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Headshot of Kiva Confections' co-founder Kristi Palmer

Courtesy of Kiva Confections

Industry Innovators: Kristi Palmer, Co-founder of Kiva Confections

Keegan Williams

By Keegan Williams

January 31, 2023

It’s no secret that edibles are one of the rising stars in the cannabis game. Sure, flower continues to be king, but as the market continues to grow, it ushers in all kinds of different consumers — many of whom cannot necessarily light up the dab rig or a joint at any given time.

One recent

published by Custom Market Insights found that the market size and share revenue for cannabis edibles was valued at $20.47 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach around $197.74 billion by 2030.

With that kind of growth on the horizon, cannabis edible businesses must be unique, enduring and ready for any number of changes as the market continues to take shape. 

Kristi Palmer, co-founder of

, is surely up to the task. 

The California

company first started in 2010, with Palmer and her husband Scott chasing inspiration from visiting a local chocolatier and soon after crafting their own cannabis-infused concoctions, the first Kiva Bars, in their home kitchen.

“Imagine delicious, creamy chocolate blended perfectly with the faintest taste of quality cannabis, always lab tested and offering consumers a repeatable experience every single time,” Palmer said. “The Kiva Bar was born after about 10 months of careful development of the formulations, the packaging, the brand and its promise to the consumer.”

But even this wasn’t the beginning of the couple’s cannabis journey…

Courtesy of Kiva Confections

Humble Beginnings, a Labor of Love and Creating Kiva Confections

Born and raised in the Bay Area, Palmer said that cannabis use was always ingrained in the culture as she grew up. Not something to be feared, cannabis was known as a way to help people relax, come together, have fun and “be silly” with one another. 

“It was always strange to me that something so enjoyable with so few side effects was so strongly stigmatized,” Palmer said. “People in my circle used it, sold it and got caught up with law enforcement with it — which instilled in me a strong need to advocate for cannabis and the positive benefits that it could bring to people.”

Palmer first met her husband in photography school, where she was asked to be his second shooter for a friend’s

he was set to shoot. The bond was instant, and since that day, the two have worked together on countless projects, big and small. 

“It works because we bring different strengths to the table,” Palmer said. “While Scott is the engineer, the strategist and the mastermind behind the business, the customer-facing side of the business suits me much better.”

The couple’s professional cannabis journey began before Kiva Confections. The two got started by growing cannabis in the backyard shed of Palmer’s childhood home in San Leandro, California. The couple boarded up the shed’s windows and installed a lighting system, eager for their crop to take off and their budding business to take shape.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple.

“We thought the hard part was done, and we’d be sailing around the world on our yacht after a few short harvests,” Palmer said. “As it turns out, growing a boatload of top-shelf weed in your backyard is a lot harder than expected, but while attempting this, it became clear there was an even better opportunity for us outside of cultivation.”

This brought the couple to the fateful moment where Kiva was conceived. As the couple traversed a chocolate shop in Berkeley one day, Scott had a lightbulb moment: What about edibles? 

Palmer also nodded to the time: In 2010, there were no legal, recreational markets in the U.S. It was the Wild West, so to speak, and the edible game was nothing like it is today.

“Consuming edibles in 2010 was like playing a game of Russian Roulette: Were you going to get blasted and be glued to the couch for two days… or were you about to waste $20 on a brownie that tasted like bong water and delivered zero effects?” Palmer posed. 

Courtesy of Kiva Confections

With their new idea, the Palmers wanted to do something different, far from the stereotypical “weed brownie” experience and redefine cannabis confections for the modern cannabis consumer.

Now, more than a decade later, Kiva proudly employs more than 400 passionate people, and the brand has added

, , and to its family of premium cannabis products. All the while, it has maintained its same ethos of transparency, ensuring that consumers are well-aware of everything they are consuming and imposing stringent standards for potency, production, packaging and testing.

Maintaining a Legacy and Continuing to Innovate

Looking back at the growth of Kiva alongside her partner, Palmer said their roles have evolved immensely over that time. Today, they are able to spend their time honing in on the culture of the company, the direction of the business and solving complex problems that often plague Kiva and the cannabis industry as a whole.

“Balance is key of course — we get a babysitter and make time for each other during our weekly date night to reconnect and reflect, always with help from our good friend cannabis,” Palmer said.

Many of Kiva’s modern focuses hearken back to the early days, with Kristi and Scott’s aim to revolutionize the edible world with transparency and consistency. One key element of this conversation is dosing, and today, Kiva offers a number of dosing options for all kinds of consumers.

“Ahh, I could write a book called ‘Dosing: A Journey,’” Palmer jested. “

is wonderful for people looking for precision and control. They typically have a low tolerance, or perhaps they are a newbie, so they only require a small amount to get the job done and don’t want to consume in excess. We offer products starting at 2.5 mg THC per piece for this crowd, which both Scott and I fall into.”

Sure, the modern-day innovations are impressive, but as many consumers are beginning to better understand that there’s much more to a quality cannabis experience than the amount of THC in the product. 

That said, Palmer admitted that they’ve still found many consumers still want higher THC products; even those products perceived as higher potency are in far greater demand, she said. 

One example is 10 mg edibles versus 5 mg — the container still contains 100 mg total, but consumers will still lean toward the 10 mg/piece option. With this data in mind, Kiva migrated its best-selling Camino Sours line from 5 mg to 10 mg per piece, and it is indeed selling faster.

“Here’s the real key to dosing in my opinion: consistency,” Palmer said. “That is a non-negotiable. The most important thing we offer is control to the consumer so they can manage their dose and have a positive experience. If you don’t give this service to your consumers, they will consume too much, or too little, and you’ll lose them as a customer.”

Kiva also has a focus on the feeling a consumer can expect from specific products, instead of harping on sativa, indica or hybrid. Palmer said that it’s important to have products for different situations and use-cases to ensure people get the exact experience they are looking for, be that sleep, unwinding, having fun or easing aches and pains. 

Courtesy of Kiva Confections

“Our best-selling

offer a calming combination of 5 mg THC, 1 mg CBN, relaxing terpenes and chamomile and lavender extracts, for example,” Palmer said. “Our products that are not use-case specific promise benefits such as a specific strain, extraction method, or dosing format, offering something for everyone in our lineup.”

This tailored approach keeping consumers, and their varied needs, at the forefront also seems to be paying off.

“The people that we are affecting range the gamut: from consumers who need a little help staying asleep or want to be more present parents, to people who use Kiva products to help steer them away from opiates, or aid an aging parent in hospice,” Palmer said. “It’s enough to bring tears to your eyes and place your attention on why we do this in the first place: to improve people’s lives with the use of quality cannabis products.”

The Bigger Picture and Moving Forward

Working in cannabis is also inherently political, often intersecting with myriad human rights issues and confronting some of the blemishes of the past.

“The cannabis industry has a lot of work to do to overturn the stigma that it endures,” Palmer said. “That stigma results in unfair policies affecting taxation, real estate, banking — the list goes on.”

Palmer also said that her peers, folks who use and work with cannabis, often believe that community and sustainability in business come first. The brand co-founds and funds trade organizations to ensure commonsense regulations, develops educational outreach throughout the country and regularly sponsors local events to help its customers connect with the professional cannabis community.

“We care deeply about our team and their well being, constantly furthering initiatives to ensure competitive pay, employee benefits, a diverse and engaged workplace, and that we are good stewards outside the walls of the business with charitable initiatives and give back programs,” Palmer said. “We don’t claim to be perfect but rather always aim to be on the path of continuous improvement.”

Late last year, Kiva also launched the

, made to ensure that their products end up in the hands of the people most in need. The brand partnered with Weed for Warriors and The Sweetleaf Collective to kick off the project, taking aim at the amount of cannabis product wasted each year.

“This project is the first to drastically reduce cannabis waste and distribute compliant products to medical cannabis patients at no cost to them,” the site explains. “To do that, Kiva is pledging to donate products with minor defects or nearing expiration to put an end to the destruction of essential medicine.”

Kiva is also consistently looking at how to innovate their already stellar line of products. It just expanded the Lost Farm brand to include solventless live rosin — Kiva was also the first edibles company to make strain-specific, 100 percent live resin-infused edibles. Palmer said that Kiva fans can also expect more limited edition flavor releases and strain combinations using both live resin and live rosin moving forward. 

As a fun homage to a cult classic, Californians can also expect a White Russian-flavored Lost Farm fruit chew hitting shelves in February, honoring the 25th anniversary of The Big Lebowski. The Kiva team is also working tirelessly to push Kiva’s best sellers, like Camino gummies and Camino sours, to new consumers in new state markets. 

“My goals for Kiva is that we build the healthiest company possible, adding value to the business and its employees and consumers,” Palmer said. “There are a lot of people who depend on Kiva, so I hope it can remain a positive force long into the future.”

Though Palmer said she and the team love a challenge, she said, “I cannot wait for things to get a little easier in the cannabis industry!” Citing the “serious reforms” needed at every level to ensure the cannabis industry stays sustainable and can best serve its customers, Palmer said she’s eager to see a bit more help from the government to ensure the industry can truly thrive.

At the end of the day, Palmer said she is grateful for her Kiva team who make everything happen day in and day out.

“There are over 400 people who work at the company now and every day they bring their A-game,” Palmer said. “Cannabis isn’t easy, but these individuals work super hard with a great attitude and have incredible talent. I learn so much from them and feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such an outstanding group of people.”

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.