With the ongoing legalization and societal acceptance of medical and recreational cannabis use, growth and purchase across the globe, providing safe, certified product to conscientious consumers has become not only a priority but a profitable business model. Theory Wellness – a vertically integrated East Coast company with operations in both Maine and Massachusetts – has recently expanded its operation with the construction of a state-of-the-art new cultivation, production and manufacturing facility built in collaboration with Dacon Corporation.
The independently owned, small batch, craft cannabis brand leading East Coast legalization brought BKA Architects, a team with specialized cannabis experience, in on the project to work with Dacon Corporation to construct a 23,500 square foot facility. The new facility has allowed for the innovation of new cannabis products for enthusiasts in Massachusetts. “Starting out in medical prior to embarking on recreational we didn’t predict the trajectory, so we’ve been very fortunate in terms of our growth,” says Thomas Winstanley, Vice President, Marketing for Theory. “When we first moved into the cannabis industry, there was no road map around where the industry would take us. What we experienced was not only a lot of enthusiasm, but significant increases in demand as we transitioned into recreational sales.”
Because Theory Wellness controls its supply chain from cultivation to final product, the company is able to develop products in-house, with Theory branded products in its retail stores across Massachusetts. Offerings entail approximately 60 products spanning flower, edibles, concentrates, extracts, tinctures and topicals.
“Being able to control manufacturing has expanded brand development from both a retail and manufacturing perspective,” Winstanley says. “We’re small batch. We embrace a startup mentality and look to craft beer breweries for inspiration. At the heart of our products’ quality is select availability and unique genetics.”
Flower – the plants/buds that are rolled or consumed in a pipe – remains the core product line, says Winstanley. “Flower constitutes the largest part of sales. We invest a lot of time evaluating their genetics and nuances.” The properties of this flower may aid sleep, enhance energy or increase focus. “In the same way that farm-to-table restaurants look at heirloom tomatoes, we look at cannabis genetics. We are addressing a discerning user who doesn’t want a mass-produced product.”
Theory Wellness focuses on investing in technology that creates ideal environments for plants to reach their full potential. “Part of what differentiates us in the market is that we’re not very large. As a private company, we are able to be nimble and reactive to market trends,” says Winstanley. Theory pivots its operations to address different needs and challenges. Starting out in the medical realm, the company never anticipated the scale the recreational sector would create.
“As we got into the recreational market, we considered what scaling our operations looked like. It’s a continuously evolving process, but that’s where we started working with Dacon in terms of creating a new facility.”
Dacon Corporation is a fully integrated design build firm providing comprehensive facility development services for unique projects, including architectural design, engineering and construction management. With massive growth looming, Theory Wellness realized they needed to invest capital in facility design.
“We wanted to design a new facility that was the culmination of a breadth of learnings around manufacturing and cultivation, product demand, consumer preferences and emerging technology.”
Architecture, space functionality and goods produced were all vital to consider, along with a solid partner. Winstanley knew the company wanted to build an unparalleled facility, so finding a partner who could handle rigorous requests was challenging.
“We went through a pretty heavy RFP process and Dacon Corporation stood out as a key partner,” says Winstanley. “They align with our vision and asked meaningful questions. They understood what we aspired to achieve even though it was something that had never been seen.”
Indoor cultivation requires implicit knowledge of lighting cycles, humidity, in-room temperatures, airflow and decontamination. The level of sophistication required to control variables that give plants optimal growth conditions is a symphony of technology. Leveraging organic growth to advance plant health and optimal flowers is the basis of Theory’s entire operation. Dacon fit the bill.
“They understood the technological needs as we explained them,” says Winstanley. Dacon also constructed enough square footage within the facility for a beverage canning line – one of the first in Massachusetts in the cannabis industry. Theory Wellness now produces Hi5, a rapid onset, cannabis infused seltzer, with plans for millions of cans in 2021, along with a state-of-the-art chocolate manufacturing line.
“This facility allows us to move into different categories that fulfill consumer interest. We listen very closely to what their needs are. At the end of the day, the product has to speak for itself,” says Winstanley. “You can’t be a small batch craft cannabis company with sub-par products; we can’t rush these things into the market. The quality thread from flower rooms to final product – everything has to be right.”
Theory’s mission includes setting a precedent around creating a legal and safe industry. “We always said we want to help define what the future of cannabis can be. For us it’s an independent, free market.”
As with any other industry, the cannabis sector is challenging. “I think there are always going to be hurdles in this new landscape, but being nimble and very hungry, we’ve adapted to the new policies. Each time we come back stronger having learned from navigating the legislative process,” shares Winstanley. An offshoot of this is Theory’s social equity program for fledgling cannabis start-ups comprising $100,000 debt-free, zero-interest loans that provide entry capital as well as $150,000 worth of product on wholesale consignment. The recipients of their inaugural program Legal Greens opened recently in Brockton, MA following years of regulatory applications with the city and state. “There are many challenges we face so we realized that we were in a rare position with a lot of knowledge and support to share,” says Winstanley.
Recognizing a massive change in the market also led Theory to use its influence as a conscious brand to partner with a local farmer to grow outdoor cannabis. Ted Dobson is a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement who has been growing different types of table greens for the last 35 years. “He knows the soil better than anyone,” says Winstanley. “We’re really excited as partnering with a farmer is a model that we think can be of use in this industry. Ted knows the land and the plants, plus he’s helped us cultivate in an entirely new climate. We’re heading into our third season of outdoor cultivation.”
As for technology and operations, Winstanley has nothing but high praise. “Versus other facilities I’ve been through, the facility Dacon created is like the International Space Station – both futuristic and state-of-the-art. They were accustomed to performing under fast-paced deadlines and understood what was needed.” Winstanley says the mastery of engineering will hopefully help produce best-in-market results. “There’s no way we could have gone there without the support and the partnership that we had with Dacon to recognize that vision and help us get there,” he says.
Theory’s latest project is Hi5, a zero calorie, all natural, gluten free, cannabis infused seltzer. The line of beverages are designed to produce a controlled but rapid effect when consumed, which is a different type of consumption when compared to standard edibles.
“It’s a controllable way to consume cannabis,” Winstanley says. “One of the first of its kind on the East Coast, it opens the market to a much broader audience. This is for those who tried edibles or are less familiar with cannabis or feel like the control isn’t there for them.”
This opportunity will help further differentiate the Theory brand with a new category of products with the end goal of making cannabis available for all. “We hope people try cannabis. We hope to reverse the stigma that cannabis is something that’s a counterculture product. Cannabis access should be available for all. We’re fortunate to have this team. We’re all incredibly passionate about this industry. We believe it shows in our products and service.”