Big Pete’s Treats has come a long way since it sold its first cannabis-infused cookies to dispensaries in San Jose, CA in 2010.
First participating in the state’s medical market, Big Pete’s Treats, Santa Cruz, CA, built its business around preparing for adult-use legalization, which didn’t come until eight years after the company’s start.
Having that time — along with a professional, compliance-focused mindset — has been beneficial, says Pete Feurtado Jr., Big Pete’s Treats CEO and son of “Big Pete” Feurtado.
“We have had such great timing and a little bit of luck along the way,” he says.
Feurtado Jr. covered Big Pete’s Treats’ history and how the company readied for full legalization during Cannabis Products Exchange, held virtually July 30-31. Though the last decade has been crucial for Big Pete’s Treats, its passion for cannabis goes back much further.
In 1979, Pete Feurtado, then a high-school senior, planted a few cannabis seeds in his backyard, where he grew some “scraggly plants” that ended up delivering quality cannabis, Feurtado Jr. says. Feurtado made his first batch of baked goods, which the whole football team enjoyed.
A year later, Feurtado moved to Hawaii’s Big Island for college. He hiked with friends to the Kilauea Volcano, where he planted cannabis starters in the rich volcanic soil. Like his plants, Feurtado’s love for cannabis flourished.
After college, Feurtado started a family and earned the nickname of “Big Pete” through coaching Feurtado Jr.’s — “Little Pete’s” — Little League games. Fast forward to 2009, and Feurtado enrolled in Oaksterdam University, an Oakland, CA-based institution offering cannabis cultivation and business courses.
For his senior project, Feurtado created a business plan for a cannabis bakery. It included a cannabutter recipe they developed using trim from a grow in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Feurtado Jr. says cannabutter creates homogenous cookies and a stronger, more consistent user experience.
“This is what sets us apart from the competition,” he says. “Not every milligram is equal. When you make a product with cannabutter, you’re going to get a more full-spectrum, longer-lasting high and it’s going to hit you a little harder. You’re going to get that full body high. An edible made with distillate is going to be a little lighter and maybe not last as long.”
Big Pete’s Treats moved into a commercial kitchen in 2011 after the Feurtados realized they’d need more capacity. The company first occupied about a third of the building, but today it manufactures in the whole facility.
In 2012, Big Pete’s Treats developed its mini cookie, which allowed customers to have greater control over their experience and eliminated the need to cut a larger cookie into four pieces.
“By us coming up with the mini cookie, it was an easy way for people to know their dose, learn their dose,” Feurtado Jr. says. “People liked having that option to just eat one cookie, seal it up and go on with their day.”
With the mini cookie, Big Pete’s Treats expanded into the Bay Area in 2013 and into southern California in 2017, where Feurtado Jr.’s sister, Katie, serves as head salesperson.
The mini cookie also set the company up for when California’s adult-use legalization took effect in 2018, which required one dose per cookie. That year Big Pete’s Treats also scaled back its offerings to its three core flavors — Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter and Cinnamon Sugar — to more easily weather the post-legalization boom.
The company also put an emphasis on food safety, good manufacturing practices and complying with local and state regulations.
“At the end of the day, Big Pete’s Treats is a food manufacturer with an added ingredient of cannabis,” Feurtado Jr. says. “None of the marketing, all the fun stuff really matters unless you can be compliant.”
This focus, along with the experience Big Pete’s Treats had gained since its founding, put the company in a position to succeed after legalization. Other companies didn’t fare as well, Feurtado Jr. says.
“We saw so many businesses go down. We saw so many of our friends not be able to operate in the regulated market,” he says. “The rules and compliance is so strict. It’s very tough. It’s a lot of work. For us, we were so lucky to start in 2010, and our goal was always to get prepared for legalization. We had years to get prepared, and that was a major advantage for us.”
It seemed to work — Big Pete’s Treats’ sales quadrupled in 2018. The company also completed Series A financing and purchased bigger ovens, as well as a new mixer, cookie depositor and packaging machines.
At that point, the Feurtados realized they’d need someone with more financial experience to help manage the growing business, so they brought on Metrik Masuda as chief financial officer.
“Neither my dad or I are finance people, and we knew that this was a weakness in our business,” Feurtado Jr. says. “If we were going to make it, this had to be done. Looking back, that was the best move we ever made.”
Last year, the company launched a white-label partnership with the cannabis lifestyle brand Cookies, founded by Berner, a rapper and San Francisco native. Inspired by cannabis strains, the cookies are available in Mint Chocolate Chip, Cherry Pie and Cookies & Cream flavors.
Big Pete’s Treats has since launched Double Chocolate, Lemon and Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip varieties. The company’s newest flavor, Birthday Cake, sold out in two days, Feurtado Jr. says. Now Big Pete’s Treats is working on brownie bites and vegan coconut cookies.
“We are focused on the baked good category, and we’re going to continue to focus on the baked good category because that’s what we do best,” he says.