Ashish Joseph maker of Cannabis Seltzers on Growing the Category
When you're a founder - you don't have an easy way to explain your role other than - doing whatever it takes to keep pushing the company forward.
Your Place Of Work
Tell us a little about your background and journey into Cannabis
I am a graduate of Drexel University, where I currently sit on the Alumni Board of Governors. I spent 8 years in finance where I spent most of my time conducting due diligence on investments for the Pew Charitable Trusts at Glenmede. I used that knowledge to invest in startups and small businesses which helped me gain access to the cannabis industry. I am a Partner at SC Botanicals, a hemp extraction facility in South Carolina that focuses on cannabinoid extraction and THC Remediation. I am a partner at Destino Farms, a Florida-based company specializing in manufacturing, distributing, branding, and retailing Hemp Derived products. I am one of the Co-Founders of LOKI Brands, a cannabis beverage company based out of the East Coast. My journey into Cannabis started at a young age when I spent my summers growing up in Kerala (Southern India) where my family would teach me about farming. In Kerala, there are some famous strains of Cannabis (Kerala Gold or Idukki Gold). They basically told me Cannabis was bad and to stay away from it. As you get older - you start to question what's “bad” and “good” - the more I researched cannabis, I couldn’t understand and agree with the societal stigmas placed on it. While I was in college, several states were passing laws to legalize cannabis and I started networking with different groups knowing it was the industry that I wanted to land in. I stayed connected with the space while working a full-time job in the finance industry. I thought jumping into cannabis was going to be easy but after failing to get a grow and manufacturing license in Pennsylvania - partnering up with a group out of San Diego really helped me get a better understanding of all the hurdles. I was eventually able to break out on my own with a few friends and launch a beverage, LOKI.
Explain your current role
I am one of the founders of LOKI, a cannabis beverage. When you're a founder - you don't have an easy way to explain your role other than - doing whatever it takes to keep pushing the company forward.
What trends do you see in cannabis beverages?
I see more and more brands being launched. Some of them are focusing on very high mg content but the higher quality brands are focusing on lower dosage / better tasting products so you can have more than one drink. This is the direction I feel the industry is going, people want a beverage they can enjoy without the fear of getting too high, in turn, this will attract non-cannabis users as well, which is where the real market is.
What tips do you have on growing the category when it comes to product development?
Product development is always about trial and error. We run multiple focus groups with different demographics before a product is finalized. The groups give us a lot of key insights into what is needed and wanted. We also create products that are bad to understand what they didn’t like. Oddly enough - we learned that everyone's taste buds are unique and regions have favorites. Taste, Smell, and Color - it's all important when creating a product. Something that all of us hated might be loved in a completely different part of the country. The goal is to make sure that whatever product we create - needs to be sold. As a company - be willing to take a risk on a flavor that might only sell in Texas.
Image: Ashish Joseph
What are the 3 things that we can educate end consumers more on in growing end-consumer awareness?
1. There's more than just Delta 9 THC and CBD 2. Don’t be afraid to try something new 3. Read reviews - They are out there on lots of forums
Which states / markets do you think present good growth opportunities for cannabis beverages in 2023-2024
East coast has the highest potential for growth. The population centers of NY, NJ, and PA are ripe for the taking. Population density is key to success in beverages. You want to be able to supply the most people with the least amount of miles traveled with your beverage.
What do you think are the current challenges in the cannabis beverage category
Logistics is the current nightmare but the lack of appreciation from store owners. Store owners have to get used to this new category. They need to be prepared to give the consumer more than stale flowers and pre-rolls. Marketing is also a huge hurdle, as many of you know cannabis brands cannot run any paid media on most platforms.
If you were to give advice to a first-time cannabis beverage consumer, what tips would you give?
Eat something alongside your drink. Don’t try to make it like a gummy or edible where your whole purpose is to get high. The purpose of a cannabis beverage is to enjoy the taste and pair it with a meal etc. It's supposed to elevate your mood - not to become stone. If you're looking to get stoned - go ahead and just smoke a bowl or eat a 20 mg gummy. A beverage is classier. Pour it into a nice glass, and drop an ice cube into it. Share with your friends.
Your favourite cannabis beverage brands?
I’m very biased but I love our own brand - LOKI. But if I had to pick two other brands that are great - One is Keef Cola out of Colorado and the other is Mamas out of Miami
What do you look for when you purchase a cannabis beverage brand?
The brand is my first impression. When it comes to a brand - everyone judges the book by the cover. After I purchase it - the taste will dictate whether or not I purchase the product again. But the initial impression of the packaging and key facts about sugar content, calories, etc also help me make an informed decision. The AMOUNT of THC does not matter to me.
Any out-of-the-box ideas you have for bud-tenders in promoting and educating the cannabis beverage category?
What we’ve taught a lot of bud-tenders is to sell the drink as an AD-ON product. What does that mean? Well - the consumer is coming to the store looking for flowers, vape, or something typical SO - when you're buying that item - the bud-tender can explain that while you're smoking, it's really nice to have something to drink to keep you hydrated and stay high. As you know - most people get a cotton mouth after smoking and why not have a drink that elevates your feeling while quenching your thirst? It's a lot easier to sell when you phrase the beverage as an AD-ON. It’s similar to the saying “Would you like fries and a drink with your meal” The fries are not the focus of the meal but it's a great AD ON.
If you were to make a new cannabis beverage today? What sort of product would you make and why
I wouldn’t change a single thing that we did. Low Dose, Low Calorie, No Sugar, Clean, Tasty product like LOKI.
If you were to market and distribute that cannabis beverage, what would be your top 3 areas you would focus on?
Everyone thinks that you need to be in smoke shops or dispensaries but those stores aren’t focusing on your health. Smoking is bad for your lungs - everyone knows that. I’m happy to see they are selling edibles because that's healthier but not everyone wants a gummy. Yoga Studios, Wellness Centers, Non-Alcoholic Stores, and other places with high-touch clientele are better. You have time to explain to the customer what the product is.