three hours, mirroring the experience of an inhalable cannabis product.

“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,” Whiteman says.

Varavo, Los Angles, is also bringing some diversity to the gummy market with its new Kushy Punch Recover products, with feature 6 mg THC and 3 mg CBD per piece. The company suggests that bite-sized gummies are an ideal solution for consumers seeking perfectly portioned doses, whether the consumer is new to cannabis or looking for a less-intense experience. The products are made with full-spectrum cannabis oil, a product dynamic that’s clearly communicated on product packaging.

In addition to revamped flavors, the gummies’ new packaging includes proprietary, patent-pending childproof triggers, the separation of each bite within the packaging, and the use of silicon technology to preserve the potency, freshness, and integrity of the gummy.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kushy Punch has also introduced products with high concentrations of THC for medical customers. In Michigan, the brand offers its T.K.O. Extra Strength gummies with 200 mg of THC, along with three new products: Haymaker, Jab Jab, and Uppercut.

Whether the dose is high or low, it’s critical consumers have the control to achieve the outcome they desire, Knoblich Palmer says. “We want to make sure that everyone—from new users to advanced—feels in control of their experience,” she says. “If they enjoy how the products feel as much as they enjoy their taste, then we know we’re doing our job.”

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