Simon Grigenas leans back, socked feet resting on the coffee table in BRNT Inc.’s spacious Edmonton International Airport office. It’s Thursday afternoon, and with only five days to go before cannabis is legalized, this is the first day the twenty-something CEO hasn’t spent inspecting product and packaging shipments down the road, at the company’s new hangar-sized distribution centre.
It’s been a slog of 16-hour work days for the BRNT team, but it’s been worth it Grigenas says, cracking open a can of soda.
On Wednesday, the consumption of recreational cannabis was legalized, and retailers across the country opened their doors to Canada’s next multibillion-dollar industry. Thanks to the past two break-back weeks, BRNT was in 100 of those stores. Within six months that number will more than double.
“It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Grigenas says. “It’s the end of prohibition and everyone needs these products the same day to be able to stock their shelves across the country.”
BRNT is an Edmonton-based cannabis lifestyle brand that specializes in functional, design-focused smoking accessories. BRNT products target discreet users, and are meant to double as home décor.
The brand was founded by three University of Alberta students: Grigenas, Andrew Feltham and Rahman Amlani. (All three have since deferred graduation to focus on the company full time.)
As a medical cannabis user of over a decade, Grigenas had noticed a lack of innovation in cannabis consumption tools. Most products were made of glass, making them easy to break and hard to clean. They also weren’t particularly eye-catching — especially after use.
Wanting something he could leave on the coffee table without feeling self-conscious, the fourth-year business student came up with the idea of a ceramic, dishwasher-safe bong, called the Hexagon.
Brought to market through a crowdfunding campaign last November, the Hexagon generated $30,000 in pre-sales, and garnered the attention of private and angel investors. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.
In the span of 10 months, the Edmonton startup has gone from crowdfunding its flagship product to launching four new accessories, creating two new divisions (apparel and infused products), and achieving national distribution.
“That growth is very much tied to the cannabis industry and how fast it moves,” says Grigenas. “There are so many opportunities that you can tackle with a first-mover advantage.”
That’s why BRNT is already planning its expansion into the infused product market. While Canadians are now free to enjoy dried or fresh flower, as well as cannabis oil, concentrates and edibles won’t become legal until this time next year. The company also plans to launch an apparel line before the end of 2018.
The legalization of recreational cannabis use is opening new markets — and not just in terms of cultivation or retail opportunities. Ancillary markets, which covers everything from infused products to accessories, are expected to play a large part in what Deloitte estimates could become a $22-billion market.
Here’s a look at three other cannabis-related businesses in Edmonton:
While waiting to receive a licence for their extraction lab, founders Cam O’Neil and Keenan Pascal decided to start a cocktail bitters line. Intended to get their cannabis beverage brand in front of consumers early, the pet project took on a life of its own — growing 200 per cent quarter over quarter since launching last November.
While the bitters won’t be going anywhere soon, the company has started pushing forward its initial concept — starting with the construction of a 6,000-square-foot facility in north Edmonton, which should be up and running by March 2019.
“It’s going to be a really big market in the future,” Pascal says about the cannabis beverage market. “With drinks, it’s a very social experience. I think that’s what cannabis consumption will trend towards — a social activity.”
The infused market will also have the added advantage of better dosage control.
With a year to go before edibles and concentrates enter the market, Token Naturals will start by producing oil and capsules. Not only is it a natural transition into producing its own infused products, but the move will serve other local companies looking to get into the market.
“There are a lot of small companies looking to get into the cannabis space that have a specialty in other areas, whether that be baking or a topical line or a coffee roaster,” Pascal says.
Jill first became interested in cannabis topicals when her friend Marya was diagnosed with breast cancer. While not available in Canada yet, patients in the U.S. were using cannabis-infused lotions and salves to treat the side effects of chemo. Having just started a small skincare line a few years earlier, Jill decided to experiment with the drug in hopes of giving her friend some relief.
Now, she plans to start selling her formulations in the new, legal recreational market — starting with a line of terpene-inspired, “cannabis-ready” bath products called Soak Life.
Except for the soak pouches, each product has been formulated to blend with cannabis oils. They also contain essential oils that mimic the terpene profiles of certain cannabis strains. Terpenes are believed to play a role in the relaxing effects of cannabis.
Once topicals become legal next year, she intends to launch a line of infused products. The skincare formulator says there are many health benefits to using cannabis as part of your beauty routine. Not only can CBD, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, help relieve anxiety, pain and stress, it also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat dermatitis and psoriasis.
Ben Burrell was scrolling through Instagram one day when he came across the Cannabis Jar, a Winnipeg-based cannabis accessory company that is trying to destigmatize cannabis culture. He loved the artisan-made, design centric wares so much that he offered to create his own.
“It was the first cannabis brand I’d come across that didn’t have that black-lights-and-tie-dye-shirts, stereotypical stoner aspect to it. It really caught my attention,” says Burell, who runs the small woodworking studio with his wife Jess.
Fast forward about a few months and YEG Woodworks’ magnetic prep tray was born.
The portable tray comes in multiple finishes and features a rolling space, as well as spots to stand your lighter, grinder and up to five pre-rolls. It can be purchased through the Cannabis Jar or on YEG Woodworks’ Etsy page.
Like BRNT, YEG Woodworks is targeting an emerging market of consumers that value esthetic and design.
“They can have a nice piece of art sitting on their coffee table and help slowly shake that stigma,” says Burell, who is busy trying to come up with more cannabis accessory designs.
The companies featured in this story are all proud Edmonton Made businesses. Are you Edmonton Made? You can register for the program here. (It’s free!) Have a story idea for an Edmonton Made company? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YEG Woodworks designs and builds real wood home goods and bespoke furniture.View details
Soak Life offers cannabis-ready self-care products including bath bombs, bath oil and soaks.View details
Token produces handcrafted, small-batch aromatic bitters, each flavour named after an iconic Edmonton street or landmark.View details