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What does it take to be the leading gummie brand in the U.S. in an increasingly competitive cannabis market? Nancy Whiteman, CEO and co-founder of Wana Brands, recently spoke at the Green Entrepreneur’s Green Growth Summit in Chicago and shared her insights about Wana’s growth from a local start-up to a leading national cannabis brand.
Image credit: Crank Communications
Whiteman started Wana in 2010 in her kitchen and has grown the company to become a top international brand available in 13 U.S. states and nine markets in Canada, generating close to $300 million in retail sales annually across more than 3,000 dispensaries. And in November 2021, Canopy Growth agreed to pay $297.5 million in cash upfront for the option to purchase Wana. The kicker? Whiteman has never raised money for Wana and has grown the entire business organically.
“That grassroots bootstrapped mentality still informs what is success for me today because I am very bottom-line oriented,” Whiteman said.
Whiteman offered several pieces of advice to Green Growth Summit attendees on how to build a plant-touching company that’s not only successful but also prioritizes corporate social responsibility, innovation, efficacy, and safety.
1. Invest in Innovation
The number of cannabis-infused products on dispensary shelves continues to explode. Differentiation, innovation, and consistency will determine which brands come out ahead and gain a dedicated following.
“At this point in the maturation of the industry, brands must bring something new to the table in order to be successful—a product innovation or unique value proposition, for example,” Whiteman said. “And for those just entering the field, they will need to look beyond riding the coattails of other successful brands if they want to succeed.”
“We are committed to being an industry leader in product development that incorporates cutting-edge technology allowing consumers to dial in their experience,” she said. “Also, with the introduction of our Quick Fast-Acting Gummies, we are seeing consumers who are new to the edibles market, now that the market offers a product that meets their needs.”
2. Build the brand
Consistency is key when it comes to building the most trusted edible brand in the country, and Whiteman and her team go to great lengths to ensure that no matter where they are, consumers will get a consistent, safe, effective, and premium product. To do this, Wana has invested in top-of-the-line equipment, such as a texture analyzer [that ensures] that the texture is the same market to market.
“Our mission is to enhance people’s lives through the power of cannabis, and part of that means working hard to ensure that customers feel confident in what they are going to experience when they purchase a Wana product,” Whiteman said. “This is why we go to great lengths to identify the best partners to work with in every market and we are always thinking about how our brand is presented to consumers, no matter where they encounter Wana.”
3. Educate consumers
Ensuring that consumers understand how new products work and the benefits they provide is an essential part of any cannabis company’s strategy. “While the industry is moving at light speed, we must be careful not to leave consumers behind,” Whiteman said. “If consumers don’t understand how to use a sublingual product, or what differentiates a conventional gummie from a live rosin gummie, then they may leave with suboptimal experience, which none of us want. For brands like Wana, it is important to educate consumers on how our products are different, sharing the science to back up our claims.”
4. Stay focused
While it’s tempting to say yes to every opportunity that comes through the door (and there are many), the trick, explains Whiteman, is to hone in on the opportunities that align with your mission and business objectives. “You have to be disciplined and not go after every shiny object,” said Whiteman. This can mean saying no to the vast majority of partnership inquiries, collaborations, speaking opportunities, and more.
5. Walk the walk
While Wana has grown from a “scrappy” startup Whiteman started out of her own home to a national industry leader, they’ve stayed true to their roots and a deep commitment to social equity and social justice. “My goal was to not have [CSR] be siloed off in one little part of the company. I wanted it to be an integral part of who we were and what our brand stood for,” said Whiteman.
She said Wana focuses on issues of food security, housing, domestic violence, LGBTQIA+ rights, and racial justice within the cannabis industry, supporting more than 50 charitable organizations across the markets where the company operates.
Most recently, Wana, in partnership with the Wana Brands Foundation, launched its #4ward20 campaign in recognition of 4/20. The 4ward20 campaign helps drive dollars and attention to critical organizations around the United States that bring healthy, nourishing food to those in need. In each of Wana’s 13 U.S. markets, the company is donating $10,000 to local, on-the-ground organizations best equipped to help meet the growing need for food assistance in their communities.
In the end, Whiteman says that she measures success not just by profitability and growth but also by the “softer” measures like employee happiness, low turnover, giving back to the community and contributing to the larger good of society. “When I think about what truly makes Wana successful, I look at all of those things.”