The power of cannabis product branding and development: Q&A with Papa & Barkley CEO Adam Grossman

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Adam Grossman developed a marijuana-based pain balm that succeeded where other medicines and the local hospital failed, quelling a debilitating back pain that left his father bedridden.

It was “an empowering experience” that Grossman turned into an infused cannabis business with a strong sense of brand – Papa & Barkley. Papa refers to Grossman’s father, and Barkley is the family dog.

Launched in June 2016, the Eureka, California-based company established itself in the state’s cannabis wellness market. Papa & Barkley specializes in cannabis-based balms, patches, tinctures and other infused products engineered to relieve pain, sleep problems and other issues.

Industry watchers suggest the company’s success is due partly to the fact it has built core branding around making the benefits of marijuana-based products easier for consumers to understand.

Additionally, when Papa & Barkley expands its product line, it aims to clearly specify how the product will address customers’ individual health issues.

Marijuana Business Daily spoke with Grossman about the power of building a strong brand in the MJ space.

He also discussed his ideas around best practices for product development and expansion that may interest other marijuana entrepreneurs.

How did the branding efforts you made around your early products set the stage for the identity of products that followed?

Our first product was the balm, and later that summer we came out with transdermal patches.

Those first two products formed the core of our brand identity – around nonpsychoactive pain products.

The balm represented highly potent, holistic plant medicine, and the patches represented more precision dosing and science.

That brand identity now extends to ingestibles like tinctures and capsules.

How do you decide what kinds of products to make?

We don’t want to put out new products just for the sake of it. We want to add products that solve specific problems for our clients, and offer alternatives, because these products are all new on the market.

For instance, we just came out with a new tincture SKU, which is a find-your-right-ratio-mix. It’s a 30-1 CBD to THC tincture matched with a 1-to-30 THC to CBD tincture, along with a dosing chart that shows you how to mix an 8-1 or a 12-1, different ratios of THC to CBD, with the goal of helping someone dial in their particular dosage ratio for their particular condition.

Since these are proprietary formulas, how do you handle intellectual property protection?

The process that we based our infusion method around does have some patent protection around it.

We are also moving into a new production facility and putting in new processes and workflows, especially coming out of the R&D department – just doing a better job documenting all the innovation that’s happening and providing it to counsel to protect stuff.

How do you clearly pitch your products and brand to customers?

We’re not a lifestyle brand. We’re a medicinal brand. We’re solving problems.

Our core demographic starts with what we call chronic pain managers – primarily seniors. We bus 75 seniors on average a week from assisted living facilities to a couple of dispensary partners.

The daily pain manager is also someone we focus on. That’s not just older folks, but the demographic definitely skews older.

The second is the do-it-yourself healers – kind of like the yoga mom in her 30s. There’s a lifestyle element there, but I think pain and wellness go hand in hand. So, we do a lot of events with massage and yoga.

On the fitness side of things, the third demographic are the weekend warriors – athletes that get sore and have disposable income.

What can you tell us about your production process and how it’s related to your brand identity?

We just basically cook the flowers in the different base oils. It’s a proprietary process employing pressure, timing, temperature. And it’s solvent-free. No chemicals touch the plant.

A lot of the brand identity is around solvent-free processes and whole plant.

Some processes, like CO2 extraction, they break apart the cannabinoids – and the terpenes need to be reintroduced.

We take the entire spectrum of the plants, the cannabinoids and natural nutrients, and transfer it into the oil.

So, when we say whole plant or whole spectrum, that’s part of our brand identity as well, as opposed to using a distillate.

What kind of branding challenges have you run into specific to the California market?

Given the size of the California market, it’s hard for things to be smooth and seamless from start to finish.

For example, last July there were changes in the packaging rules, and we had to recall literally tens of thousands of products because they didn’t have a sticker that had both metric and U.S. measurements. It was a packaging issue.

We had to re-sticker literally tens of thousands of packages. We pulled double shifts and all-nighters. And this is where having a corporate culture and a sense of commitment to a purpose really differentiated us as a company.

What are your expansion plans, and how does that relate to your branding strategy?

In California, where we are focused on the THC-regulated business, we are focused on building out our new manufacturing space and putting in automation. Most of our products have been put together by hand.

We also recently launched a CBD-only product line, Papa & Barkley Essentials. With that effort, we are extending the brand nationally.

It’s interesting because the structure of that business is distinct in some important ways from what we’re doing in California.

For example, the CBD business has a significant online component because we can sell online. The whole setup with merchant processing and how you garner attention for the brand and get people to come to the website is something that we’re figuring out.

Do you have international plans?

We are taking some steps toward licensing in the Canadian market with a view toward international exports.

We’ve been going to Israel since the company started, with a view toward accessing some of the science that has developed in Israel.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]