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Talking with Keith Cich of Sunderstorm on functional marketing, packaging snafus, and true sustainability

Innovation is the key to Sunderstorm’s success. The manufacturing and distribution company was among the first to introduce rapid-onset gummies, propelling Kanha to become one of the top 10-selling brands in California.

“Primarily we’re a food company,” Sunderstorm co-founder Keith Cich said. “We don’t cultivate, and we don’t extract. We buy distillate, a refined oil, and we are basically a fairly traditional food manufacturing company.”

In addition to its popular Kanha gummies, available at more than 500 retail stores in California, Sunderstorm’s brands include Wind vapes and Nano5 tinctures. 

The company’s nanoemulsion technology wraps THC and CBD molecules into a molecule that’s smaller than a wavelength of light, Cich said. The technology enables THC and CBD to go directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the normal digestive tract to take effect within about 15 minutes. 

“Everything we want to do, we want to do in a nano way.”

“Everything we want to do, we want to do in a nano way,” Cich said. “Nano has been used in traditional drug therapy for decades. You want to make sure the target drug you’re putting in makes it to the bloodstream.”

Sunderstorm co-founder Keith Cich

Giving consumers a variety of flavor choices helps Sunderstorm market its Kahna Gummies. The company has more than 20 different stock-keeping units (SKUs) that are formulated both for flavor and effect — the gummies are formulated from specific strains: indica, sativa or hybrid.

The company does not use high-fructose corn syrup in its products, and it sources its distillate from about a dozen different extractors that only purchase pesticide-free trim and don’t use solvents. 

“We’re all natural,” Cich said. “Our coloring is natural — beets and spirulina are what make the coloring. We like to think we have the best-tasting and best-textured gummy in the nation.”

Sunderstorm is exploring the development of products that provide a more curated experience, which Cich refers to as functional marketing. Tailoring the experience to people’s needs could set Sunderstorm’s products apart from other brands, Cich said. For example, the company currently offers a product dubbed Tranquility that’s designed to help people sleep. Tranquility gummies have 5 milligrams each of THC, CBD and CBN, which recent research indicates may have sleep benefits. They also have indica terpenes and just 1 milligram of melatonin so as not to disrupt normal sleep patterns.

“One of the biggest issues in our country today is sleep,” Cich said. “People are coming back and buying more Tranquility.”

Because Sunderstorm’s packaging is produced in China, keeping enough in stock has been challenging during the pandemic. Like many other companies that rely on China for packaging, Sunderstorm had ordered enough packaging to keep it going through the Chinese New Year. (While the official public holiday only lasts for seven days, every factory in the country shuts down for between two and four weeks.) 

“When COVID started, traditional packaging wasn’t getting on the planes because they were sending PPE (personal protective equipment),” Cich said. “We just narrowly skidded by. It certainly told us we needed to have more on hand in this COVID era.”

As a company that is committed to sustainability, Sunderstorm pays close attention to packaging. Regulations vary by state, often requiring multiple layers of packaging that aren’t sustainable. 

“The industry and regulators need to think long and hard about sustainability,” Cich said. “The childproof rules restrain your decisions on packaging. We’re always looking at different styles that don’t end up in the landfill.”

Sunderstorm’s sustainability efforts extend beyond packaging to include the trim it buys from cultivators.

“If you’re a cultivator and growing indoor flower, that’s pretty high energy use to produce that pound of flower,” Cich said. “The trim our producers buy comes mostly from outdoor grows. All things being equal, we want to buy oil derived from those sources.”

Sunderstorm is expanding into new states, including Colorado and Massachusetts. Instead of forming partnerships with existing manufacturers through licensing agreements, the brand is building its own facilities.

“It takes a lot of bandwidth and a lot of capital,” said Cich, noting that Sunderstorm has entered into some licensing agreements, including one with Bedford, Nova Scotia-based grower Aqualitas Inc. “We like to set up our own operations.”

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