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Jones Soda is the largest independent beverage company in business. The company has spent 26 years creating some 150 flavors and carved out a niche in the beverage business that is a little bit smaller than the big players like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola but still larger than any regional operations.
The company's independence provided an opportunity to become a first mover in the cannabis beverage category. Jones tested the market and talked to a few employees, fans and key partners. Bohb Blair, chief marketing officer of Jones Soda and chief brand officer of Mary Jones, says the company wanted to stave off any potential angry phone calls from retail partners. Instead, quite the opposite happened, as most partners were excited about the move.
Jones finally made the leap into cannabis in June 2022 with the launch of Mary Jones in the California market.
Mary Jones is the cannabis arm of the Jones Soda business, and Blair was brought on board to kickstart the brand. Thus far, it has been a smashing success. Mary Jones is the fastest-growing new brand in California history, now in more than 275 dispensaries in about ten months. The company chose the California market because, while it is the most competitive, Jones had a large footprint of existing capabilities, including emulsion partners, flavor houses and multiple manufacturing options.
Though Jones has a lot of brand power, the company still experiences many of the same pains and difficulties other companies have experienced when bringing products to the cannabis market. For example, cannabis remains a new market with less manufacturing expertise and fewer capabilities.
Mary Jones recently announced plans to debut in Michigan and Nevada because it finally found a suitable manufacturing dance partner. The lack of manufacturing expertise led to a delayed debut in Washington and created other fits and starts in otherwise mature markets like Colorado.
Initially, Blair didn't realize how special Jones' product formulations were. The profiles command a high-quality spec that hasn't been met by most companies with emerging manufacturing capabilities.
However, Blair has had an easier time selling the product into retail despite dispensaries being choosy and apprehensive when putting new products on the shelves. Many times, Blair is fighting to be one of two beverages on a dispensary shelf (if not one of one), but he typically wins on brand recognition and flavor.
To protect Jones Soda from Mary Jones, the company has a few "firewalls" in place. For example, Mary Jones has separate marketing teams, social channels and payment systems. The company doesn't want to misstep on the Mary side to hurt the primary business. Still, there are connections, like the same flavor science team, to ensure the products taste exactly the same.
Blair is very proud of Jones Soda's flavor accomplishments. Until now, he says the beverage experience has been "cringy." He says it has been "tolerable at best," despite a few notable exceptions, with bad flavors and dosing. And he would know, he "loves weed."
Jones Soda has more than 25 years of flavor equity, launching three to five new flavors each year. Blair sees Mary Jones as little more than a new flavor, with "additives."
Regarding flavor, Blair says Mary Jones is sticking to the classics, planning to pull fan favorites from Jones Soda's extensive library. He attests that beverage consumption remains a fun way to get high, and consumers have been responding to the format.
In this episode, Blair also discusses:
- How Jones Soda protects its IP when handing off the recipe
- How to pick manufacturing partners
- The recreational markets next on the roadmap
- The possibility for multi-state cannabis confederacies
- How federal legalization will change the business by bringing massive efficiencies and interstate commerce
- And why big soda hasn't tried the market, yet.
Please make sure to like, subscribe and share the podcast. You could also help us out by giving the podcast a positive review. Finally, to email the podcast or suggest a potential guest, you can reach David Mantey at David @cannabisequipmentnews.com.