In the first of our new series of “CannaBusiness Conversations” with leading cannabis industry founders, thought leaders and tastemakers, I traveled to Redondo Beach to meet with Ray Landgraf, the founder and CEO of Island Cannabis. I immediately encountered a sliver of California history as its offices were once the headquarters of the infamous surf brand Body Glove. A memorabilia-packed journey of surf/dive culture surrounds me, and my 405 drive to get there is soon forgotten as I walk out onto the terrace that overlooks the ocean. There could be no better place to begin the experience of Island’s laid-back vibe. Many view Island as one of the OG California brands. Ray created Island with the goal of producing a line of quality cannabis products to provide consumers with choices to incorporate cannabis into their lives and delivered in a California-centric package whose colors and design resonate the island-holiday vibe.
Michael Miller: Ray, tell us about the birth of Island…
I started Island in 2014 and launched our first product a year later, focusing on pre-rolls, which were virtually non-existent at the time. My goal was to build a great company around a great brand that embodied a passion for exploration, community, the outdoors and inspired moments of happiness. Island’s flower is seasonal and single-strain, sourced from a network of small farms across California. I’m proud that ISland has become a recognized leader in the cannabis industry.
What is your perception of the cannabis “stigma”?
I don’t worry about the cannabis stigma anymore. Being born and raised in California, I was never taught that cannabis was an evil plant and am an industry advocate.
Do you believe in the concept of “terroir”?
We have supported the move away from grow medium as a quality indicator as just because an agricultural product is grown indoor doesn’t mean it’s better than outdoor. Our goal is to standardize quality assessment. In our experience, characteristics such as terpene profile are better quality indicators than grow medium.
What differentiates you from your main competitors?
Out of the gate, we tested our product as required or not for safety, not THC levels for marketing claims. Nothing has ever become an Island product that wasn’t tested for pesticides, mold, contaminants, and fungicides. From a human resources standpoint, we wanted to bring people in who have done interesting things in other industries that could be translatable to the things we were doing. For example, our production head came from Johnson & Johnson, our VP of marketing, comes from Playboy. We realized that cannabis in California is just another consumer packaged good. We were early at thinking why couldn’t this look like anything you’d find at BevMo, or a supermarket, or Ulta Beauty? We positioned ourselves to see the CPG potential earlier than most. Packaging is where we first started seeing others catch up. On the regulatory side, everyone was forced to start testing product transparent on sourcing and regulating, and then capital flows to where opportunity is. It has been difficult for legacy players who weren’t doing things the right way to raise money to create a sustainable business.
What makes Island more than just one more cookie cutter pre-roll company? What is your market differentiation?
Island has focused on cannabis production technology for the three largest product categories: flower, pre-roll and vape. From the start, we’ve been committed to adopting thorough production practices and developing technology that allows us to produce higher volumes of product without sacrificing consistency or quality. We’ve been able to set ourselves apart from other cannabis brands by holding ourselves to a higher standard even before the law required us to do so. Since we hit the shelves in 2015, we’ve tested raw materials for pesticides, molds, contaminants and fungicides to ensure consumer safety. I’m proud how Island has grown into a lifestyle business that people want to be a part of. Island doesn’t pander to the stereotypical stoner culture branding: marijuana leaves, the color green or words with the ever present “Canna,” pre-fix or “420”. We understand that for most people, cannabis doesn’t consume every waking hour but fits in to their personal lifestyle. Island offers ready-made products for newcomers to cannabis consumption for personal use or shared among friends. We have a longterm mindset to ensure broader access of Island products to consumers.