Meet Daniel Torres, CEO and Founder at Mari y Juana Beverages Company
In the interview below, Daniel discusses what stood out for him about the cannabis industry, the challenges he faced & his beverage range. He also shares insights on educating new customers and using e-commerce platforms for marketing.
Daniel Torres is a seasoned cannabis entrepreneur from Los Angeles, California, working in the industry since 1998. From the early years of medical marijuana to the present-day state of recreational legalization and everything in between, he has witnessed and experienced all of the difficulties and changes this market has gone through. Daniel established Mari y Juana® Foods Co. in Los Angeles, California, in 2015, intending to supply the edible cannabis market in California with products that were representative of Mexican culture and culinary customs. Although the Company's initial emphasis was on edibles, MJ Beverages Co. LLC, a subsidiary, has enabled the brand to expand into the expanding infused beverage industry and create a new route for both itself and its customers.
- Hi Daniel, Tell us a little about yourself and your background. How did you decide to move into the cannabis beverage space?
I have been active in cannabis since I was 16 years old. I started smoking at 13 years old and got into sales of marijuana in 1998. A few years later, at 21 years of age, I began cultivating cannabis in grow houses and eventually warehouses through and to the age of 35. I turn 41 in March of next year. The cannabis beverage space was happenstance. The Mari y Juana brand was created during a smoke-filled night in 2016. I came up with the name while high and trademarked it. For years though, the brand figuratively sat on the shelf because I was busy helping other friends and associates build their brands. I decided in early 2021 to bring products to the legal market. We launched two flavors of pectin-based, cannabis-infused gummies: Mango Chili and Sour Strawberry. We also launched a cannabis-infused michelada drink mix in a cup. That product took off and gained notoriety in the space. I was contacted by Ave Miller, co-founder of Uncle Arnie's, on Instagram. He wanted me to meet Matt McGinn, his partner in their brand, to discuss potentially distributing the iMota Mix! Michelada cup. That conversation led to Matt convincing me to start a subsidiary of Mari y Juana that would focus on beverages. This was October of 2021, and by November, we formed the LLC and began to work on launching beverage SKUs. By April 23, 2022, less than 6 months after the idea began, we had three cannabis-infused soft drinks in the market. The flavors we chose were guava, pineapple, and tamarindo. We entered the first two into the HighTimes SoCal Cannabis Cup competition and took 1st place for our ¡Piña! (pineapple) flavor in July this year. Since then, we have managed to get into about 100 accounts throughout the state of California. We have plans for line extensions and various types of cannabis-infused beverages for later this year and next. We are here to stay in the beverages category.
- Being the Founder and CEO of Mari y Juana Beverages Co., what does your day look like?
I wake up every morning at 5:50 am, every day of the week, weekends included. From 6 am to 7 am, I hit the gym in my complex, at least 6 days a week, to get my blood flowing. I take my dog Montezuma, a chocolate merle French bulldog, for a walk after I wake up my son and turn the stovetop on to make breakfast. By 8 am, we are on the road to drop him off at school. I take my parents a cup of Starbucks cafe latte coffee every morning, say hello for a few minutes, and head back home to my home office to check emails, have Zoom meetings and phone calls, and strategize the expansion of Mari y Juana, every single day-including weekends. Throughout the day, I am active on LinkedIn and Instagram (I handle the @marijuanafoodsco account). By 3 pm, I am out the door to pick up my son from school. Depending on the day of the week, he either has boxing practice or soccer practice around 5 pm. The evenings are usually spent having dinner with my son and parents at their house or mine, and downtime relaxation typically consists of reading books bedside while the day winds down.
- What stood out to you about the cannabis industry? What distinguishes it from the industry in which you previously worked?
As I mentioned, I have been working in cannabis since a very young age. What started out as a way to make some money to offset my expenses has turned into a lifelong venture. During my younger years, I worked corporate jobs. I worked for telephone call centers, law firms, Bank of America, and a few other large corporate entities. All the while, I still worked on my cannabis trade both during and after hours. Some of my co-workers were my best customers for their flower consumption habits. I maintained cultivation sites even while working my 9 to 5 with the help of close friends and automation equipment.
What distinguishes it from other industries is you don't have to wear a suit and tie to work. I can water my plants or sell cannabis in t-shirts, shorts, and a pair of flip-flops. The culture and work environment is like no other. Obviously, now, with legalization, that is changing. But back then and even up until now, with my company, the environment is very lax and laid back.
- What challenges did you experience when you first started in this field?
It was illegal! You could get arrested, jailed, and have your assets seized. Your best friends, your family, no one could know what you did. Nowadays, everyone knows about cannabis. Everyone is trying to get into the space because they think it's easy money, but they have no idea the hard work and risk people like myself have taken over the many years to get to where we are now in the space.
- Tell us about your beverage range; what makes them unique from other beverages in the market?
Our beverages have a specific target market demographic in mind. What makes Mari y Juana unique, is the flavor profile and type of product. We chose to focus on traditional Mexican cuisine and the traditional flavor profiles you see in non-cannabis CPG niche offerings. Our michelada styrofoam cup with the cannabis-infused chili powder is extremely unique in that it has a design patent that protects the style and looks of the rimmed cup. We add the infused chili powder to make it the most unique cannabis beverage in the space. No one can copy or attempt to replicate it. It doesn't get more original than that. Beyond the cup, we have our Mexican-inspired flavored soft drinks in flavor profiles that are not as common as other beverages in the market, such as our tamarindo.
Our branding and name choices, our stylized designs that resemble imagery found in Mexico, separate us from other brands and products in the cannabis-infused beverage space. Our name alone is a play on the word "marijuana".
- What is the best way to educate the new consumer? What is the marketing procedure? How do you plan on expanding?
The best way to educate consumers on the cannabis-infused beverage space is to make them realize it's no different than what they do in their day-to-day. Everyone wakes up in the morning and has a glass of water, orange juice, or a cup of coffee. Throughout the day, it's a soft drink, apple juice, or green juice. At night it can be a glass of wine or an ice-cold beer. The point is we consume beverages, and we do so quite a bit. The cannabis smoker is not accustomed to the new innovations of blending drinks with cannabis because the science and previous works didn't have the consistency and availability both from a retail perspective and from a cannabis delivery perspective that they have now.
We plan on making it more common in their consumption habits by educating, co-branding with stores, and encouraging incorporating of cold boxes or refrigerators in the shops and just putting it in front of their eyes as much as possible.
Our plan for expansion requires capital. At this point, we are beyond the proof of concept that the brand works and resonates with the consumer, specifically in California. With capital, we will focus on getting the word out in other states, such as Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas, where a large percentage of the population we are targeting resides.
- Do you think shipping cannabis products over state lines — and not having access to banks, also hinders the opportunity?
I don't think shipping cannabis products over state lines necessarily hinders the opportunity because our product inputs can easily be sourced within the state of manufacture. Meaning you can get flavoring, bottles, labels, etc., that are identical no matter what state, so there is no need to worry about lack of interstate access. Delta 9 distillate is the same isolated raw material in any state, with little to no variance.
Not having access to banks does put a hindrance on expansion for sure, though. It doesn't help when you have to pay a supplier or co-packer. You can't just walk in with a bag of money these days. When I started in the industry, that was not a problem but not with the entry of other players such as co-packers and raw material providers, specifically for cannabis beverages; you can't make the "all-cash" payment anymore. So yes, the lack of banking is a hurdle that must be removed.
- Where do most of your sales come from? What age groups consume your beverages the most?
We are a wholesale-only brand, so all of our sales go to retail outlets.
People 21 years of age up to 80 years old consume our beverages! I had a nice elderly woman tell me she loves our Tamarindo! soft drink.
- What e-commerce platforms do you use for marketing your beverages?
Cannabis marketing has severe restrictions as it pertains to online marketing. However, we use Instagram as much as possible to advertise our brand. Our website, DrinkMJ.com, is what we try to market as heavily as possible, both on our packaging that the end consumer sees and on our in-store displays and social media accounts.
- Which SKU sells the most? What kind of data do you work on when deciding which SKU to launch? If you could tell us?
All of our SKUs sell equally well. When we launch an SKU, we look to see what is popular in the regular CPG market. Energy drinks, coffee-flavored drinks, and non-alcoholic beers that's what we look at when we do our R&D and future line extension planning.
- What is the demographic of your target market? How do you explore new markets for your beverages and focus on business development?
We look to sell to Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Latinos. We use this as a measuring gauge when exploring new markets to see if entry makes sense.
- Do you have any forthcoming releases at Mari y Juana Beverages?
Yes, we have a coffee-flavored drink, a couple of energy drinks, and non-alcoholic beers that will all carry the traditional Mexican brand theme. The names of the SKUs, the flavors and the packaging will all be very unique and hard to compete with.
- Which is your favorite Mari y Juana Beverage, and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?
My favorite is the iMota Mix! I enjoy it with an ice-cold Modelo next to the pool on a warm sunny California day.
Header Image: Daniel Torres
Interviewed By Aakriti Rawat, Beverage Trade Network