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Industry Innovators: Caroline Yeh, CEO and Co-founder of TSUMo Snacks

Keegan Williams

By Keegan Williams

October 4, 2022

Courtesy of TSUMo Snacks

As a woman of color and a leader within the cannabis industry,

has already been an innovator in the space for years now, with an understanding that her story isn’t one that’s often seen or elevated.

With a resume boasting management roles at top

cannabis brands like Bloom Farms and Kiva Confections, Yeh already has a storied tenure within the cannabis industry, creating new product lines, negotiating purchasing agreements, establishing pricing, overseeing vendor logistics and reaching sustainability packaging goals. She cited her previous experience in consumer packaged goods (CPG) and her background in food as stepping stones that sparked her curiosity about entering the cannabis scene.

Though, with a background in sweets, and chocolate specifically, Yeh’s cannabis trajectory took a turn in 2021, when she was approached to take the lead on a new product, and relatively untapped market within the cannabis edible world:

, a line of savory, THC-infused chips.

“After taking a long, hard look at what’s out there we decided that the snack we wanted just didn’t exist,” the website states. “And that’s how TSUMo was born.”

As the leader of a relatively new brand, and a cannabis professional continuing to push the industry forward, High There caught up with Yeh to learn more about her cannabis journey and the road ahead for TSUMo Snacks.

Courtesy of TSUMo

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Finding Footing in the Cannabis Industry

Recalling the initial inklings of her relationship with cannabis, Yeh admitted that she wasn’t ever a cannabis user prior to college. During her time at the University of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, she recalled a trip with classmates that brought her to Washington state. (At the time, California only had a legal medical cannabis market.)

When they brought out their haul for a party, Yeh was particularly intrigued by the edible offerings. It was this moment that truly opened the doors of cannabis for Yeh as a new, professional direction.

“Because of my background and the opportunity to be in business school, where you can learn and experiment and find out new things, I did a couple projects on what it would take to open a cannabis business and start a cannabis bakery,” Yeh said. 

Her first job out of college was in cannabis, at Bloom Farms as the director of products. California was still medical-only, which Yeh prefaced was a “very different environment,” but the role allowed her to apply her CPG knowledge, even though it was the first time Yeh had strayed from food products in her career. 

“So, going to Kiva after working at Bloom Farms was actually sort of this return to my roots of working in food,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time working in chocolate. So, it was also this great opportunity to go back into working with chocolate, which I’m intimately familiar with.”

In retrospect, she said founding a food company within the cannabis space “makes a lot of sense,” given her background and post-college trajectory, though Yeh confessed she didn’t always envision having her own cannabis business.

Yeh had her own business at 25, a chocolate shop she ran for two years. “I labeled it my ‘real-life business school’ experience — at that point, I didn’t realize I’d be going to business school later — and pretty much was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to start another business.’ It wasn’t the life for me.”

Courtesy of TSUMo

During her time at Bloom Farms and Kiva, she said it was never the intention to move forward and start another business. Though, the right opportunity came along, and Yeh decided to take the leap.

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The Birth of TSUMo Snacks

By the beginning of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic had been raging within the United States for nearly a year. At this point, Yeh felt especially burnt out and took a six-month break to reset, “personally and professionally.” 

She resigned from Kiva in January 2021, “and literally a month later, I got approached about starting this business, TSUMo Snacks, and I was just like, ‘OK.’ I was working as a CEO/co-founder six weeks later, after I left Kiva, so totally off the plan,” Yeh said. “But opportunities come about, and sometimes you have to take them.”

During a time where cannabis was deemed an essential industry in adult-use states across the U.S., Yeh recognized that the pandemic marked a “huge shift” in the cannabis industry, not to mention the continuous shifts as California adjusts to its growing adult-use market.

Yeh recalled the constrained circumstances throughout the pandemic, resulting in high consumer demand, though all the while, she learned that many people in the industry tend to be very risk intolerant, especially when it comes to products. 

She described the “huge spike in sales” during the pandemic, which in turn led to more brands, which may have never made these products before, creating gummy options.

“For me, what I was watching during the pandemic was sort of this shift and seeing that, what I would say was, becoming a very hyper-competitive market, but there wasn’t a lot of differentiation or other products within the edibles category that were being explored.”

Conversely, Yeh said that she’s not opposed to taking risks. While she is well aware TSUMo isn’t the first savory snack or chip line infused with cannabis, she said that the product didn’t neatly translate from the medical to adult-use markets. Additionally, she said it’s not an easy product to make correctly, citing previous iterations of infused chips that might have been simply sprayed with THC.

Courtesy of TSUMo

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Caroline Yeh Takes a Leap With Savory Edibles

While there have always been savory options within the edible market, Yeh said that they are often just harder to find. She also said it’s important to look at consumer preferences and understand they don’t just vanish as soon as someone enters a cannabis storefront. 

“So in that case, you look at snacking, we Americans love to snack, but savory snacks are the dominant category in snacking in the United States,” Yeh said. “It’s over 50 percent of the market. So, there was this huge delta to be like, ‘Wait, if savory snacks in our normal lives are really popular, and we love them and we enjoy them, why is it that that does translate into a dispensary setting?’”

Looking out at the broader market, Yeh said that savory edibles like TSUMo are still in the early stages. She referenced Cann as a company that was in a similar position. It wasn’t the first drink edible on the market, but Cann had to tailor its approach to stand out within its own category.

“The challenge is also creating a category, and I think that’s the challenge that we face right now with TSUMo Snacks. Savory snacks is an existing category, but it’s tiny. And so what we’re trying to do is establish that as a brand.”

Right now, Yeh said the focus is making sure that people get to try TSUMo products. She said that budtenders love them, so now the task is getting consumers on board. It’s a challenging time to take on this feat, as foot traffic and sales are down in dispensaries across the U.S. She also said that many consumers simply go to the dispensary knowing exactly what they want, without any knowledge that savory edibles are even an option, making that person-to-person connection all the more important.

While it’s a challenging task to take on, Yeh is up for it. 

“I’m OK with taking these sort of high-risk endeavors,” she said. “And, you know, when I entered the medical market, a lot of people don’t talk about that, you know, being an executive like, ‘I’m gonna go do cannabis, guys.’”

As a whole, Yeh also said that the industry itself is very young, and trying to predict what may or may not happen is often challenging, if not impossible, because it’s still being established.

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Embracing Diversity as a Cannabis Leader

While Yeh doesn’t have all the answers as TSUMo’s CEO, she’s fully embraced her role as a leader within the cannabis industry, which is often led by cisgender, straight white men, despite consistent calls for equity and inclusivity. Yeh cited the lack of leadership diversity, and the rigid policies that ensued, as one of the reasons she left the CPG space.

Courtesy of TSUMo

“Eventually, for me, I was just like, ‘Alright, I can’t do this anymore.’ Because I think there’s — I think this is me being an operations person — there’s an efficient, better way to do things. And I’m not going to sit around and wait for this industry to change for me to be able to do that.”

In a new industry, like cannabis, Yeh said there is potential to usher in more voices, to build procedures and policies that are efficient and work in line with a welcoming, diverse atmosphere.

Though, the cannabis industry wasn’t perfect, either. While Yeh said the cannabis industry often has a lot of diversity on the ground level, high-level leaders, execs and CEOs making the big decisions still often fall into that same demographic of straight, white cis men.

When taking the reins at TSUMo, Yeh recognized that she already stood out in the cannabis world.

“I’m unusual,” she said. “I’m an Asian woman who’s running a cannabis company, but I also wanted to rectify a lot of things I didn’t necessarily align with when I was working in both the traditional CPG world and in cannabis and what I was seeing. So, we do emphasize diversity very heavily.”

The brand is currently working with nonprofit

, which provides online courses for equity applicants looking to enter the cannabis world.

Yeh said TSUMo embraces diversity through the people they hire, the partners they work with and the support they provide. Currently, the TSUMo staff is 100 percent people of color and 50 percent LGBTQ+, and Yeh said the staff helps to inform future collaborations and projects to uplift other disenfranchised groups in the cannabis space.

“[There are] these initiatives that you want to take when you’re working at a big company, where you don’t really get a say — now we get to do those things, and I think that’s how we reflect our diversity.”

While she said that her previous two cannabis jobs had great initiatives in this regard, looking back at her career and her current position, Yeh said it “feels amazing” to be in a place where she can take the driver’s seat and highlight the diverse array of talent within the cannabis industry. She said she hopes it feels the same way for her staff, “to feel like they have a voice, that they’re represented and that we’re investing in also causes that they believe in.”

Yeh also said she’s seen a shift for the better looking at the current state of diversity within the industry.

“Six years ago, I did not have a community of people of color and women-dominated that I knew of, that I could talk to and hang out with and discuss these issues with, and now today I do. And that’s a big change for me. I do see some change at the upper level.”

Courtesy of TSUMo

While she recognized that change isn’t happening fast enough, Yeh is already doing everything she can on an individual level to address the problem, as small but impactful ways to create change, and she hopes other companies continue to adopt similar practices.

The Future of TSUMo Snacks

While the industry as a whole may be unpredictable, Yeh is eagerly moving forward to continue establishing TSUMo Snacks as a go-to, infused savory snack brand. TSUMo just released two new chip flavors, Chili Limone and Nacho Cheese, along with their other flavors Hint of Lime, Zesty Ranch, Fiery Hot, Classic Cheese and Salsa Verde. For dosing, each flavor has opinions for 10 and 100mg of THC in each bag.

At the time of the interview, Yeh teased that the company would be sharing “really big news” in the coming week, alongside a new product launch. And big news was right. TSUMo

their latest collaboration with “The Doggfather” himself — Snoop Dogg! The line is called Snazzle Os and offers flavors like Spicy Onion and Onion.

Regarding TSUMo itself, Yeh said that it’s not just a savory snack brand — TSUMo is a snack platform.

“So that means that I’m open to exploring and we are working on products in all these different categories that would comprise the world of snacks,” Yeh said. “However, you will never find similar gummies or chocolate because those are oversaturated over competitive categories within the edibles market, which I’m just not interested in.”

Looking ahead, Yeh recognized that cannabis is a tough world. While people on the outside might see it as an easy opportunity for money, or a quick way to grow within a new industry, she said those who have navigated the industry know just how challenging it can be.

But the reason why the cannabis industry is still around, Yeh said, is because it is supported by passionate people who love it despite the turmoil.

“This industry is, you know — there are bad characters, but I would say on the whole it’s filled with wonderful people that we get to work with and so it’s a great industry to be a part of. We love it,” Yeh concluded. “And I would wish everybody to please try some savory snacks!”

To keep up with Yeh and TSUMo Snacks, find them at their

and their official .

Business
Keegan Williams

About The Author

Keegan Williams

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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