BY PAUL SCHRODT
Edibles used to—in a word—suck. Made with potency rather than taste in mind, the early homemade offerings were also largely inconsistent. Kristi Knoblich, the cofounder of the booming chocolate-focused edibles brand Kiva, sympathizes. The 32-year-old started the California-based company with her husband, Scott Palmer, in their home kitchen back in 2010 when they spotted a void in the market.
“We were cultivating cannabis in our backyard at the time, and we were going into stores and finding that there really weren’t any edibles we would purchase ourselves,” Knoblich, who lives in the Bay Area, says. “There wasn’t anything that was properly labeled; professional. We basically set out to create delicious edibles that were trustworthy, high-quality, and something you could share with friends and feel good about consuming.”
That little experiment basically happened in the dark, since the legal marijuana industry in the state was “completely unregulated” at the time, as Knoblich puts it. “There was no playbook, no licenses, permits, or anything like that.” The couple, who met in photography school and launched their startup a few years after graduating in 2007, spent nine months developing their product, from lab-testing samples to nailing the graphic design.
They split their duties. Palmer is “an engineer at heart,” according to Knoblich, and runs Kiva’s in-house research and development department, tweaking formulations and using trial and error to answer customers’ desires. Knoblich has a limited background working in restaurants and hotels, but she sums up her expertise differently. “I like to eat, and I like candy,” she laughs.
In addition to a staff of about 120, Kiva now has over a dozen of cannabis-infused products, from its signature flavored chocolate bars that come in pristine packaging (mint Irish cream milk chocolate and blackberry dark chocolate are favorites) to new offerings like Camino Gummies, which come with descriptions of their mood effects that correspond to their terpene profiles (pineapple habanero is “uplifting,” while wild berry is “chill”). But its most popular item is more unusual: Terra Bites, which use a 24-hour panning process to cover dried blueberries in a dusting of cocoa powder and a generous layer of milk chocolate. Now with stiffer competition among reliable edibles, Knoblich sees innovation as the way to stand out. Kiva strives for distinctive flavors to pair with premium locally sourced chocolate while ruling out anything that brings out the bitter, hash-y taste of cannabis (including, apparently, pomegranate).
Despite all that, the past year hasn’t been the easiest year for Kiva. It lost a lot of business when California issued its first licenses for dispensaries at the end of 2017, cutting Kiva’s ties to customers that suddenly became forbidden. “We worked with about 1,100 stores in California, but around the beginning of 2018 we saw a decrease to about 10 retail stores,” Knoblich says with a sigh. “We’re all trying to figure out together how to safely and sensibly regulate the cannabis industry. It’s no easy to task.”
Business has still mostly prevailed. The number of stores carrying Kiva’s products shot back up, and Knoblich adds that the company’s 2018 sales are on track to outperform the previous year, which has been the case each year prior. And the science-geeky brand has more tricks awaiting. “We’ll have a couple new flavors to accompany the Terra Bites line,” Knoblich says, an undeniable note of excitement lifting her voice. “We have flavors that could even rival the blueberry.”