Charles Villanueva Promoted to Vice President of Commercialization at Pioneering Cannabis Company Azuca NEW MEXICO…
Insights from Wana Brands Innovation VP, New Mexico Expansion, Spring CBD Recipe | The latest from Azuca
A proud partner of Azuca’s, Wana Brands is the No. 1 edibles brand in North America. It’s no surprise: the corporation’s commitment to developing high quality cannabis-infused products is unmatched. This month, Mike Hennesy, Wana Brand’s Vice President of Innovation, shares his predictions for the future of edibles, what makes a successful cannabis partnership, advice for brands ahead of federal legalization, and more. The full interview is below. Plus, learn about Azuca’s newest expansion, legalization in our home state New York, and an idea for celebrating spring with CBD.
6 Questions with Mike Hennesy, Vice President of Innovation, Wana Brands
Q: The edibles market is growing rapidly, even outperforming the growth of the cannabis industry as a whole in 2020. What trends and innovations do you predict for cannabis edibles in 2021 and beyond?
A: Just over a decade into legal recreational cannabis, the industry has come a long way from the days of untested edibles that could leave you woefully over-intoxicated or waiting for a high that would never come. We have seen product standardization and consistency become the norm, new product formats like water-soluble (compatible) cannabis beverages, and the advent of fast-acting edibles with improved absorption and bioavailability that are changing the edibles landscape. With all of the new advancements, it is easy to question what more can be improved upon. However, I believe we are still just scratching the surface of innovation with cannabis edibles.
The cannabis plant offers a pharmacopeia of potentially beneficial compounds that may modulate and interact with each other as well as our body’s endocannabinoid system. The right combinations or formulations may support optimal health outcomes and provide relief from minor issues like getting over a bad day to treating significant health issues, such as research being done on cancer. I predict that growing research on cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds like flavonoids and phenolic compounds will drive innovation of increasingly more effective products with predictable outcomes for specific use-cases – like improving restfulness, calming effects, or even better weight management. These advancements will be driven by the multi-disciplinary growth of several areas of cannabis, including ECS research, genetics, extraction, and delivery systems, among other areas that will converge in future edibles products.
I predict a range of products that offer benefits ranging from today’s classic edibles for relaxation and pain relief to more nuanced effects like intimacy or sports recovery products.
Q: What prompted you to join the cannabis industry?
A: It was somewhat intentional for me, beginning back in my days at college when it was a joke among friends that I would be legally working with cannabis one day. While a cannabis user myself, it was the experience of having a roommate with epilepsy that made me realize the actual medical benefits of cannabis and how a simple plant could transform a life from worry about devastating seizures to episode-free relief.
After encouragement from a close friend, I moved to Colorado in 2012, right as the state was voting to legalize recreational cannabis and never looked back. The rest has been history as I participated in, and grew with the maturing industry. I’ve heard so many stories about how cannabis has changed consumers, family, and friends’ lives. It gives me a feeling that we are all in the right place and making a difference in the world.
Q: How do you define a successful cannabis partnership?
A: Cannabis companies that are not exploring new areas of development such as improved edible absorption technologies, cannabis genetics, and effect-specific formulations will be quickly eclipsed by brands that have chosen the path of science and innovation. This can be a challenge for many companies because these topics fall outside the scope of their core competencies. But that is where partnerships with researchers, inventors, and technology experts can help progress and evolve new products.
When companies look into partnerships or licensing deals of new technologies, it works best when both organizations recognize their strengths and skill sets,–and what assets or abilities they lack but can find from a partner. For cannabis companies, that usually looks like a new scientific advancement or invention they don’t have access to. On the other hand, the technology providers are looking for a regulated legal business that offers a cannabis license. Additionally, they need a partner with the operational capabilities to produce a new product and properly sell and market it to get the message and education to consumers, along with the brand recognition and footprint to distribute the product widely and successfully.
The best partnerships will be built on a balance of these competencies and create a structure where both partners add value to the relationship while benefiting from the other’s resources.
Q: What do you attribute to Wana’s success as the No. 1 edibles brand in North America and how will you maintain that status?
A: There are many reasons why Wana has become a trusted name in cannabis and the No. 1 edibles brand in North America. Continual product design innovation and improvements like the current switch from high fructose corn syrup to an organic recipe using tapioca syrup, to our consistency in production and quality assurance (QA), to our leading sales and marketing teams. One underlying trait throughout the Wana organization that affects everything we produce is the notion of always looking ahead. Gauging what our consumers are looking for and where the market is headed. We didn’t wait for regulations to hit requiring potency testing. We tested for potency from the beginning because we knew it was what our customers needed. We started looking into fast-onset edibles years ago as we believed this is where a segment of the market is headed. We are already looking at subsequent improvements in production to stay ahead of the curve and are innovating the new products of tomorrow, today.
Q: Momentum for adult use cannabis legalization is at an all time high, with multiple states introducing new legislation in recent months. What can cannabis brands do to prepare for federal legalization?
A: There are many strategies that brands are considering based on the state of their business, growth goals, and if they are looking for an acquisition exit strategy or a company making the acquisitions. However, there are some essential preparations that all businesses should be working on.
The companies ready for federal legalization will have already figured out what their production systems and processes will look like when presented with the opportunity to expand beyond producing for limited state markets to begin selling at a national scale. The equipment and SOPs are vastly different for that scale of manufacturing, and forward-thinking brands should solve this now. Additionally, the cannabis industry has operated outside of FDA and FTC guidance and oversight, but federal legalization will change all of that/everything. The brands that plan to be the leaders at a national level need to get their production and marketing in line with federal standards, such as GMP manufacturing, for which Wana is in the process of being certified. Following federal guidelines in production and how you market and make claims about cannabis are important for cannabis brands to figure out in advance, and a failure to do so will leave companies in a challenging spot playing catch up.
Q: What keeps you up at night and what makes you sleep easy?
A: Missing the next ‘big thing’ in cannabis keeps me up at night. The industry is progressing so fast, and in so many directions at the same time, innovations are popping up everywhere. Cannabis brands need to have all their senses heightened to tune into new developments that improve their products and customer experiences. I’ve been sleeping easier with the continued expansion of cannabis legalization states and relaxing societal attitudes about cannabis use. I’ve also been sleeping easier with the help of Wana’s soon-to-be released fast-acting gummies that promote a better night’s sleep, coming to Colorado and other markets this summer!
Mike Hennesy is the Vice President of Innovation at Wana Brands where he oversees their research and development program, new product design, educational training content, and growing partnerships with new cannabis technologies. Hennesy led the team in creating Wana’s new Quick line, which includes gummies made with Azuca’s TiME INFUSION™ technology. Wana Quick gummies are available in select dispensaries across the U.S. and in Canada.
Legalization Update: New York Finally Goes Green
New York: After several years of discussion, lawmakers have finally reached an agreement to legalize adult use cannabis in Azuca’s home state. The new legislation, which could bring $350 million in revenues to the state annually, will be monumental and we look forward to playing an integral role (Source: AP).
New Mexico: After a special legislative session called by Governor Lujan Grisham, New Mexico is set to legalize cannabis for adult use. The Governor’s office estimates that the new legal cannabis marketplace will create 11,000 jobs in the state. (Sources: Albuquerque Journal, The Hill).
Kansas: Kansas House Committee lawmakers passed a medical cannabis legalization bill and approved the overall measure, clearing its path to a floor vote (Source: Marijuana Moment).
Azuca in the News
Albuquerque Business First shared Azuca’s latest expansion in New Mexico, in partnership with Everest Apothecary. This spring, Everest will begin to carry a line of Azuca infused syrups, bringing our fast-acting TiME INFUSION™ process to the medical cannabis patients in the state for the first time. Read more about the partnership here.
Azuca in California: Wana Quick Gummies Coming this Spring
Welcome to the Golden State: Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummies, powered by Azuca TiME INFUSION™, will be available in California exclusively at MedMen beginning this April. Read more about this exciting launch here.
Celebrate Spring with this CBD Recipe: Watermelon Margarita
Getting ready for your 4/20 celebration or just craving a refreshing beverage in the spring sunshine? Why not make a Watermelon Margarita, featuring 25 mg of fast-acting Azuca simple syrup below:
½ oz agave
½ oz Cointreau (optional)
¾ oz lime juice
1 oz watermelon juice
2½ tsp Azuca simple syrup
Add all ingredients to a shaker. Shake well and strain over ice in a tumbler with a half-salted rim. Add a watermelon slice to garnish.
Find more CBD recipes for spring here and make sure to check out our Instagram for videos on how to make the CBD version of some of your favorite cocktails.
Last Prisoner Project
We are committed to help make the CBD and cannabis community a fair and equitable place for all. A portion of all Azuca proceeds are donated in support of Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working to bring restorative justice to the cannabis industry and dedicated to releasing those incarcerated for cannabis and helping them rebuild their lives. Learn more and support this great cause here.