Erin Gore got into cannabis the way many industry leaders have — through the need for relief.

With back-to-back hip replacements in 2011 and 2012, Gore found herself adding prescription after prescription to manage a variety of health and wellness concerns.

Erin Gore, co-founder and CEO of Garden Society

“First it was pain management, then it was sleep management, and then it was anxiety management,” she said. “I realized I didn’t like the path I was on, and I needed to find something more holistic, something that I felt worked better, and something that was better for me and my body.”

Originally a smoker, Gore sought out edible products at California dispensaries, but at the time, they were too strong and didn’t suit her needs. Using her background in chemical engineering, she began making them herself, creating extractions and tinctures in her kitchen lab.

Gore’s friends learned about her efforts, and they wanted to experience the edibles, too. In spring 2016, when she hosted a party at her home with more than 50 women, Gore saw the potential to bring cannabis to an audience that needed it — and certainly wanted it.

“I realized there was this huge need for products and education for women, and the way to make really highly efficacious products that helped people live better and feel better,” she said.

Later that year, Gore quit her job and launched Garden Society, with the goal of promoting the beauty of cannabis and building community.

“When I had my big corporate job, I had lots of travel, I was always at the airport, I was working like crazy, and I felt like I didn’t really have a community,” she said. “The truth was I didn’t see the community that I had. Once I started exploring cannabis with them, I realized I had this incredible group of friends, I had this incredible network, and it really was mine to embrace and grow.”

Product development

Garden Society launched at the 2016 Emerald Cup with an artisanal, chef-developed pâte de fruit confection, cut on guitar strings. While it was a high-end product, Gore discovered it would be difficult to commercialize.

“It was very hard to scale that product. It was expensive to manufacture that product,” she said. “It was also really hard to test it because of the pectin colloid structure with the fruit puree, and the sophistication of the labs wasn’t quite there.”

When Garden Society retooled its gummy offerings, the company aimed to create a “sense of place” by tying the products to its home in Sonoma County. With help from co-founder Karli Warner and Gore’s husband, who works in the wine industry, they zeroed in on flavors that invoke popular styles of wine.

“We got the flavors after iterations and iterations that they liked and we liked,” she said. “I think we really nailed that.”

Garden Society Pinot Noir
Garden Society gummies

One of Gore’s main concerns was maximizing the edibles’ bioavailability and efficacy. She worked with a professor at Lehigh University to learn more about how the body absorbs THC, especially through different form factors.

“We really wanted to have that full entourage effect, all the lipids and bioavailability, all the things that we know are so important but make it happen in 20-30 minutes,” Gore said.

Tapping into resources and expertise from the chemical industry, Gore developed an emulsion process that delivers a full-spectrum high in about 15 minutes. Garden Society sources cannabis cultivars with specific ratios of THC, CBD and minor cannabinoids in mind, with the goal of producing specific effects.

“We have seen such a tremendous response from the minors because they do deliver different effects, and it is different from the THC effect,” she said. “I know people say there are a lot of unsophisticated consumers, and I agree, but I also think operating in California, there are a lot of very sophisticated consumers, and so creating distinct effects derived by true, full-spectrum minor cannabinoids are really being valued, and it’s really our time to shine.”

Among Garden Society’s Wine Country gummy offerings are:

  • Blissful Rest: Featuring the flavors of ripe cherries, these pinot noir-inspired gummies offer 5 mg THC and 1 mg CBD per piece.
  • Brighter Day: Featuring the flavors of a summer peach, these peach prosecco-inspired gummies offer 5 mg THC per piece.
  • Calm & Focus: Featuring flavors of summer strawberries, these sparkling strawberry rosé-inspired gummies have 1 mg THC and 5 mg CBD per piece.
  • Joyful & Present: Featuring the juicy and tart flavors of kiwi and lime, these sauvignon blanc-inspired gummies have 3.5 mg THCV and 5 mg THC per piece.

Debuting late last year, the THCV gummies are Garden Society’s latest introduction.

“If you haven’t experienced THCV, it’s an incredible effect,” Gore said. “I’m not quite convinced that it’s an appetite suppressant, but I do not get the munchies on it, which is good. It makes you chatty, really social, really present — it’s just a very joyous product.”

Garden Society’s effect-based positioning extends to its line of cannabis-infused chocolates. However, Gore emphasized that they are not fast-acting, with an onset of up to two hours. The goal is to deliver long-lasting effects.

In fact, Garden Society had originally developed a chocolate product to ease Gore’s pain long enough for her to sleep through the night.

“They’re such an incredible pair — chocolate and cannabis,” she said. “When we think about the bioavailability, the best carrier for the longest night sleep is really full-spectrum, full-lipid, full-fat based products. That is what absorbs most into your body, that’s what lasts longest in your body, that’s where you get the most bioavailability, the most efficacy.”

The company’s chocolate lineup includes:

  • Blissful Rest: These milk chocolates feature sea salt and are infused with an indica strain of cannabis from Mendocino County. Each piece features 10 mg THC and 1 mg CBD.
  • Brighter Day: These dark chocolates are spiced with Ceylon cinnamon, cayenne pepper and chile powder. They’re infused with a sativa hybrid strain from Mendocino County. Each piece contains 10 mg THC.
  • Calm & Focus: These milk chocolates feature the warm spices of chai. They’re infused with 1 mg THC and 10 mg CBD per piece.

Gore said Garden Society, which also offers flower and prerolls, will continue to explore minor cannabinoids. The company has plans to introduce products with CBG and CBC, as well as high-dose offerings, in the near future.

Market expansions

While Garden Society has gained a following in the Golden State, the company has set its sights on bringing California’s Wine Country to the East Coast.

However, as Gore noted, that’s been easier said than done.

“We had a hard time finding people interested in us, because we’re a smaller California brand,” she said. “They loved the quality, they loved the positioning, but we were not big enough. The people who were interested in us didn’t have the skills. Maybe they could make a gummy, but they couldn’t make a preroll, or they could make a preroll, but they didn’t have access to a kitchen.”

Garden Society took over a distressed processor in Ohio, and with an infusion of resources from a recent Series A financing, the company launched in the state’s medical market.

“There were a lot of learnings,” Gore said. “We have a lot of battle scars — things we did really well, things we did really bad, things we’re going to do much better next time.”

Around the same time, the application portal for New Jersey opened, and Gore said the state made it favorable for women and people of color to apply for licenses. Garden Society received a license 16 months later, and the company has been in the process of securing real estate, raising funds and building out its facility.

“It was serendipitous that it went Ohio first and then New Jersey,” Gore said. “I’m glad it wasn’t the other way around. We’ve been able to parlay our success of Ohio and our success of California and raise the capital to build Jersey.”

Through its work in California and its move to New Jersey, Garden Society has partnered with Kiva Confections and the company’s distribution arm, Kiva Sales and Service. Under their agreement, Kiva Sales and Service will sell and distribute Garden Society's products to retailers in California, while in New Jersey, Garden Society will manufacture Kiva's portfolio of edibles, such as Camino and Lost Farm gummies.

Gore called Kiva a “best-in-class operator,” noting Garden Society’s status as an experienced, women-owned and legacy California operator helped cement the partnership.

“They’re been just a tremendous partner,” she said. “We’re really lucky, but we also worked really hard to get here. We’re really excited about how both companies are showing up to launch in New Jersey.”

More expansion may be on the horizon for Garden Society, but for now, the company is focusing on its existing projects.

“Right now, we are executing, “ Gore said. “We do want a fourth location — I’ve got my feelers out. I laugh about it, but this is the year of ‘no shiny objects’ — head down, execution. We’ve got our hands full right now.”