Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo. A brand development firm guiding mission driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crush their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.
Diana Fryc 0:45
Hi, Diana Fryc here I am the host of the Gooder Podcast where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. Thanks for joining us today. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. Retail Voodoo is a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks kind Rei, PepsiCo, highkey, and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for leading brands in the food wellness, beverage and fitness industries. If your goal is to increase market, share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk visit Retail-Voodoo.com or email Diana@RetailVoodoo.com to learn more. So hey, before introducing today’s guest, I want to give a bit of a thank you to Miss Kate Ruffing of Flashpoint Strategy who introduced me and Miss Jessica. This is a few months ago we had some great conversations. Kate’s company Flashpoint Strategy provides fractional C suite services for food, beverage and wellness brands. So if you want to check out what she’s up to take a look over at her website at FlashpointStrategies.com great. So today we get to talk with Miss Jessica Tonani. All right, I get that right. You did get that right. The CEO and co founder of Verda Bio, a cannabis research company. Jessica is a biotech professional with over two decades of experience in life sciences. a serial entrepreneur and cannabis activist based out of Washington State. She has been active in changing cannabis research legislation and led the way in developing a topical pain relief and wellness brand called Basic Jane. Well, hello, Miss Jessica, how are you today?
Jessica Tonani 2:35
I’m doing well. Thanks for having me today. I’m excited. Right. And you’re in Seattle. Right? I am located in Seattle, and I am back to working out of my home office. Apologize for the background, but I’ll be back in the office soon. Once I get a booster.
Diana Fryc 2:51
Yes. Oh, okay. Right. And do we have a sense on when those are coming about? I think they’re still focusing on the initial shots now. Right?
Jessica Tonani 2:59
I’m immunocompromised. So gotcha. You can like get mine today. Tomorrow. Here.
Diana Fryc 3:04
Oh, my goodness. No. So it is the FDA comes up. So okay, good. Excellent. Excellent. Excellent. Well, before we get too deep into our conversation, I always love to give an opportunity to my guests to share a bit about their brand. You’ve got to but let’s just start with Verda Bio. Can you tell us a little bit about Verda Bio and why it exists? You bet.
Jessica Tonani 3:27
So, Verda Bio is a cannabis research company. We founded ourselves about eight years ago with the goal of doing research on cannabis. And cannabis is kind of a big word out there. A lot of different categories for it. And at the time, we really wanted to go after medicinal utility of cannabis. And so our goal was to do research on different plant varieties, different compounds, how you would use those compounds. And so we founded a company around it. It started with a clinical research nurse, myself, a lawyer and a brain guy. So that’s how we started. Oh, my goodness.
Diana Fryc 4:07
Yeah. And because I’m a little bit curious, and I want to go back into Verda Bio, can you tell us a little bit about Basic Jane to and its relationship to Verda Bio,
Jessica Tonani 4:17
you bet. So when we started Verda Bio, we were really interested in researching cannabis and one of our co founders mom’s approached us, and she was in her 80s had really bad knee arthritis. And I’ve been told that she couldn’t use NSAIDs anymore because of kidney damage. Okay, so they said she said, Can you do anything for my knee pain? And we were really interested in utilizing either CBD or THC for pain relief. And so quite frankly, we kind of started playing around with different formulations looking at the research trying to figure out how could you make a topical product that relieves pain and so we spent about two years researching it and developing products. And we found one that she loved and turns out all of her friends also loved it. And so they approached us and said, Can you commercialize this. And then we did commercialize it. And now it’s available for topical pain relief. But it really was born out of one of my co founders, moms just needing a thought.
Diana Fryc 5:22
I like this simpleness of the brand name Basic Jane, it’s not trying to be it doesn’t have that. It hasn’t maybe a little bit of a wink and a nod to the industry, but it’s not super cool and hip, it’s just really, this isn’t doubling down on CBD, or hemp or anything. It’s just, this is a brand that kind of meets your needs where you need them. At least that’s what I’m taking from it.
Jessica Tonani 5:47
Yeah, and it was, you know, we Oh, Jason, one of the co founders whose runs that used to run a brand shop with kind of figuring out the brand around it. And our goal is to really be a brand that an eight year old would be fine walking in and very go having it in our purse and not worrying about who’s going to see it or what what they’re going to think about it. Yes, just make it really clean and simple. And just like the products that people could be confident that they would work and not be there still kind of a stigma, I think, yeah, using a lot of products. And we wanted to really make it so that that there would be less of a stigma of somebody, that product.
Diana Fryc 6:27
Yeah, it’s still somewhat of a taboo, particularly with which I find incredibly interesting. But there’s a taboo a little bit with that. The older generation, the baby boomers, which is weird, because they’re the ones that kind of initially brought us into this whole concept of using cannabis on a regular basis, at least in a much larger way than it was before. So find the interesting, you’ve got people who are absolutely interested in trying it and those that are absolutely against it. And there’s a hard and fast line, particularly with that generation, I think as we age down, we see a little bit more blurring.
Jessica Tonani 7:05
Yeah, it’s really funny because I, my 95 year old grandpa is probably one of our top consumers, you know, goes through gallons of it, and he calls it his ointment, and he calls and says, Jess, can you send me some more ointment, but um, one of his friends we ran into and and he made a comment that I was the one that was pushing the drugs. And so, you know, I think that there is a stigma around it. And especially because I think a lot of people don’t understand the difference between hemp and marijuana. A lot of people still associate hemp or CBD products with potential products that, you know, do have great utility. So people think, am I going to get high? What’s the effect? And and I think they’re still even in the industry, a lot of learning that goes along with that. Yeah. So people I think, are just concerned that they’re using a drug and not necessarily a right line?
Diana Fryc 8:02
Yeah. Well, we can, that comes out of 100 years of high impact propaganda, but if we could get people to understand that, you know, hemp and marijuana and then the toxifying effects are kind of the same as, you know, you could take wheat or fruit and turn it into an alcohol, but that doesn’t mean that the original version of it is bad in any way, shape, or form. So, yeah, a lot more education still to be had there for sure.
Jessica Tonani 8:32
Yeah. 100% and I think that people use cannabis for different reasons. Yeah, there’s, you know, a medicinal component that one of the reasons that we founded the company is how how do you get it in formats that somebody that has ama Sir, you know, certain forms of cancer, whatever, can utilize it and have the highest probability of it working for what they want it to do is that there’s there’s truly a medicinal effect and yeah, epileptic kids and things like that. And so that’s one bucket and this wellness bucket, which is I have topical pain, how do I relieve? I want to take the edge off my anxiety, you know, supplement wellness. And then there is, you know, especially in the marijuana this recreational component, I don’t think that people understand the different utilities of it, it kind of all gets clumped together in in one bucket. And now I have to differentiate them to understand what what your product is going to do and what you want, what product you want to buy. Yeah,
Diana Fryc 9:41
for sure. Now, I see that you won an award I think from Agilent Technologies in May be I don’t remember if that’s part of Verda Bio or Basic Jane.
Jessica Tonani 9:53
It is part of our bio and I my partner in the company, Kirsten, who’s a clinic A research nurse put out a request for whoever deserved a fairly expensive piece of equipment and write a paragraph. And she wrote a paragraph about the fact that we’re a woman owned company. Yeah, that we could really utilize the equipment, especially on the research side, and it was awarded to Verda Bio. And so Wow, very expensive piece of equipment. $1,000. And, oh, wow, we’re currently in the process of getting all the components in house, we’re pretty excited. And it will allow us to streamside streamline research, and then also allow us to test products at different levels than manufacturing. Okay. So right now, we send out all that testing, and it takes about two weeks to get the data back. And so when we look at like manufacturing, and then packaging, and then getting it out what we do now as we manufacture and package kind of at the same time, yes, getting that, that timing, right, where we can actually get the test turned around. If we can do that totally, we can get that test. And so we don’t get in a scenario where we package something, and we have to destroy that. And so enabling us to test all along the r&d cycle and do it quickly. Yeah. Hugely advantageous to us.
Diana Fryc 11:20
Yeah, I can see that, I could see that. Well, let’s kind of go back a little bit before where to buy out now, we’ve learned that you’ve been in bio sciences was just kind of big, a big brushstroke of definition there for over two decades. And now we’re before cannabis, or have you been experimenting, or in researching cannabis this whole time? or What were you doing beforehand? What led you here?
Jessica Tonani 11:48
No cannabis research before this, I was really traditional biotech research and you know, even doing some viral research before this. And so, right out of grad school, I ended up working for human genetics company, okay. And we did a lot of testing impact some on pathogen detection along the way. And so we worked human biology, plant Mike and molecular biology and did that I was working for other people for about 10, a little over 10 years. And I got to the point that I, that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I didn’t want to work for the company I was working for. Got it. I had a really good six years with them. But I was kind of at the end of that six years. Yep. And so I quit the job. And I had worked for a female CEO for a large period of time in that, and she had gone over to one of the large venture capital funds, okay, I called her and I said, You know, I don’t know what I want to do. But I know that what I’m doing right now is not what I want to do. Yeah. And she said, maybe you should form a consulting firm. I have some business for you. And so I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. So I went to LegalZoom. And formed an LLC, it started a consulting firm, and she started sending me business on essentially due diligence and background in helping companies that they had invested in and picked up a partner along the way. And we started, we co founded two companies out of it, both got acquired. And so in the second got acquired, I didn’t want to go and work with the company that had acquired and so didn’t really know what I wanted to do. legalization had just occurred in the state of Washington. So we went and my co founders and I were having happy hour one night, and I had used cannabis medicinal add, not a very healthy person. And at one point, I was biding time for a clinical trial. And clinical trials are kind of expensive and hard to get to pick up. So in the time that I was doing that, I started using cannabis to help maintain my weight. And it actually worked really well. But it was really difficult for my biotech mine to wrap around because it was not consistent, right? difficult. That worked, but I couldn’t really help other patients navigate it. So we wrote this happy hour and another patient called and she was super frustrated because she had cancer and she was using it to help her with energy and kind of be lit entertain her grandkids and the product she had been using changed and it didn’t help her anymore. Oh, and so I hung up the phone and I said, you know this is not rocket science. You just need to research string consistent product and help people like it’s not hard. And they said well, let’s form a company. And so that’s that’s kind of how Verda Bio became And when at the time when I did it, most my biotech friends told me I was insane for doing it. Yeah, really good biotech career and going and researching cannabis was a little bit strange for a lot of them to comprehend. It actually was really hard for us to get the proper infrastructure in place to research cannabis. So, Lee, it was at the time you could grow cannabis legally with a state license, but you can grow it to
Diana Fryc 15:37
sell it. Right? Not for commercial purposes.
Jessica Tonani 15:40
Mm hmm. You can Yeah, you can grow, grow it to sell in a 502 store, like a commercial outlaw Got it. Got it. But if we decided we wanted to research it, that was against the law. How bizarre, right? And we we sat down with the regulatory bodies, and we said, we want to research it. And they said, that sounds amazing, and like a good idea, but it’s against the law. We can’t allow you to do it. And I asked him, How will we be able to do it? And they said, you got to change the law. I said, I I’m a science major. I don’t really know any police. I like how do I change the law. And the head legislator or the head regulator at the time gave me the name of two senators. And she said, once a democrat once republican call them both CFA. Excellent. They both did. And we change the law, which I didn’t even know how you went about. I didn’t know the difference between the House and the Senate. I didn’t know any of that.
Diana Fryc 16:43
Wow. So is your name on a building?
Jessica Tonani 16:47
So you’ll see me testifying a lot on a bill was drafted originally by the senator staff. And so you’ll see a lot of public testimony, there was actually three separate pieces of legislation that ended up joining groups across three different sessions. And so I learned a lot.
Diana Fryc 17:09
A whole lot. Okay. Yeah. Wow. So you in order for you to even get into Verda Bio required. Legal act?
Jessica Tonani 17:21
Yes. It new legislation at the state level, and I didn’t, I had no idea how you would go about doing that. We actually one of the bills we got fully through and then it got vetoed at the governor’s level, because it was he there was a politics going on in every verse. And I, when it got vetoed, I said, I don’t know what we go back and do. There’s a lot of calling the senators and every step to female senators and saying, what does this mean? What do we owe, you know, how do I do this? And I think they they were super nice. And I also think that I helped them on the science side. They didn’t really know much about cannabis science. And so I helped him a little bit, but they helped me a ton on politics side. Yeah. It’s a whole new I barely past history.
Diana Fryc 18:21
Well, I think history and politics are different. Because politics to me, I think that’s every time I think of politics, I think of Game of Thrones, that show is actually in between, in between fighting, it’s politics. It’s one or the other. Right? What’s your next move? How are you going to do this? whose hand Do you need to shake? What favor Do you need to give? It seems like that’s the whole?
Jessica Tonani 18:46
Yes. And you know, especially when it comes to the word cannabis. Hmm. You know, there are some very strong political lines around that word. In fact, I think we had the first unanimous piece of legislation that ever went to Washington State on the subject. And, you know, our take on it is we’re going to prove certain parts of cannabis are wrong. Yeah. And maybe unhealthy and different things along that line. We’re going to prove that there are some really good things about it. But you can’t say that it’s wonderful or evil until you do the research.
Diana Fryc 19:22
And it was that the selling point is that is that really the moment that was that everybody went Oh, yeah, this is in our best interest or was there a little bit more politicking than just straight up facts?
Jessica Tonani 19:38
A little bit of both. Especially when it there’s some regulators that are especially on the on certain in the house that I have a tendency to be backgrounds in law enforcement. Oh, you know, there’s there’s different you know, obviously different people feel differently about cannabis. But there’s very strong opinions about it. And we just had to kind of overcome those and say, gotcha. Hopefully research will prove whatever it is that you believe, if you believe in it strong enough, enable the research in. But you know, there were some things that we had to fight that we’re fairly unique. So, for example, we got within the bill that you could do research with universities. Okay. Um, but within the bill, we also couldn’t be within 1000 feet of a library, which means that we actually technically couldn’t research at a university.
Oh, oh, you know, hey, every 1000 feet, yeah. And a library as, right.
And so we had to go back and get some allowances for that. All those things are coming difficult to get allowances, but we had to sit there and say, here’s a map of University of Washington, right? If they decide that they want to do research at some point, where does it fit on campus? Right? If you say we can’t be by a daycare centers, playgrounds, libraries, this isn’t this isn’t this? There’s nothing left on campus? Yeah. Right. So we did get some carve outs, but there was a lot of kind of interesting hurdles that just kept popping up. Yeah. All we wanted to do is research. So yeah.
Diana Fryc 21:24
That’s so interesting to me, because the tobacco industry has quite a different has far more control over those types of things. So it’s just so it’s To me, it’s all very interesting. how complicated it is. And it’ll be it’ll be just time I think, before people continue to eat as people continue to ease and
Jessica Tonani 21:52
I think it gets back to this, you know, one bucket that that people really get held up on the recreational component. Yeah. Wanna? Yeah, I get that there’s medicinal and wellness attributes. Yeah. A huge product class that doesn’t even have, yeah, that recreational THC component in it. It’s very difficult for I think, people to not just think of recreational Yeah,
Diana Fryc 22:19
yeah, I get that. Well, So at what point now, you’ve kind of this is kind of the beginning. At what point did you guys know that you were headed in the right direction? Because by creating this by creating Verda Bio, like it, was there a moment? Was there a client? Was there a farmer? Was there a brand? What happened?
Jessica Tonani 22:38
And there were a couple things, but I think the biggest thing was our first acquisition offer. Okay, that was the first like, okay, we’ve actually like, built something that there was a significant dollar figure associated with acquisition standpoint, we definitely had other like, really exciting milestones along the way, and have been, you know, fairly minor people might think are somewhat stupid. So for example, when we originally launched, we have a product that comes in little jars, it’s like, yeah, and we were labeling stickering all those ourselves. And so we had a sticker label or machine and somebody sat there and made sure that labels went on straight. And amid I sat there a number of times, and I wasn’t very good at it. So I ended up not sitting there as much as other people. Gotcha. But we, when we finally got big enough to be able to order in a pallet of pre printed, like printed on the jar bottles, that was pretty significant. And the pallet was giant, when it came and it was, we had never handled that kind of volume of containers, there was a number of minor things like that, that we as an office, were really excited that we hit these minor milestones, but the biggest milestone was, you know, having somebody approached us and say, what you built, we would like to buy. So that was I think, the biggest one so far.
Diana Fryc 24:08
Well, and how is that? Well, whoa, I gonna ask this in a little bit. But I do want to find out like, so then we’ve got the acquisition now. Are you supporting brands out in the marketplace? Are you supporting farmers out in the marketplace? Is this more research for legislative purposes or just strictly research purposes? How, how are you impacting kind of the larger community?
Jessica Tonani 24:36
You bet? So a couple things. So one of the things is, we’re still an independent company, we have not been acquired by anyone. We’re still independent. So we do research on a couple different things and impacts different groups. So we do research on the plant and in that research in the plant, we attempt to make stabilized varieties that will produce the same thing. So, roses, for example, there’s white roses, there’s pink roses, there’s red roses, and you can get varieties that look the same when you plant. And so we create those from a cannabis perspective Got it? for commercial purposes, the majority of the ones that we produce don’t have any THC, their hemp for commercial purposes. So we work with farmers on supporting them with plant genetics that they can plant that will produce exactly the same thing on 100 acres of land or whatever that looks like. The next thing that that we’re really focused on is, how do we take those products and put them in a form and format that helps a person. So you know, if you think about pain, for example, if you think of a wellness application, if you have a sore elbow, a topical product would be awesome for that specific sore elbow, you could put a topical CBD product on your elbow and get relief on your elbow. But if you have pain in your elbow, knee hip, back, you may need something a little bit more systemic. That’s when you get actually maybe in an oral product, something more analogous to an Advil versus aspirin. Yeah, and so we look at how do you get those forms and formats to get the product where somebody wants it, right. And, you know, cannabis historically has come in a lot of different forms and formats. And it’s interesting, because if you look at CBD, for example, which is one of the top hemp product components out there, it’s a fat in it. So it goes, if you mix fat and water, bad things happen. Mm hmm. You know, kind of thinking of salad dressing, right? There’s a lot of, you know, like a cream that goes in wonderfully mixes up nice and well with those other fats. So we have to think of how do we get it mixed in a bad bridge? How do we get mixed in a and a tablet? What What does that look like? So there’s a lot that goes into? What do people want? How do we make it so that it addresses the need that they want? And then we commercialize those through Basic Jane. And we right now only have commercialized topical products, other ones in r&d. The issue to some degree has been there’s been a little bit of ambiguity from the FDA on oral CBD products. We’re building them. And we’re trying to figure out when’s the right time to allow those to see the rest of the world
Diana Fryc 27:48
as people are reaching out to you with questions, and I’m going to talk specifically from a CPG standpoint, since my audience is mostly in that category. What are the questions? What are the questions that you wished? Well, let’s start with what are the questions that you were being asked the most, and whether it’s about a bioavailability, or farming, you know, how, Who should we be working with? etc? Like, what are those questions that you’re getting right now, the most?
Jessica Tonani 28:21
You know, it’s funny, because a lot of the larger CPG companies are still trying to wrap their head around the difference between hemp and marijuana. Now, the big one we get a lot is, you know, what’s the difference there? And once you get them over, hemp doesn’t have THC, marijuana has THC or three, you know, that. And then then the second question becomes, what do we do if we want no THC in our products? Which is a good question. And there’s different ways that you can approach that question. The one is, you can make plants that produce very limited to no THC, which is not easy to do and working on for a long time. And the second thing you do is when you process it, just like you process sugarcane into sugar, eliminate different things along the way. And one of those things you can eliminate with processing is to see us in different different ways. So those are common. The other common question that we get is, how do you formulate which is quite frankly, surprising to me because most groups are looking to put 10 to 15 milligrams in something like a, you know, a beverage can. Sure, and that’s not very much fat, and to a beverage can especially when you think of all the frappuccinos on Oh yeah, then they cross sell salad dressings and all that. So, you know, I think people are very used to mixing bats and liquids But for some reason they think this, especially CBD that is, you know, behaves in mysterious ways. And it really isn’t. And so we get a lot of questions around. How do I manufacture using CBD? Right? Which, quite frankly, kind of surprised me. Because if, if you can take and manufacture a shelf stable salad dressing, right, that’s 50% fat, you know, making something that’s point 01 percent that shouldn’t really be that big of an issue.
Diana Fryc 30:32
Yeah. Well, you know, I think, I think when you’re probably talking to formulators, innovators, people who are more on the science, I could be wrong, I don’t know that you’re necessarily talking to operations and marketing people. I’m assuming you’re talking with those innovators, they probably start with some of those basic questions, because that’s just their process. But I’m not sure.
Jessica Tonani 30:59
And I think some of it is that nobody’s really played with these molecules. And there’s a certain amount of like, urban legend around it, if you if you look at some of the food chemistry that’s been around for a lot of years, that hasn’t necessarily been used on these products. To it hasn’t been available, right? Either license intellectual property historically to play with these molecules and different things like that. So I think that it’s built up a little bit of an urban legend that they’re really, you know, special fats that behave in such a way that other fats don’t. But you know, that that’s not necessarily the case. You know,
Diana Fryc 31:41
what do you wish they were asking you? I know they asked those questions, but what do you wish they would ask you?
Jessica Tonani 31:47
I wish that they would ask about how do I make varietals specific products? So when you think about it, most people are looking at it, let’s take CBD and which is you know that what the most the hemp products are? Yeah, people are looking at how do I make it as CBD product as a beverage, let’s say? And how do I get CBD and that beverage? Can’t they’re not asking? How do I take everything else that’s in that plant that may be a value? So there’s a ton of different terpenes and flavonoids and things that may add value to the product? And how do I get a lot that will produce the same beverage and carry those forward. So if you think of something like hops and beer all the time, you know, people buy a specific variety of hops and they use it in you know, a Pilsner uses a specific bridle got it, a Bud Light uses a different wines, another perfect example, you know, different grapes will produce different versatile wines. And people like the flavor and the combination that that that specific varietal leads to, and I think what what’s happened in the hemp space is two things. One, those varietals didn’t exist. So people just went out and said, you know, everything’s the same. And it’s kind of mystery, I think it’s, you know, very similar probably hops 100 years ago, or, back when you had red wine and white wine, and called a good kind of situation. And it’s just an immature market where people haven’t realized that they can ask for a bridal specific extract. And I think what that breil specific extract will allow you to do is do more marketing and branding off of the turban. So think about something like a limonene it’s an energizing compound that, you know, people market off all the time, you know, with loose marketing terms like energizing or, you know, a weight or different things like that. Have you had an extract that had high levels so that you can consistently produce that then you may be able to market it energizing beverage, you know, call me beverages things like that off of the whole plant extracts and they may allow you to differentiate versus just how do I get a couple milligrams of CBD in a can? Yeah, it’s kind of it’s Yeah, marketing that I think went on and wine 100 years ago, maybe I don’t know when I’m not a very big
Diana Fryc 34:25
Well, it might be a little bit more like a craft beer market. You might have already said that. But like craft beer really took big beer, which was an aggregate of hops for whatever blends, you know, certain set of blends. And then craft beer came along and started to play with certain types of hops. And so I feel like there’s a similarity there for for our, for our listeners to kind of benchmark against Is that fair?
Jessica Tonani 34:56
It is fair and I think it would allow long term differentiation Your product class. Yep. And I am concerned that that product differentiation is is going to be difficult and this product class, people kind of step back and say, What do I build for the consumer? And how do I make that different and thinking they really like? So I wish more people would kind of think about the varietals and and where the plants I also think consumers are getting more savvy on wanting to know where their ingredients come from.
Diana Fryc 35:33
Jessica Tonani 35:35
And so being able to, you know, the crappier is perfect, where I think a lot of the craft brewers go back and pen, my hops was grown on this x acres of farm by this grower, you know, that they take in them, they bale every lot that comes through, and they’re very proud of that. And I bet him brightened now, if you go and buy a hemp product, oftentimes, that the hemp biomass could come from Oregon, it could come from China, it could come from Kentucky, you just never know. Anything more savvy consumers, as becomes more mainstream will want to know, where was my product grown? grown? They’re just more interested in the ingredient story.
Diana Fryc 36:20
Mm hmm. Yeah, I can see that. definitely seeing interest, non traditional, I mean, some traditional farmers, but I’ve met a handful of people. Last time I was at Expo east, I think it was so two years ago, two years ago, two years ago, that was at Expo East met a handful of people that were not farmers that had put money down on farming property instead or farming property. Well, I have this as you can tell where I my where my world is, but on land to farm hemp, saying that there’s just the demand for hemp is huge. And right now a lot of it is coming from overseas just because of the strict legislation growing it and then being able to cross lines across state lines. And there’s a lot of barriers to research and product innovation, product development, getting these products into consumers hands. Especially I almost wonder you might know this, I feel like it might even be easier to import hemp in than it is to grow it and transport across state lines. Am I am I saying that correctly? So there’s, that’s kind of a complex question. Okay.
Jessica Tonani 37:34
If you what, when you harvest the hemp, farmers will have a ton of biomass, right. And of that biomass, you know, oftentimes only a few percent of it is the CBD, that gotcha. So they can then have to potentially cross that to a different state in, in order to cross it across the state lines, you have to have low levels of THC, there’s certain barriers to entry that make that crossing across state lines very difficult. And, you know, one of the biggest things that our farmers in Washington face is, Idaho has been very anti hemp. And you know, that from a federal government perspective, they’ve been told you have to allow transport across Idaho, they have seized a number trucks. Really? Yeah, you know, it’s a, it’s an agricultural crop, it gets mildew, and it degrades. And it it’s not meant to sit on a truck for months while people litigate to it. And so, you’re right, in the sense that there’s been a number of hurdles for farmers that and it’s also been very difficult for farmers to export product out of the US and I think that’s getting better. And, you know, for example, I think our state’s Washington State’s doing a really good job of trying to normalize it as an agricultural commodity on the hemp side and, and figure out how they open up those export channels. So it’s not just coming in, it’s actually going out to other countries. But that is not been it hasn’t been set up. And so it’s difficult to set up. Yeah,
Diana Fryc 39:11
yeah, I get it. I get it the state and then legal and the conflict fair also makes it convoluted. And it you know, you can be a state like Washington State is a bit more progressive, where you can have the growing and the processing, the manufacturing and the distribution can happen but as a brand owner that wants to do any kind of significant growth. It’s that crossing the state line, whether by plane or by truck, or you know, all of those touch plates on places from from the planting from the seed crop, all the way to getting it into a retail channel or to customers hand still tricky.
Jessica Tonani 39:52
It’s still tricky and you know, quite frankly every state is setting up slightly different rules on what that what that consumer product needs from a regulatory perspective. You know, for example, Oregon is looking like some regulations coming down for oral products where you actually have been tested in Oregon, you look at you look at different state by state of, you know, down there, it’s looking like products will probably only be able to be sold in their marijuana stores, oral hemp products appear, you are not allowed to sell those in our marijuana stores. So it’s like conflict, the law. And I think long term hopefully that it looks like the Senate is going to step up and do a little bit more rules and regulations around what the products are and how they should be tested. And then if we can get a more even framework around that, it would help brands to be able to cross the state lines. And and also, it would weed out a lot of bad players out there. Yeah, I agree. You know, testing is not cheap. For example, when we when we manufacture testing, we’re about 12 cents a bottle in testing. And that doesn’t sound like a lot. But when you’re wholesaling up for $4. And you’re packaging at at the signature significant cost. I mean, it’s actually more than the cost of the CBD and our products. So when we, when we look at that, you know, some of the other players might think, why test, right, and then that can backfire on the industry at large 100%. And, you know, the other thing is, is it’s not just about adding CBD to your products, it’s about making sure that they work. You know, from a topicals perspective, one of the things that we had to do was figure out how do we get it across your skin, because your skin all day long, meant to keep things from going across it. So for example, one of our most popular products is a spray. And alcohol is really good at getting things across your skin. And so alcohol is the carrier. And we have these molecules called carriers, and they literally carry the CBD across your skin. Because otherwise if you don’t have a carrier in your product, it just sits on your skin. So you know, somebody may use a product without a carrier and go oh, didn’t work for me. Yeah, not gonna use any other product, you know, are if you’re not dosing properly in a, an edible or a can or something they’ll say, is product class didn’t work or maybe caused me to feel funny, or you know, what, they just don’t ever come back to that product class.
Diana Fryc 42:33
Mm hmm. Yeah, I got it. Wow. So we talked a lot about the barriers and the hurdles, maybe talk about what do you see coming up? Like, where? Where are you seeing some? Really? Where are the cracks opening up that is going to just be able to in the near future? Maybe you can only speak to it in a Washington state level. But if you can talk about it, regionally or even nationally, what do you see happening here? That looks like it’s going to help brand owners from at least from an innovation standpoint, surgical? Okay. Yeah, if I’m in the innovation, maybe in two years, maybe in six months, maybe in five years? Like, do you have some visibility? And what what does that look like?
Jessica Tonani 43:15
Yeah, I think that in this space, one of the biggest hurdles is that, in the hemp side, we constantly say we’re playing with like one hand tied behind our back. And it’s really because two things hit this space, particularly hard. And the first is changing regulation. And the second is thinking, and both things are things that normal businesses don’t, I think, really think so, you know, for example, on the regulation side, you could be in a state that allows you to manufacture, let’s say, CBD dog treats, and you could be manufacturing those and be super happy and doing it. And then all of a sudden, your state could say, you know what, you’re not allowed to get that a manufacturer with that. We’re going to pull your food safety license, and you can really have zero recourse. So the rules and regulations around him are constantly changing at both the federal and a state level. I think the one thing that I really see happening that will change the industry is more federal oversight. The Senate has been really proactively picking up the ball on that. And I think that if you have federal oversight that says, You can’t change the rules, these are the rules that everybody plays by and you’re you’re going to be able to manufacture but you’re going to have to do these things to manufacturer I think most people are willing to do those things. Yeah. But if if you’re one day playing by these rules, and then the next day by these rules, and the next day by these rules, it’s really difficult to run a business that way. Yeah. It’s it’s also really difficult. The band camp, and people don’t really realize that component but for example, If you’re running an online business, you need a merchant service processing somebody that runs ranked parts. We have your fully disclosure on on working with our merchant service processes. And we’ve gone through four and five years. And it will be something that I bank will be bought by a different bank. And the different bank says, Hey, we don’t want to thank amp. It’s federally legal, but they have the right to work with whoever they want. Yeah, you overnight can lose all your credit card processing. Yeah, right. You wake up and people are sending emails, like I can’t process orders. Yeah. It’s so that is also on the federal side, there’s new banking legislation that’s going to come through that. So So eliminating those hurdles is huge. And then the second thing is, I think, guidance also at a federal level on from the FDA that that you can consume these products. And, you know, the downside of that is, I think the minute you say that the larger brands start playing that rate, a little dance, you know, most of the brands in the CBD space, there’s a brand with more than single digit market share. It’s because everybody is a small company, are they small, taking huge risks?
Jessica Tonani 46:26
Yeah. And you know, so it’s, it’s a catch 22 when these things come in place, it’ll definitely make it better to run a business and have security and how you plan and run your business. But it also means that larger companies will come in and want to compete against you.
Diana Fryc 46:42
So I feel like this is a little bit like the naturals and organics industry relived under kind of the under the cannabis moniker right now. Because what I feel like is I feel like the Procter and Gamble’s and the Pepsi, COEs and the Kellogg’s of the universe, are interested in the product, but they need stabilization from a regulatory standpoint, in order to move forward with something like this. And I, I because as product developers, they’re always on the lookout for what can add to their bottom line. And I wonder, I think I would be curious to find out if PepsiCo is, you know, in skunkworks, somewhere, building some sort of CBD based product for when legislation comes through so that they can eat or coke or Dr. Pepper or insert whomever have them in skunkworks, and ready to roll so that the minute something is approved, they can drop and run because I think the demand is there. Yeah. There’s not
Jessica Tonani 47:56
a large company in the CPG space that I have not heard doing something. And a lot of them are doing something in Canada. Green things in holding companies that they have maybe a company that does protein drinks or something I don’t know about, you know, their art, or they’re just doing an internal r&d, but they’re all doing it. And you know, that the interesting thing, especially from cbds perspective, from a wellness perspective, the wellness categories, that addresses are extremely huge. Yeah. So it’s, you know, anxiety. Yeah, sleep. Yeah.
Jessica Tonani 48:34
Hey, you know, like, one of the top things if you were to go through, like, what do you want to have addressed in your life? Right? You know, that they’re, they’re kicking off those giant buckets. And so I think it’s a market that they cannot ignore, right. But it’s a market, like you said, with a lot of regulatory ambiguity. And I think that’s why you see a ton of small companies like us really being able to prosper. So it’s this catch 22 for us to see more stability and for us from a regulatory perspective. But we also know that just kind of opens the box for everybody else to complain.
Diana Fryc 49:14
Well, that’s when we win win, win, boom, that well, you all have the smaller players are proof of concept because you’re able to grow and there’s a proliferation, proliferation of them. easy for me to say, I guess. So I think that’s encouraging to hear that the major brands are playing in there. So to me, that means that it’s just a matter of time before it comes through because, again, the the demand is there. The need is there. And you have really large influencers. I’m going to call those major CPG brands, really heavy influencers, regulation, that once they’ve identified something that’s going to work for them is probably Put a little pressure on in those places that they know they can be effective in.
Jessica Tonani 50:04
Yeah. And it’s interesting, because I think everybody really hoped that the big outliers the FDA saying, right, have this product for sale for human consumption. And I think everybody really thought that was going to come about a year and a half ago and COVID hit. And, you know, the FDA has been really focused on everything COVID which right justifiable, but it’s really kind of led to this Limbo space. And it’s interesting, because I’ve heard a lot of couple rumors of the larger brands just maybe thinking that it’s okay, we’re just going to move, maybe we’re going to move forward without the regulation.
Diana Fryc 50:42
So we’ll see if that happens. But, okay. It’s a large, it’s a large market, and I don’t think they can ignore it. Yeah. And it also allows some of these companies to get into the wellness space that might not already be in it. Right, exactly. And at the end of the day, all of these new innovations end up becoming features and benefits or ingredient profiles, as they normalize. So brands will exist, that will have these as ingredients, but they won’t be marketed as a CBD brand. It’ll just be whatever beverages that happens to have CBD in it just like with alcohol, nobody goes by this beer. It’s named, you know, Miller, Coors, it’s Miller Coors that happens to be an alcoholic beverage. Right. So I think that will change pretty rapidly as well.
Jessica Tonani 51:28
Yeah. And it’ll be really interesting to kind of see how it plays out. But I really do think that’s why people are going to get into the bridle specifics, if they want that product that that differentiates their brand in and gives them you know, that cannabis makes a lot of amazing molecules. And it is a huge producer of terpenes, which are the things that make a smell smell good or on flavoring to products, and they produce a ton of it, you know, maybe weight volume up to 20%. And so if we look at CBD, it’s it’s one ingredient, but there’s this whole other proliferation of molecules that are produced that I think will drive people to do varietals. products. Yeah. And then and then we got ropin. Close.
Diana Fryc 52:22
Right. So yeah, the it’s the use, the uses are endless. And as I heard from Jane Pinto, I don’t know if you know, Jane Pinto, of First Crop, she is hemp grower herself out of Arizona, Colorado, one of I think Colorado, the regenerative benefits for the land and the soil, to growing the product. I mean, just like the crop itself, and the outputs, and the process is just pretty darn close to a miracle plant.
Jessica Tonani 52:59
Yeah, it’s true. I mean, they they have it planted at the what what was the nucular site in the old Soviet Union?
Diana Fryc 53:08
Yes. Yeah. I know which one you’re talking about. They have the whole show on it. Right. Right.
Jessica Tonani 53:12
Right. I can’t remember the name. But they’ve actually planted hemp in the site to try to strip out the soil. Really? Yeah. And it’s a pretty, it’s pretty amazing what it can strip out of the soil. And so, you know, it is something that if you had land, you know, maybe you could get organic certification or something earlier, there’s a number. So we’ll see how that kind of emerges.
Diana Fryc 53:37
That is a really interesting prospect. Hey,
Jessica Tonani 53:41
that’s, yeah, yeah. There’s hempcrete, like people are trying to build, you know, concrete out of it. And I think Porsche just came out with a car that they built it. No, really commercial. It was kind of a car show situation. So yeah, there’s a lot of uses for it outside of what we kind of use it for.
Diana Fryc 54:05
Yeah. Wow. Well, so what’s the future of Verda Bio? what’s what’s on the horizon that you want to share with folks?
Jessica Tonani 54:14
Well, we’re really excited. We’re working with some partner farms. And we have a lot of plants in the ground this year. So we’re pretty excited on getting those out and harvested. There’ll be a couple of different varietals that have come out and we’re pretty excited for. We have some products, additional products that we’ll be launching. So we have a lot of oils that are very specific to the varietals, that can be used in specific products. And then we have additional basic gene products coming out. So we’re pretty excited about those. Those two things. Awesome.
Diana Fryc 54:46
Well, Jessica, our time is almost up. But I have a few questions that I asked everybody’s so caught, we’ll do this little bit of rapid round. You’ve already shared so many different facts. So I don’t know if you have anything else. But I always ask somebody, I always ask my guests, if there’s some interesting fact that you’d like to share about your product or industry that I call it a happy hour factoid, anything that you’d like to share with people today.
Jessica Tonani 55:13
Um, you know, our research lab grows both marijuana and hemp in it. And, you know, I guess the interesting fact is, I’ve kind of come to terms with breaking federal law every time I show up to work. And so people are always fascinated by that, like,
Jessica Tonani 55:30
you show up. And so we have state, you know, and and we’ve met with the Attorney General’s, and they seem pretty good about what we’re doing. And we thought, but um, yeah, we have no federal oversight. So I guess that’s an interesting tidbit.
Diana Fryc 55:45
Wow. Yeah. Well, are there any women leaders or rising stars in our industry or not, that you would like to share with our listeners that somebody you’d like to elevate or simply admire for the work they’re doing right now?
Jessica Tonani 56:03
Well, it’s so we are our research space is actually the building that’s run, but probably one of the top producers of marijuana edibles in the state of Washington. Okay. It’s pretty much run by a woman, husband, wife team,
Jessica Tonani 56:18
but she’s the one that like, does all the operations. So Jackie brassington. She’s awesome. And they run, you know, giant beverage lines Willy Wonka chocolate lines in there. It’s cpmg it’s, it’s it is a facility that you would think were was not making an edible product. And it really is, she does a awesome job. So Wow. That out to her.
Diana Fryc 56:44
Oh, excellent. And then what brands or trends are you watching right now? What do you have your eye on? And why? That is a good question. Um,
Jessica Tonani 56:56
you know, lately with COVID, I’ve kind of been looking at and it’s completely outside of this space. But looking at food trends, I share with the combination of really extreme heat and, and COVID halting some distribution channels. I’ve been looking at food, and I’m not a huge meat eater. And I’ve been really looking at like alternative protein and greenhouse growing and Okay, no transfer of some things that we traditionally grow outdoors in too late. Yes, that horticulture is fascinated by whether that might be coming a little bit sooner we see it in a lot of like Asian countries and things where speed is an issue. We’ve never really had that in the US. But I think, you know, with the fires, the he Yes. COVID with labor and maybe something that we kind of see more of. So I’ve been kind of keep my eye on that. And it’s I know, it’s super random. But I’m been interested in that the last few weeks.
Diana Fryc 57:56
No, I think I’m fascinated by that, too. I know that in Northern Europe, there’s a lot of that. I can’t remember what it’s called. I’ll call it warehouse farming. And the environmental footprint of that type of farming is really incredible. Like the number of resources that it takes to produce the same type of product is extremely diminished. Because you don’t have waste. You don’t have the kind of water waste. You can maintain consistency, you can use solar panels now. I’m super verta. The vertical farming I’m super interested in vertical farming to I think there’s and you can bring it into the city or into the suburbs. Right and reduce that to whole transportation issue as well. I think there’s a lot there for us.
Jessica Tonani 58:47
Yeah, I think this it may be kind of the perfect storm to see that come to the US. You know, we’ve always had a lot of land on the west coast. Yep. With access to a lot of labor, a lot of water. And I think those three components have kind of dried up this last year. So
Diana Fryc 59:05
yes, yes, ma’am. Yeah. Well, we’ve been talking with Jessica Tonani. I hope I got that right. Again. Co-founder and CEO of Verda Bio, Jessica, if people want to learn more about you or get in contact with you, what’s the best way?
Jessica Tonani 59:22
Probably the best way is to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Great bit, we’ll end up with me if you want to learn more about our companies. We have VerdaBio.com. And we have basicjane.com Basic is the consumer products. Verda Bio goes over more of the research that we do got it. And, you know, feel free to look up both or send an email to email@example.com
Diana Fryc 59:47
Oh, my goodness, Jessica, thank you so much for your time today and for all the work that you’re doing in our industry. I appreciate it being here. Of course. Okay, everyone, bye for now.
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