Our founder shares his thoughts on how he got into the cannabis industry, what sets Wabi Sabi apart and when consumers can get their hands on our delicious chocolate goods
What drew you to the cannabis industry?
When the oil and gas market crashed in 2015, I was working as a Director of Consulting for an SAP partner in Calgary. I had to lay off a good chunk of our staff, and shortly after left the company so they could save on costs. It was then I thought to myself that it was time to do something different.
Around this time, I remember thinking then how the cannabis industry would be an excellent way to re-invent myself. I knew a little about cannabis but was intrigued and wanted to learn more. I started by conducting some research into the industry and began to consider how I could align my passions to create something monumental. I could no longer compete in Ironman (my first passion) due to bursitis in my right knee but was committed to finding a solution. With help from some kind women on Vancouver Island, I created my first beeswax salve, which gave my knee immediate relief. It was so effective that I was able to do my 5th Ironman in 2016.
What led you to found Wabi Sabi Brands?
I saw the opportunity to make products that smelled, tasted and had a repeatable effect based on what I was seeing in the US cannabis market. Products that looked awesome did not quite taste all that great — and this was the case with a lot of products. My research in Colorado, Washington, California and Nevada led me to only a few products that met my smell, taste and effect test, so I knew the brand I had in mind, Wabi Sabi, would be onto something.
What was your role with Four20 Premium Market, and how has it influenced Wabi Sabi Brands?
I was one of the original investors. Then in 2017, I was approached by the board to come in and help get the company on its feet. I found many like-minded people in the cannabis industry and kept working on my edible and topical recipes at night as I procured the real estate and built out the first six stores, among many other things. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Four20 team for teaching me the inner workings of the cannabis retail business. The hundreds of conversations I had with their expert edible chef and the Four20 medical director helped me to confirm my path for Wabi Sabi products, but gave me the scientific incite to develop taste and textures for both the edible and topical markets. The edibles market is not just about if you can you make a decent-tasting product, but you also need to have as solid a grasp on strains, terpenes and extracts to make a well-rounded product.
How did you get the ball rolling on this? Did you consult with chocolatiers? Or did you start in your kitchen?
I started by taking online programs in chocolate-making and chocolate quality. My kids loved all the non-cannabis chocolate treats I would make, and they were my first customers. Through my network of connections, I was able to meet and develop a relationship with a local chocolatier. It was amazing to see his operation the first time, as I love chocolate and also love manufacturing operations. I had a consulting background with SAP in food manufacturing (and other areas) for many years, so I had a solid base understanding of how operations and equipment worked. To this day, I get very excited about going into manufacturing facilities to see how they make certain products.
Did you have to pick up new skills or attend any classes to kick off your venture?
We took lots of food safety and labeling courses, as well as classes on HPLC dosing testing. Food safety and testing are core values to everyone at Wabi Sabi. I have made all types of products, from cookies, gummies, chocolates and confectionary products that cross the areas. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. This is another big part of the Wabi Sabi culture, as we are striving to do better and learn from everything we do. It’s also part of our hidden meaning on why I used an ensō circle in our logo.
How did you come up with the name Wabi Sabi?
My daughter loves Anime. She loves it so much that she was trying to teach herself basic Japanese. I came across the concept of Wabi-Sabi, and it seemed to encapsulate how I felt about looking at my creations. I would make mistakes all the time as I was learning how to tame the chocolate beast. Still, my imperfections served some purpose, and the beauty of my mistakes was eventually incorporated into the final look of our products
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve experienced thus far?
Building our facility came with its challenges, as we made it to a higher specification than most. We started with the end in mind: to be GMP certified, which led us to be certified by the BRC Global Standards (BRCGS). BRCGS is an internationally recognized benchmark for best practice in food safety, quality and responsibility. Having this certification allows us to work with all supply chains around the world.
Our application process went smoothly because we brought in the right experts to get it done. I approached Four20 Premium Market and Wabi Sabi similar to the way I approached Ironman competitions; you break your end goal down into manageable chunks. It’s a matter of keeping focused and moving your feet forward step-by-step to keep pushing ahead. It doesn’t hurt that I have been managing all sizes of projects since the mid-’90s.
What is your favourite Wabi Sabi edible, and why?
I love all of our products but if I had to pick, the Milk Chocolate Cookies and Cream is my favourite. The taste is truly amazing, and my mistakes developing that product enlightened me to the beauty and meaning of Wabi Sabi.
What must an edible company do to stand out?
Be interesting. We are not about corporate greed and owning 100% of the market. Our goal is not to be the Budweiser of edibles. We are artisan confectionery makers, and our products must smell and taste amazing – and have the cannabis effects people are looking for.
Where do you see the edible industry going as a whole?
I think you will see something similar as you see in the U.S. People want good products that are dosed correctly with incredible tastes. The Wabi Sabi’s of the edibles industry – the small makers with attention to detail – will do extremely well, similar to how craft beer brands like Wild Rose and how Big Rock have succeeded.
What do you feel differentiates Wabi Sabi from its competitors?
We are small so we can work on the details that will appeal to consumers. We are from the cannabis industry first and make products that are interesting. This is all backed up with testing that ensures the right dosage and effects customer expect. We did not rush to the market, because we owe it to our customers to get it right.
What are the top qualities that cannabis-infused products need to have to catch the eye of consumers?
The products must be dosed correctly. The product cannot look like everything else and it has to taste good.
Where do you see Wabi Sabi in 5 years? 10 years?
We see our products shipped to cannabis-friendly locations around the world.
When will Wabi Sabi confections be available for purchase in Canada?
If things go well with our Health Canada application we anticipate to be on shelves in the fall of 2020.
If you could sum up Wabi Sabi Brands in one sentence, what would it be?
Our love and attention to detail, particularly the taste, smell and look of our confections, is what sets our chocolates apart and will always result in products customers enjoy.