Today, cannabis is breaking into many sectors of the food and beverage industry. But 10 years ago, it was considered a dangerous narcotic. Its appearance in anything to eat or drink looked more like a tray of homemade pot brownies and less like the slick products starting to appear on shelves.
In 2009, Erik Knutson, his brother Kelly Knutson and Andrew Veron had been working in construction. They lost most of their work and couldn’t take out any more construction loans as the Great Recession tore up the housing market. Being from Boulder, Colorado — well known for its liberal attitudes toward cannabis — they brainstormed ideas for a new business that brought the substance to the general population.
Keef Brands, which was one of the first companies to put it into a soda, was born.
Keef has expanded beyond soda into sparkling water, energy shots, healthy juice blends and oils. The company is working with Ceria Brewing Company, founded by former Blue Moon brewmaster Keith Villa, to manufacture and distribute nonalcoholic THC-infused Grainwave beer. Keef’s products are made and sold in retail locations in California, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Puerto Rico. Some are sold in Jamaica. Knutson plans to expand to Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington this year.
And sales are booming. Keef sold its 1 millionth product in the United States last year, and Knutson says the company sells about 50,000 items per month.
While the edible cannabis market is much more crowded today, Keef was one of the companies that laid the category’s foundation — and keeps innovating to meet consumer demands. Knutson talked with Food Dive about how he created and led the drinkable cannabis category, and where he sees it going in the future.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
FOOD DIVE: What gave you the idea