Is There An Appetite For Cannabis-Infused Meal Kits Delivered To Your Door?
Blue Apron? More like Blunt Apron. Ganja-infused grub offerings in legal cities, like Boston, have taken the meal kit to new heights.
The infused dining business is on hold. Pending COVID-19 vaccines, safety in large gatherings is a risk. An immense challenge for all restaurant owners, public cannabis consumption in dining has also been hit hard.
Pivoting her business to offer an at-home meal kit is what Dinner At Mary’s founder Samantha Kanter decided to do. Dinner at Mary’s launched Mary’s Meal Kits this March. The meal kit delivers a four-course infused meal to your door. The brilliant concept is available to those medical and adult-use cannabis users in the Massachusetts market, surrounding Boston. Cannabis meal kits are especially useful as the world has taken a newfound love for cooking at home.
Green Entrepreneur spoke with Kanter on the importance of edible meals, the future of cannabis legalization in the U.S., and how entrepreneurs can pivot to meet the needs of the world.
Tell me more about your company Dinner at Mary’s and the meal kits. What did your career path look like to lead you here to cannabis?
Samantha Kanter: I have been an event planner for about ten years. I started doing restaurant events in 2010, and after a few years, started an events company called Sam Kanter Events. I started doing cannabis events when a friend of mine was working with a cannabis magazine, they wanted me to help cook their lunch parties. I started cooking their lunches and it was a great pair. That's how I got into the cannabis industry.
I've always been a cannabis user. Cannabis was always a part of my life. When I started working with that magazine, I got connected with all the people in the industry. We did cannabis events for a few months, and then we garnered some attention in the press, made a lot of connections in the industry. I split from them and started Dinner at Mary's in January of 2019 and we found a different chef partner, Nicolas Oscoto, and we've been steaming ahead ever since. We're about a year-and-a-half old as Dinner at Mary's.
Samantha Kanter, founder of Dinner at Mary's. (Image credit: Christopher Paul Photography)
Do you think people are intimidated to cook their own cannabis meals?
I think that they are, without the guidance of a meal kit. There are a lot of people who don't know where to start, don't understand the process of making cannabis-infused oil. Some people don't understand that you need to decarb, for example. They don't know how to do that. I think a lot of people experimented in college, maybe made brownies, but they had no guidance, didn't know how much they were putting in. I think they got scared away from edibles in general.
I've heard the brownie story time and time again. Everyone in college who made brownies and were out of their mind and never wanted to again. The intimidation primarily comes from not having enough education, and a bad experience in the past.
What I think our meal kits do is take that intimidation factor out of it, which makes it so much easier. There's a disclaimer in our packaging that tells you: The kits come with an optional gift of 20 milligrams of THC-infused olive oil. We explain you can add the whole vile to the recipe, and we give you instructions on using the whole vile, which is 10 milligrams per person, each meal kit serves two. You can use a smaller amount or use none. These are all options.
I've given people the disclaimer, start with 5 milligrams. If you're not experienced and haven't done it before, use half of the oil. Save the rest of the oil for something else if you want. And we give you instructions on where to add the recipe. It's three courses, usually about four items. An appetizer, entrée, side, and dessert. And we give instructions where to include ¼ of the oil in each one of those items. You aren't doing anything different than a normal recipe, you are adding the same way you’d add olive oil. It's really easy, already decarbed. We just try to simplify it so that it's easy, you're in the comfort of your own home.
It also makes consumers feel safe. Being at home, I hear that a lot, too. People don't want to be stoned around other people. Being at home makes it a lot more accessible as well, if you do get too high, you're in a place you're comfortable with.
It's for any skill level and every comfort level. But I think that the kits are especially good for people who don't have a ton of experience with cannabis because it really is a hand-holding experience, it makes it easy.
Why the potential intimidation with edibles for the general consumer? How can entrepreneurs in the cannabis space kinda address this new consumer fear or stigma with edibles?
It’s a great question, something I feel I am super focused on but also struggle I don't know the exact answer. The way I have embodied it is essentially using myself as an example. I have been in the event and restaurant industry for quite a while. A lot of people knew me a business owner, as somebody who is productive, and did not know me as a cannabis consumer. And that was on purpose, because of the stigma.
I've become a lot more open about it, I've been very vocal about my cannabis use. I try to explain to people that, cannabis is an absolute benefit to my life. I drink alcohol as well, I like drinking but it's a different scenario for me. If I'm drinking, I'm relaxing, I'm not doing anything productive. If I use cannabis, it's often to do something productive.
I use cannabis before I work out exclusively, and I work out every day. Before I run, before yoga, before strength workouts. I often use cannabis to stay motivated to do work; admin work, office work, things like that. I'm consistently using cannabis in a productive way. The way I have been more vocal about that, people understand, 'she's productive, she's been productive, and cannabis has been a part of that.' It's a little bit easier for people to grasp.
I don't think I fit the normal mold of what people stereotype as a cannabis user, and the goal is to erase that stigma. You don't need to be a lazy person on your couch, that's not what cannabis is about. I will smoke cannabis and run ten miles and run a business. Using myself as an example, I've gotten a lot of positive feedback. I feel more comfortable with myself being open because the whole point is to get rid of that stigma.
My family has been great, my parents and I make the meal kits all the time. My grandpa tried the meal kit with me and he is 90 years old. My family has been really open, they don't have that stigma. It's been interesting in talking to my family and their generation, to their friends, who are becoming more open as well. They are now realizing it can be an integral part of their life, or at least something they're using occasionally that's positive for their health.
It's such a huge part of this industry, it's such a huge challenge, anything I can do to remedy that. Using myself as an example is the way I have been primarily working on that.
Watermelon salad, one infused menu item from Mary's Meal Kits. (Image credit: Christopher Paul Photography)
Can cannabis step in the place of some medications people may take, especially in your parent's generation, made by Big Pharma?
Yes, it's so true. Talking about pharmaceuticals, I can get so wound up about it because there's the aspect of, a, drugs that just aren't good for your body. That could be replaced by something natural like cannabis. But then, b, you put the idea of health insurance and the cost associated with the drugs into the mix, and it makes my head spin.
The greed is unreal. We're using public tax money in the research to develop these drugs. And then those pharmaceutical companies are privatizing the patent. The public is paying a ton fo money, they are literally investors in these drugs, and get no return on their investment. It's so frustrating. The scientists that are creating these drugs, their purpose is to solve a problem, is to help save lives. And then these pharma companies come in with no regulations, it's all a profit center.
I put a lot of effort into maintaining my body and using cannabis to do that, more to prevent myself from needing pharmaceutical drugs. Cannabis has so many positive aspects, it can be recreational, I use it to relax as well. It is more than medical. We are just now getting to the point where we are able to do the research and the positive aspects of it. For so long, that was banned, you couldn't do the research. It's getting better every day, on what cannabis can offer, the positive aspects of it. It's a miracle plant, it's amazing.
We have been told it’s a terrible thing, to stay away from it, and it's just not. Legalization would make a huge difference, having cannabis added to the FDA-approved food list would make a huge difference, the legislation would really change things. Hopefully, that's in the works. I will certainly be voting in November to make that happen.
Especially with our economy in the situation that it's in, cannabis is what could bring us back. Ideally. It certainly saved my life.
How has your business pivoted in the post-pandemic world?
When Dinner at Mary's started, we did events and catering. When COVID hit, we pivoted to the meal kits. So the meal kits were not something that we did before COVID hit, they've been such a godsend. They've been so popular, it has brought up so many of the elements that our events lacked, because of the experience of a lot of our clients. We had a great time at events and want to still do that. But this just reaches a wider audience because of all the things we talked about; being comfortable at home, being with people you care about, control.
COVID, in general, launched the meal-kit business model. It has certainly helped me. Events are completely dead right now, in general. I'm not willing to host the events the way we have hosted them. I am not willing to host a Dinner at Mary's event until we have a vaccine. The point of events is to interact, especially ours, to be around people and connect with them. You can't do that in this landscape. I am not going to break the rules, it's not a risk I'm willing to take, it's not a position I'm willing to put people in. We are doing everything we can do follow the rules. The events portion of either one of my businesses is not coming back until this ends. I can do corporate where it makes sense, where they are all 6 feet apart, but when it's a real cannabis event? It's not going to happen.
It’s brutal. I am trying not to focus on the negative aspects of it. Restaurants are getting hit so hard. I am so passionate about restaurants, it's a huge part of what I do. I've lost many clients. I am building my company back up from the ground, it is completely depleted. Luckily, I have this other company, so Dinner at Mary's has really taken the forefront and been the absolute focus.
Are edibles becoming more popular nowadays, with the fears of smoking, or how do you feel the edible market has been looking post-COVID?
I do, I think it's really helping the edible market. For a couple of reasons. I think that when we're dealing with a virus that has to do with coughing and lungs, moving away from smoking is certainly something people are doing in general. I also think edibles is something people do at home, and we're all at home more.
For me, I still smoke, but I've increased my edible consumption because of my home situation. My edible tolerance is skyrocketed.
When people have experience with edibles, they are so great. You just need the experience. Having the ability to go to the dispensary and knowing this is 2 milligrams, this is 5, this is 10, this is 20. Knowing how the edible affects your body changes the game completely. Now you can buy something that tells you exactly what it is, and find out what that means for your body. I know I want 5 milligrams in this scenario, 10 milligrams in this scenario. I've done the research, I listen to my body. I can tell because of what I'm purchasing and consuming and know how it's going to affect me.
You are making an informed decision about what you're putting into your body. With smoking, it's so much easier in a sense, because you're feeling the effects right away. That helps. With edibles, a lot of people don't understand the time-lapse. We inform people, "don't consume more until 2 hours have passed."
There's always that story, "I'm not high, not high," then they take more and are way too high. They didn't wait. It's really between 1-2 hours. I think planning it out and understanding how edibles affect you, getting your dosage, is so beneficial and imperative to really enjoy edibles for what they can be. With alcohol, consumers tend to understand. You know you drank too much when you were young. Then you figured it out and you got it.
People don't know what a milligram means. What's also interesting about it is that, with alcohol, there's less of a range. People can have one drink and someone can have maybe eight, a smaller range. With cannabis, one person can have 1 milligram, and one person can have 500 milligrams. I think that range makes it more challenging. I know people who use 250 milligrams before they go running. I am a low dose girl, I use about 10 milligrams at a time.
There is more differentiation on how the experience affects you. There might be a large guy who wants a small dose, and a small person who wants a large dose. It's not as easy to determine as alcohol is. People need to be cautious and figure out what works for them. Once they do figure out what works for them, it's amazing. Consumers need a person to educate them, hold their hand. Two milligrams getting started, and they can build from that place.
Some dishes made in Mary's Meal Kits, including the French Tart mentioned. (Image credit: Christopher Paul Photography)
Do you have a favorite edible dish or bite that Mary’s Meal Kits offers?
So we do a different kit every week. We haven't repeated anything. There is a kit coming up that I love. In one of the kits, we did this cherry tomato caramelized onion French Tart. And it had goat cheese and basil and it was pretty great. That was my favorite bite from yesterday.
As a past appetizer, we did a foie gras-stuffed strawberry, that's a cool bite we do.
Where are Mary’s Meal Kits available?
Right now, we are available in Massachusetts. We would love to serve states outside of Boston, but until the government catches up, this is where we can deliver. We sell the meal kits without the cannabis, the cannabis is an optional gift you can opt-in for. We do not sell cannabis, but we do gift as an extra you can add on. We do have people who cook them without cannabis as well, it's up to them to decide.
We're serving the greater Boston area now, and we go a bit further than that. We do some pickup locations for people outside.
"Everything we are doing is really intentional and really pushing cannabis forward."
- Samantha Kanter, founder of Dinner at Mary's
In what ways does cannabis legalization benefit your town of Boston, that you have experienced?
The revenue that cannabis brings in is insane. There are companies raring to go. There's a line at the dispensary during a pandemic consistently, they are so busy all the time. We have a partnership with one of the dispensaries to teach people how to get their medical cards. I do not grasp the reason dispensaries don't get the same kind of rules and regulations as alcohol, because it's safer. The fact that it doesn't get the same availability, it's really insane. Recreational dispensaries are open again in Massachusetts, fortunately. It was insane. It went against what we all voted for, and what we stand for.
I don't know what I would have done during COVID without cannabis. I am a very social drinker too, I don't drink by myself. Beginning of quarantine, beginning of COVID, I was depressed. My business was falling apart, I had no idea what was going to happen. I stopped drinking for a while during quarantine because it was a negative impact. I can look at this in a better perspective. It helped me clarify ideas on how to pivot and how to do different things.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the space who may have a great idea, but don’t know where to begin?
The only advice I can give is, if you have an idea, start somewhere. Start doing one little thing. You can make all your decisions from the feedback you get from that. You have your friends try it, as soon as you get feedback, you'll be able to make a decision on how to move forward. Use the feedback.
Where do you see cannabis in 5 years?
Where I would love to see cannabis in 5 years, federally legal, cannabis cafes where you can consume on-premise, cannabis food with meal kits that can be delivered anywhere in the country. Cannabis is a market that rivals alcohol. That the stigma is so much less. I would love to see cannabis medicine replace Big Pharma.