Industry Insider || Bhang Chocolate

T

he
first time Scott Van Rixel walked into a medical cannabis dispensary and
observed the quality of edible products, he was disappointed.

The
brownies for sale appeared as if they had been made in someone’s home kitchen,
packaged in a simple Ziploc bag with a rough sticker—the kind of product that
wouldn’t get shelf space in a gas station.

 “It was a long ways away from what patients
deserve and what medicine should be considered,” recalled 40-year-old Van
Rixel, from his home in Miami.

That
was 2009. Six years later, Van Rixel’s Bhang Chocolate has become one of the
nation’s most recognized edible brands, the cornerstone product of a cannabis
line that runs the gamut from chocolate to chewing gum, mouth sprays and even
vaporizers.

For
this master chocolatier—a title reserved for those with an intimate knowledge
of making fine chocolate, from cocoa bean to bar—it’s about maintaining high
standards, even as he has used his business savvy to license the Bhang brand
for a wide variety of cannabis products.

 “Our brand stands for quality. Our brand
stands for consistency. Our brand stands for being the best your money can buy.
It’s not the cheapest. It’s just the best,” said Van Rixel.

From cocoa to cannabis

Van
Rixel got in the sweets business in 2001, when he opened Chocolate Cartel in
the mountain hamlet of Taos, New Mexico Such was the demand for his chocolate
that he relocated to Albuquerque and began producing chocolates sold across the
country in organic and boutique foods stores.

In
2009, when he was having trouble with a formula for gelato, he talked to a food
chemist in California who urged him to come north to experience that state’s
nascent medical cannabis industry. He immediately saw the opportunity for a
standardized edible product, so he handed off Chocolate Cartel to his brother
to run while he focused on THC-infused products.

Bhang
Chocolate debuted in California medical cannabis collectives in 2010. Van Rixel
estimates that business tripled each month for the first six months. Then
things slowed a bit, merely doubling each month for the next six months.

“We
were at an advantage because I already knew how to run a large-scale food
operation, as opposed to most people that were in the edibles industry or
getting into it, who were coming from the consumer side,” Van Rixel said.

As
medical cannabis expanded, Bhang found licensees in more states to use his
recipes and the company brand to get the chocolates on dispensary shelves,
since it is illegal to ship cannabis products across state lines.

As
of early 2015, Van Rixel’s chocolates can be found in eight states, with plans
to expand into four more this year.

More than chocolate

It
eventually became clear to Van Rixel that chocolate, as much as stoners might
love it, has limitations.

“Chocolate
is fantastic but it’s got its downsides too,” Van Rixel said. “It melts.
Keeping a chocolate bar in your pocket is a bad idea. You can’t keep it in your
car in summer. If it’s in your purse and it melts you’ve got a mess.”

The
solution? Diversity.

Today
the Bhang name can be found on a variety of edibles other than chocolate, from
chewing gum to mouth sprays. When Van Rixel became disenchanted with the
quality of portable vaporizers on the market, he sold the Bhang name to a
licensee to make a better one.

Diversity
is about more than satisfying the fickle wishes of consumers. As more states
legalize recreational or medical cannabis, a baffling patchwork of regulations
has emerged.

Some
states might require edibles to be sold in strengths of 50mg, 100mg or 200mg of
THC. Others have a 60/120/180 standard. One state might determine medical cannabis
can be sold as edibles only, while another might say it can only be sold as the
cannabis flower. Another might limit edibles only to bland-looking tinctures in
an effort to keep it away from kids.

For
these reasons, Bhang licensees in each state are autonomous. And Van Rixel is
always looking out for the next idea or product, willing to lend the Bhang name
and expertise to those who may not know how to launch a cannabis product after
eight decades of the plant on the black market.

Said
Van Rixel, “You’ve got to have enough things in your repertoire so you can fill
those niches and have the expertise and the knowledge to develop something new
if you didn’t already have it.”

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