Beverage Startups

Keef Brands – Tearing Down A Stigma About Cannabis Since 2010

Keef Brands - Tearing Down A Stigma About Cannabis9 years ago Knutson’s brothers have created one of the first companies to infuse soda with cannabis. Keef Brands offer 4 different beverage lines all infused with cannabis. Innovative, brave and trendy, Keef Brands are here to stay! Today, I have a pleasure of talking with Erik Knutson, Keef Brands CEO/Co-founder.

Innovation can be a huge success factor for a business startup. And there is no doubt when it comes to the Keef Brands. How did you come up with the idea of cannabis infused beverage brands?

I was born and raised in Boulder, CO, a progressive and forward-thinking area when it comes to cannabis, and I’ve long been passionate about cannabis myself, but was actually in the construction business with my family before venturing into the cannabis industry. But the Great Recession of 2008 tore up the housing market and as a result, our construction business. So, my brothers and I turned to the burgeoning legal cannabis industry. We applied for one of the first cannabis business licenses in Boulder and used it to open a dispensary selling other brands, but soon realized there was a gap in the edibles market: cannabis-infused beverages.

So we launched Keef Brands in 2010 with Keef Cola, the first line of cannabis-infused soda. It felt like a no-brainer, as drinking and smoking are historically two of the most popular social activities for adults, so we created a cannabis-infused beverage that tastes great, remixes the formula and blends all the best parts of drinking: the fun, social, celebratory experience, with the magic and joy of cannabis. It’s the best of both worlds poured into every bottle we make. And we make each bottle to exacting standards that blend the art and science of THC-infusion with a range of delicious familiar flavors.

Keef Brands have four different beverage lines. What difficulties did you face during the development of each line? 

Each line definitely brought its own challenges during development. That said, the most difficult element of making a cannabis beverage is always the emulsification, as oil and water do not like to mix on their own. Over the past decade we have experimented with numerous methods, from cold water hashing to sonic emulsification and beyond. As far as the individual lines, making our emulsion taste good at 100 mg in a 4 oz bottle was probably the most challenging product next to keeping the sparkling water light and calorie free.

There are a lot of different ways to use cannabis. Why consumers should choose cannabis infused soft drinks?

We believe that the best way to enjoy cannabis is also the easiest way to enjoy cannabis. Cannabis infused soft drinks like Keef Cola are a new way to experience the simple pleasure of a good drink with friends. Drinking is social, mainstream, and celebratory, so those consuming cannabis beverages can stay part of the party (rather than stepping outside to smoke), join in the toasts, keep the conversation going and share in the moments that make for great times. In addition, we strive to make a product for all pallets from soda to sparkling water, we believe there is a Keef for everyone.

Congratulations on the recent launch of Keef Cola in California. What is the biggest milestone for Keef Brands you have reached so far?

Keef Brands - Tearing Down A Stigma About CannabisRather than one specific achievement, we’re most proud of our overall expansion this past decade. Back in 2010 when my brother Kelly and I decided to launch Keef Brands, the cannabis space was very different than today. There wasn’t an “industry” and making and selling it wasn’t a “profession.” But we were driven by passion and curiosity. We wanted to remix the classic soda flavors of our childhood with a special ingredient for adults and make drinkable cannabis.

We started by infusing soda in our  kitchens and now Keef Brands products are at more than 800 retail locations across the United States including in Colorado, California, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada, as well as in Puerto Rico and Jamaica. We’ve also had the opportunity to strategically partner with companies we respect in order introduce additional innovative products to market. And we’re far from hitting our ceiling – there’s still room for Keef Brands to continue to grow and evolve.

Keef Brands have many different products lines. What are the biggest challenges when it comes to operating a diverse product portfolio in multiple states?

Understanding each state’s complex and evolving regulatory environment in order to remain compliant, maintain your company’s workflow and continue to innovate. But we’ve had a lot of practice in diverse marketplaces and have overcome a lot of hurdles to achieve success. They’ve all been great learning experiences.

You hold impressive positions such as Co-Founder and President of the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH), founding board member of the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF) and co-founder of the Denver Packaging Company (DPAC). In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions regarding this ingredient? Recently, what are the major trends you have noticed in beverage market?

There has long been a stigma about cannabis due to years of propaganda, but it is part of our culture and can be a pleasurable complement to everyday life, including socializing. And of course, science has already proven cannabis’ medicinal benefits.

In terms of trends, there are several major ones, including drinks that emphasize health and wellness, which is why we’ve created Keef Sparkling, a zero calorie, zero sugar sparkling water that comes in a variety of flavors. Also, micro-dosing – many of our bottles are 10 MG THC, but we have other 100 MG products that come with a dosing cap. Think of it as buying a bottle of liquor and portioning out shots.

And then there’s cannabis infused beer, which we’ve also been involved in. We worked with Ceria Brewing Company to launch Colorado’s first THC infused craft beer and collaborated with Lagunitas, bottling Hi-Fi Hops.

Nowadays, young people are looking for alternatives when it comes to alcohol. Alcohol-free adult drinks are getting popular each year. In your opinion, what are the main reasons for this trend?

Keef Brands - Tearing Down A Stigma About CannabisFriends want to hang out and drink together without risking debilitating hangovers, getting out of control, and added calories. People are no longer just simply willing to accept the negative effects of alcohol and are instead seeking alternatives to social consumption and new ways to relax. Carefully dosed cannabis-infused beverages can be the solution.

What advice would you had given yourself before you started out in the beverage business? Watch your margins! 

Due to 280E (which licensed cannabis businesses should not be subjected to), the taxes are outrageous and make it extremely difficult for businesses to maintain. But despite these pitfalls, the past decade since launching Keef Brands has been an amazing and exciting journey – I wouldn’t change it for anything.

For more information visit Keef Brands website.

About Ugne Butkute

Ugnė Butkutė is a project manager at DrinkPreneur. Ugnė is responsible for attracting contributors, maintaining quality of content and keeping readers satisfied with DrinkPreneur

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