Interview with Erin Gore, Co-founder + CEO & Karli Warner, Co-founder + CMO of Garden Society
What were you each doing before you got into the cannabis industry and how did you meet?
I had an 11-year career at Henkel, a German CPG company. I’m a chemical engineer by degree, so I started in the technical side of the business doing product development and raw material extraction. I then switched over to technical service, where I earned my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, so that’s like process engineering and cost savings. I realized all the sales guys were making the money on all of my hard work, so I went over to sales at Nike. Eventually, I ended up in global sales and running the footwear and fashion business where I built it to over 100 million dollar business globally – so it was like a bit of a crazy journey. Through that time, I had my stresses, trials, and tribulations being a young woman in a chemical company, so I had a lot of stress. That’s how I fell in love with cannabis! I had both my hips rebuilt in 2011 and 2012, so that’s how I got into really loving cannabis and making my own edibles in the medical marijuana market. I found this ability for cannabis, to help with all these different aspects of my life and all these different form factors and ways to use it and became very passionate about it. My husband and I eventually launched a joint venture with Constellation around a wine brand and around my husband called Tom Gore vineyards. We decided around 2013 to launch the brand within Constellation. Karli and I ended up becoming friends; we got to travel together because she was supporting the wine brand. So we became fast friends and would always obsessively talk about our love for cannabis while we would travel the country supporting wine.
My background is really in the food, wine, and hospitality space. I started out in the wine industry doing public relations at a boutique agency. I then moved over to doing more food, wine, and hospitality event planning and sales. I always had my sights on Constellation, that’s really where I wanted to end up. They were a client of mine when I was at the boutique agency. In 2011, I began working at Constellation Brand and their luxury wine group doing PR.
As Erin said, that’s how we met. We would always talk about our mutual love for cannabis. We just started exploring different streams. In 2016, Erin reached out and told me that she was ready to quit her job to start building this brand and she wanted me to join. I became the marketing counterpart and was really excited and happy to join.
What’s your favorite thing about living and working in Sonoma County/ Wine country?
I believe this is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live and work; we’re so fortunate. We have an incredible labor pool up here, we have incredible talent on our team. I love this idea of building our business here because it’s our home, first of all. It’s our Community. But we can also build the essence of what people worldwide want into cannabis and create a real brand and lifestyle around terroir, sense of place, and all the beautiful things that wine country has to offer.
I love Sonoma County, I can’t imagine living anywhere else, with the proximity to the beach and San Francisco. I grew up in Lake Tahoe, so it’s really important to me that I’m able to get back up there and ski in the winter and go to the beach in the summer. Among all that, just being in this place where there’s incredible food and agriculture of wine, cannabis, and farming. The history of Sonoma County is incredible. There are some incredible stories around you, pioneers in the wine industry. There’s a lot of history and a lot of richness here that feeds that aspirational feeling around wine country. We hope that through Garden Society Cannabis, we continue to bring that feeling forward across California and the rest of the US.
What parallels do you see between the wine industry and the weed industry?
Well, they have parallels and differences. They both came out of prohibition and that’s been super interesting because I did a lot of work around the history of prohibition and wine. I learned a lot about how the regulations were made and how they would ship wine across the country. You have to have a license, for example, to ship to Massachusetts and so it’s interesting to see the similarities. I hope that the cannabis industry can be more innovative and thoughtful in building an equitable industry. The wine industry feeds into people who are building businesses or have a business. I think it would be great if there was more female leadership and opportunity for minorities in cannabis because there isn’t as much there is in wine.
I also think it’s interesting with regulations because the wine industry is highly regulated. But the wine industry has ways for small businesses to survive. They have the 702 license, for example, which means you can very easily be a bonded winery within another bonded winery and you can very easily start micro-businesses and build your brand; you don’t have to think about, “Oh, to build my brand, I have to build a GMP, OSHA certified winery and buy a piece of land,” that’s not how the wind industry is. I think there’s a lot to learn from a regulatory front about taxation because the alcohol industry is taxed nowhere near the way the cannabis industry is taxed. However, there is a grape tax, and there is a bulk wine tax. So, the idea of taxing the supply chain level works in the wine industry, they would probably say that it’s overtaxed. But, compared to us, we would probably welcome the relief. So I think there’s a lot to learn in the cannabis industry; we can learn from how the wine industry is structured: tax, compliance, legal, and license because it allows this idea of a more equitable industry and it allows you to start without such huge amounts of capital requirement. It also allows you to participate and give back to the community through local tax, so it’s interesting.
How do you get wine into your wine country gummies?
We do use a proprietary fast-acting technology we’ve made in-house and one thing about Garden Society edibles is we believe in full-spectrum, so we don’t use any distillate. We believe in the beautiful aspects of the plant – the terpenes, the phyto lipids, the fats, the waxes. That’s what drives bioavailability and efficacy and it’s incredible for your endocannabinoid system. When we were developing the gummies, we had a version of a gummy back in the medical marijuana market and they were a very beloved product of ours, but we understand that the markets changed a lot since then, and we needed to have something that was in line with our core values, but also in line with the modern consumer today as well as the price point. When we were developing them, we had to start over. We wanted them to be fast-acting and full-spectrum because that’s just core to who we are, why we love edibles, and how we make our edibles. We wanted flavors that were delicious and resonated with the brand, because who wants another watermelon gummy? Let’s be real. We leaned on Karli’s marketing expertise and her knowledge of the wine industry and I leaned in on the engineering side and the product side. We came together with this beautiful idea of these wine-flavored gummies with the fast-acting technology to both create a sense of place (beyond trend for the consumer), whether it’s the wine consumer or the cannabis consumer, and then really be distinct in the marketplace.
I hear that you have a rigorous R&D process that you like to partake in together. What’s your process like for sampling things yourselves?
One day I had nine gummies at like 7:30 in the morning. I didn’t realize they were infused, I was just flavor tasting, and then I was eating enchiladas at 10:15 in the morning – I was so high. So that’s interesting, but I mean look, the beautiful and authentic thing about Garden Society is we make products we’d love. We’re our biggest critics, especially this one right here she’s our biggest critic. That authenticity of product development, and the authenticity of creating products that we love to enjoy – consumers can feel it because they have a positive experience with it.
Not to be controversial, but I think there are a lot of products on the market that wouldn’t pass muster and traditional CPG from a flavor and efficacy point of view. I think there’s still a lot to be uncovered that companies are doing that is not necessarily values-driven. I want for us to be industry leaders in that way and to do that, sometimes we have slightly more expensive products, but that’s worth it to me because it means that we’re creating effective products that are values-driven and taste good. We’re here for the long run, and I think there’s a lot to be desired still in the quality of products in the market.
Where does the weed for your pre-rolls come from?
We have some incredible farm partners, many of them are female-run, most of them are from Sonoma and Mendocino county. We’ve been sourcing and making pre-rolls since 2017. I think people still think of us as an edibles company, but pre-rolls are 75% of our business. We love the pre-roll business, and one thing a lot of people don’t know about us is that we also are a leading contract manufacturer in the space for pre-rolls. So a lot of the leading brands that people buy out in the stores, we are the manufacturer, so that’s an important part of our business; we realize that we can efficiently make a good quality pre-roll and we had this whole other revenue opportunity for our business to bring stability and long term growth to it. We make the minis because who wants to smoke a stinky roach the next day? At the end of the day, we know we’re here to bring more joy to people’s everyday lives.
How do you select strains for your pre-rolls and what’s your favorite strain in the current lineup?
Our products are divided into three effect types, so we have Blissful Rest which is indicia leaning, Brighter Day which is more sativa leaning, and Calm & Focus which is all of our CBD-rich products. We want to make sure that we have Blissful Rest strains that are going to make you sleepy, make you relax, and make sure that those effects are happening. Not all indications are going to do that for you, it also depends on the terpenes and cannabinoids. We have a strawberry, banana, and papaya strain which is incredible. It’s so fruity, you open the box and it just has this incredible tropical aroma. You smoke it and it tastes amazing and then the effect is just this super sleepy, dreamy, great high. That’s like an ideal Blissful Rest. Brighter Day, for example, we always do well when we have the mimosa strain, which was one of the first stains we launched. I mean, mimosa in wine country – it just all goes together. You smoke that one and it’s got that citrus aroma and it brightens your mood before you even smoke it and you get that nice kind of uplifting high; it does give you a brighter day – great for like a hike, going out, or shopping. Folks that are consuming these products aren’t looking for that euphoric high, but they do want the sort of anxiety-reducing benefits of CBD and you know our gummies, for example, do a great job of that as well.
You work with a lot of other cannabis groups, how do you make decisions about who to align with?
We have a no asshole policy so that’s first and foremost, we also have a pay us policy so that’s second. We try to support our values, so we try to work with legacy operators, like us, we try to work with women and minorities, like us, we try to work with people who understand our vision and what we’re trying to build as a company and value that and our good partners. It’s really important because the industry is so nuanced and hard, so it’s really important to lead with kindness, direct communication, and clear feedback. We’re not afraid to exit unhealthy relationships or unhealthy partnerships because it’s just too hard to be in a toxic relationship. We’ve been blessed that we’ve been able to be very agile on our toes, and because we’re licensed ourselves, we can always backstop ourselves so that gives a lot of resilience and confidence to how we run our business. If somebody is a good partner, that’s wonderful. If somebody is a big potential client but they’re disrespectful or they’re hard to deal with, or they don’t follow through on their word, then we don’t work with them. We’re pretty flexible people, but you know, if you cross the line, you cross the line. So we’re not afraid to make those decisions as we need to.
What is a Garden Society Garden Party and do you have more event ideas up your sleeves?
So when we started Garden Society, a big part of the business and the marketing world were these in-home garden parties. In April of 2017, we held our first Garden Society party – Erin and I developed a cannabis 101 program; we would go in and do cannabis education and then under prop 215, we were able to hand-sell the product. That was a great way for us to start building the brand and get real-time consumer feedback, as we were developing the products and the messaging and all of that. Unfortunately, the program was shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. Now I truly do have a vision of bringing that back someday. In the meantime, through the pandemic, we had this incredible in-house yogi, Madeline Schwartz. She partnered up with some local folks here in Sonoma County and has been doing yoga activations at wineries. Garden Society had a branded table there with some infused chocolates, and we gained quite a few customers through that program. It’s all about bringing Garden Society to life. From a lifestyle perspective, it’s bringing wine country to wherever we are across the state and eventually across the country through these activations and experiences. It’s all driven around bringing more joy, making your day more full, and complimenting the experiences that you have while consuming cannabis. Doing things like mingling with your community, doing yoga and having a mindful practice or, having a good time with friends – that all is the Garden Society lifestyle.
Garden Society provides delicious, craft cannabis edibles and sun-grown pre-rolls that connect responsible farming, sustainable ingredients and strain-specific cannabis. Our quality products provides an expected, enjoyable cannabis experience that brings greater happiness to every day life.
Quality products for quality of life. It’s cannabis with a fresh perspective.