Ever since they legalized cannabis in Illinois, I’ve become very curious about the industry and how our economy and policies have relaxed towards what once was considered a ‘drug’. Several states have legalized the plant while others are still in process. But what makes this industry different for entrepreneurs is that it’s still considered ‘new’ and with that makes it a lot trickier than others, navigating legalities around it, laws and so forth. Even more interesting is the way in which businesses need to be regulated in order to ensure safety and product quality for the consumer.
I came across Fruit Slabs, probably one of the cleanest THC product you can find in the edible cannabis market that was not a gummy or cookie and had a quick chat with their founder, Roxanne Dennant on her exciting business. This interview was inspiring because Roxanne offered me some clarity on what once was believed to be a shady industry, and how it’s now a space that’s booming nationwide- as a professional with a legal background.
What is Fruit Slabs and what inspired the start up?
Fruit Slabs is base in California. They are premiere healthy & dietary specific edibles- delicious fruit squares crafted with certified organic, real fruit ingredients and high quality cannabis extracts. We make each pouch with ten bite sized squares, each containing 10mg THC for a total of 100mg THC per pouch. They’re naturally vegan, gluten free, low calorie and we don’t add any sugar to them.
I’ve been a vegetarian for over 13 years and I pay a lot of attention to what I eat and put into my body… When we started Fruit Slabs in 2015, there was no such thing as a healthy edible – everything was chocolate, baked goods or candies that had high sugar contents and ingredient lists that I couldn’t jive with. It inspired us to fill this void in the marketplace and put out a healthy, plant-based product -something that I would personally want to buy and feel good about eating. The name came from the look of the product – it’s quite literally a slab of fruit. It also looks like a slab of dabs, specifically shatter, and we liked the play on words that Fruit Slabs had in the dab community.
Where does the story of Fruit Slabs begin?
By the time I was signing up for college I knew my ultimate goal would be to work in and with cannabis… This was YEARS before legalization was on the table. At the time California didn’t even have their medical laws for a decade, but I had this innate feeling that the shift was on its way. I decided to major in political science and focus on cannabis law reformation with intentions to go to law school and work in the policy sector involving cannabis. But when it was time to graduate, all the plans for law school and policy wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I felt a calling to build a brand that would help shift the public’s perception so that policy changes could happen with the support of the people. When FruitSlabs was being born I wanted to not only offer a healthier edible option, but also build a brand that was approachable and desirable for women because most of the brands at that time were very masculine and male focused. It wasn’t hard to find the gaps in the market since I was personally living within those gaps. I just created something I personally wanted and thought others might want as well.
I felt a calling to build a brand that would help shift the public’s perception so that policy changes could happen with the support of the people.Roxanne Dennant
What’s it like to work in the cannabis industry?
It’s crazy. The cannabis industry is still figuring itself out and developing which creates a wealth of unknown and constant change. But it is also extremely fun and rewarding because we are trailblazing an industry and creating massive change to our culture as we know it and it’s awesome to be an essential part of the shift. We found our niche within the market by creating a very unique, plant-based product and packaging it as beautifully as products you would see in larger retailers such as Whole Foods and Erewhon.
It’s interesting to see companies and people waking up to cannabis. It’s everything I’ve always hoped for with cannabis, that people would see the light.
How long did it take you to research and create your products?
It didn’t happen overnight, I can tell you that much! We put a solid year into R&D – finding the best way to infuse, finding the proper vendors and fruit suppliers, perfecting packaging, etc. We wanted to launch with something we were confident and proud of, so we were sure to take the time to dial in everything just right.
How are did you fund your business?
We are currently self-funded and working on closing our first round of investment. We feel very proud of ourselves for making it through regulation changes and legalization being entirely self-funded. We’ve watched well-funded companies crash and burn over the last year, yet we still remain which is a testament to how important it is to have a good product and much work and effort has gone into creating a great product. We are hopeful that having such a unique and desired product, as well as being woman-owned, will set us apart and increase the investor’s appetite to work with us.
Speaking of women in the cannabis business, was it challenging to enter this market?
It certainly wasn’t easy or comfortable getting into the cannabis industry as a woman, especially in the pre Prop-64 days when it still very much was the wild west boys club. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I walked into the room to submit our first product into a High Times competition and I was dressed to the 9’s… Lots of stares, lots of conversations dropped, and I couldn’t help, but think to myself “know your audience” and I was far too overdressed for that audience. As challenging as it was navigating certain parts and people in the industry as a woman, I am lucky to have a team of men standing beside me that support my visions, value my input and push me to continue to push boundaries. I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have if it weren’t for some important men in my life and career – I’m looking at you Matt, Hakan, Cona and Brandon.
As challenging as it was navigating certain parts and people in the industry as a woman, I am lucky to have a team of men standing beside me that support my visions, value my input and push me to continue to push boundaries.Roxanne Dennant
Are there limitations in marketing cannabis products?
There are certain legal restrictions such as we can’t offer any type of coupons and we obviously cannot market to children.
The edible cannabis space is growing, do you see that as the future of cannabis consumption given the side effects of ‘smoking’ or ‘vaping’?
I think the edible space will absolutely continue to grow and gain more market share in the cannabis industry… In the past, edibles were always a bit questionable and most often someone put way too much in and caused you to have a bad time. Now that we have mandatory testing and limitations on the amount of THC that can be infused into a product, edibles have become safer and easier to explore. And a lot of our 50+ friends, who are spending a lot in shops, enjoy edibles because of the side effects of smoking. Though, I think that smoking a cannabis flower will always be the core way to consume cannabis… There is something peacefully ritualistic about smoking cannabis whether it is enjoyed personally or socially.
Given you had to learn a lot along the way, what would you say was your biggest challenge?
Finding the right partners. This is true for almost any business, but with how new the industry is and how many snakes are lying in the grass, it is imperative in the cannabis industry to find partners that will be true partners and support your growth through the good times and bad. And when establishing these partnerships you need to be sure that the contract is clear and concise on how the parts of the relationship all work so that no one is in the dark and the partnership remains positive.
This is true for almost any business, but …it is imperative in the cannabis industry to find partners that will be true partners and support your growth through the good times and bad.Roxanne Dennant
Clearly you found the best of partners, how did you approach this challenge?
We have learned a lot about picking and finding the right partners… Recommendations for other entrepreneurs in how to find the right partners and structure the best partnerships:
- Source credit references from the potential partner… Find out information from people they already are in business with to determine if they have good business practices.
- Make sure they are the right culture fit for your team and that those working one on one with the partner get along.
- Set clear boundaries (and goals if necessary) about who does what within the partnership and make sure payment terms are clearly defined and understood.
How on earth are you managing motherhood and entrepreneurship?
This is a balance I am still figuring out… I can tell you it is NOT easy, but it is very rewarding. I feel very lucky to be able to keep my career, build my business, and raise my baby. My son, Hendrix, is four months old so I’ve only been back to work full-time since the beginning of the new year. Over the last three months I’ve learned when conference calls can happen (during nap time), what times work best for in-person meetings if he is joining me (before 2pm), and how to get him to entertain himself when I have work to send out.
I send a lot of emails while breastfeeding, which makes me feel like a killer woman boss! Now that he is getting to a stage where he sleeps less and plays more, we are hiring help in the household so that I can have my hands free of the baby and focus on work.
We don’t outsource much of our business to other companies, my business partners and I are very hands on. The one service that has been absolutely crucial for our business is our relationship with our legal counsel. Having a great lawyer on our team has allowed us to navigate the constant changing cannabis laws easier and he provides great advice on business structure and growth.
What do you spend your time on the most in your company?
I oversee all our sales and marketing, but recently business development and strategic growth have been taking up the majority of my work days. It’s really exciting to be growing the business in the ways that we are and I am learning a lot in the process. Every day is set with new challenges and lessons to learn, it keeps me on my toes that’s for sure!
What’s next for Fruit Slabs?
We have so much on the horizon! We are working on new flavors to release this year, along with some out-of-state partnerships so Fruit Slabs will be accessible in more states that have legal cannabis laws. And the most exciting is that we are working on our hemp based CBD line of Fruit Slabs!
A quote you live by?
“Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates