Cannabis Ice Cream Is a Thing
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It’s no secret that cannabis and ice cream go together like, well, wine and cheese, if you’re old school. Jesse Bride and Enrique Gonzalez, co-founders of Mellow, have taken a more forward-thinking approach, infusing their ice cream products with CBD and THC and creating a luxury dessert for people who want to alleviate pain or chill out. We spoke to Jesse and Enrique about their business's hidden costs and how they turned family hardships into sweet success.
Tell us about the origins of Mellow Ice Cream.
Jesse Bride: Enrique and I had been roommates and friends, had both gone into different careers, and had both been entrepreneurs previously. We had a few conversations about the cannabis industry, how we were both attracted to it, and we’d both been through family situations where someone was dealing with — or had been lost to — cancer. Any project we got involved in, we wanted to do the work ourselves, where we could split the work, pay out of our own pockets. We were in New York, and we knew there was cannabis ice cream floating around, and we thought what a great way to get a cannabinoid into the body. The person in my family who’d passed away couldn’t ingest oils because of nausea, couldn’t smoke, obviously, so this was a product I truly wished was there when we needed it. But it lit a spark under Enrique and me; we agreed we’d make THC- and CBD-infused ice cream at the highest level so that we could give it to a family member.
How capital-intensive a venture was this?
Enrique Gonzalez: The idea was easy, but when you add in legal and compliance and R&D, it becomes incredibly capital-intensive. Getting a license in California requires holding a lease on a property that's designated for a fully-compliant facility. To even have your application considered, you're continuing to pay for that facility, and you still may not get the license. So there's a lot of calculated risk that goes into this business, and nothing is definite.
What were some other challenges you faced in launching Mellow?
EG: We're operating in an environment that's of dubious legality, especially within municipalities, within the state, and they all have separate sets of guidelines in terms of what they will and won't allow. Many people, to get around the red tape, operate in the semi-legal zone. Still, we intend to become a household brand, and we have no intention of shooting ourselves in the foot by breaking some law because we were ignorant of it. One of the challenges was answering as many legal questions as we could come up with that we knew we needed answers to, and quickly, from the proper sources. So you're vetting legal teams, keeping it cost-effective, that took up the lion's share of energy and attention.
JB: Not to mention Covid. We were locked down, we couldn't travel, and we were trying to operate a brand new startup from across the country.
How were you able to eliminate the aftertaste that so many edibles have?
EG: A solid year of intensive R&D. We worked with chemists, food scientists, a chef, so many industry people who were so much better versed in their craft than we are. We broke everything down to its rawest form in a way that was amenable to being used in frozen products, and that’s been the focus of Mellow: what can we be, what solutions can we create? And this high level of product development that we’ve been through taught us an incredible amount.
What distinguishes Mellow from other ice cream brands entering the market?
JB: Look, we know there’ll be competitors and some larger companies entering the space. But water sells next to water, so we don’t worry about our competition as much as we do about doing our job correctly. When you make a product of integrity — put time, love, attention into everything — there’ll always be a space for it in the market. We weren’t trying to make as much money as possible, we weren’t trying to create something we wouldn’t give our aunt or our mother, and I think that perspective has been refreshing to people in the industry. This is something a lot of people are going to be able to enjoy for all kinds of different reasons; CBD products, THC products, non-dairy products… every time we tried to narrow down who our customer was, it left someone out, and we wanted to include them.
Where is Mellow ice cream sold?
JB: We’ve had to be creative getting the products into people’s hands due to the laws. One way is with an ice cream truck that you’ll be able to follow on the website, which is mobile-friendly; that way you can track our ice cream truck and our Tesla delivery vehicles all over California. You’ll also be able to find us in certain dispensaries carrying our ice cream products, our pre-roll cannabis products, and you can buy our other merchandise and ancillary products through e-commerce. We have all the intention of offering our ice cream products online when the time is right, and we’ll be joining with some of the delivery services like GrubHub and Seamless when the laws allow.
EG: We’re launching three non-dairy flavors that trend toward the sorbet category, but ultimately you should be able to find anything at Mellow that you’d find on an ice cream truck. Sauces that you can add to your ice cream or to your pancakes at home, things that will be available where you can’t sell infused ice cream.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to enter the space?
JB: If you really intend to be compliant and be a household name in the industry, you have to be prepared, you have to reach out to professionals. We didn’t have ice cream experience, so we reached out to someone who did; we didn’t have cannabis experience, so we partnered with someone who did. We can collect data and make educated decisions based on that data, but with a business that’s so dependent on legal compliance, you have to put a lot of capital toward that so that you have the right information to make a game plan around it, and call audibles too. Just be prepared for legal challenges, be prepared to change strategy on the fly, and partner with people who have experience putting out product in your category.