Jones Soda Co. is known for pushing boundaries.
Over its nearly 30-year history, the craft soda company has experimented with flavor, offering options such as Sour Mango Melon, Sugar Cookie and even seasonal Turkey and Gravy. Jones also prints fan-submitted photos on its labels, recently bringing them to life with augmented reality.
The company’s unique approach, alongside its devoted fanbase and experience with manufacturing and distribution in the traditional beverage space, positioned it well to expand into cannabis, said Bohb Blair, chief marketing officer and president, emerging brands.
“Jones Soda is the biggest indie soda brand, and as a result, you can imagine we do everything pretty scrappy,” he said. “We do it all in this independent mindset. We do a lot of small-batch, we do a lot of separate partners over here and there, and we do a lot of collabs. It was actually more comfortable for Jones than it would have been for other brands from CPG to come over.”
Jones launched the Mary Jones brand with four sodas in California in July 2022, and over the last year, the company has broadened its footprint and introduced new product formats.
When Jones began experimenting with cannabis, developing an early prototype involved mixing it into the mainline soda and tasting the result. Blair said the team thought it was “not bad,” but they had a long way to go.
“The distance between ‘not bad’ and where we are right now was absolutely a lot of work,” he said.
The company built on its skill for flavor development, honed over the last two decades. But successfully incorporating cannabis into the formulation required working with emulsions, which added layers of complexity.
“As much as those things are amazing — and shout out to all those companies who are doing amazing work making these emulsions — they don't taste good,” Blair said. “They taste bitter, they have some interesting mouthfeel, they displace a lot of the liquid in your bottle, so you need someone who knows what they're doing to come in and reformulate the syrup. You don't just use it the same way.”
Drawing from popular mainline soda flavors, Jones initially launched four varieties under the Mary Jones brand: Berry Lemonade, Green Apple, Root Beer and Orange Cream. In June, the company added two more flavors to its portfolio in the state: Cola and MF Grape.
All varieties are available in single-serving, 12-oz. bottles with 10 mg THC and in 16-oz. cans with 100 mg THC. The flavor is consistent across all sizes, Blair said.
“They all taste the same, no matter how much weed you put in it, and that's because the team knows what they're doing,” he said.
The brand’s work caught the attention of judges for the High Spirits Awards, created by the organizers of the L.A. Spirits Awards. Mary Jones’ 10 mg Berry Lemonade was named Best Cannabis Soda and received gold medal honors, while its 100 mg Root Beer also earned a gold medal.
Last month, Jones introduced its first special-edition flavor under both the Jones Soda and Mary Jones brands. The Hatch Chile and Lime variety combines the flavors of smoky hatch chiles with a refreshing zing of lime. The Mary Jones version is available in California.
In addition to the sodas, Mary Jones also offers infused syrups in Berry Lemonade, Green Apple, Root Beer and Orange Cream flavors. With 100 mg THC in each 4-oz. bottle, they can be added to any soda, used as a cocktail mixer, sipped straight from the bottle, drizzled over desserts, or used to infuse other recipes.
Blair said Jones wanted to offer a variety of serving sizes and formats to meet different consumer needs. In fact, use cases have emerged that Blair didn’t anticipate — such as consumers having one 16-oz. can for a whole evening, or using the syrups as a mixer for private consumption parties.
“Anyone who is a light to seasoned cannabis user, you ask them, and they'll have an opinion about potency and dosage,” Blair said. “We chose to offer a wide range of products that meet people at the mid- and low-dose end of things and take them up to the high dose end of things.”
While Jones’ background is in beverage, its cannabis portfolio will continue to expand into other edibles categories. The company plans to launch two other products later this month.
Though Jones Soda is headquartered in Washington, the company had deliberate reasons for launching in California, Blair said. Its competitive market and robust ecosystem of manufacturers and distributors made it an ideal proving ground for the Mary Jones brand.
“We needed to go into a market where we could pilot the whole portfolio and really prove the brand in an environment where we could test it against other brands, against a mature consumer and people who knew what they were looking for, so we did it on purpose,” Blair said. “The whole idea was that if we can do it in California, we have created an exportable model with a very rich, wide portfolio of products that we can then take into other markets.”
In January, Jones announced its intentions to bring Mary Jones to its home state through a partnership with CompCanna Inc. and Dogtown Pioneers, Inc. Blair said it was welcome news to fans there.
“It's not like our team wasn't rolling into dispensaries wearing our (Jones Soda) hoodies, and everyone’s like, ‘When are you guys coming?’ Blair said. “It's been a long time coming, even though it's only been a year since we launched, but we are thrilled to be launching in our home market. The reception we expect to be warm.”
In March, Jones Soda revealed it will bring the Mary Jones brand to Nevada and Michigan through a partnership with Maxxx Labs. Blair — originally a Michigander — noted the state is a strong market for the Jones Soda brand, and fans there have been asking for its cannabis-infused counterparts.
“We can come to Michigan with everything figured out and just go ‘boom’ — that was always the plan,” he said. “I am just jazzed to get out there.”
Blair said Jones will continue to expand the Mary Jones brand, especially under the leadership of David Knight, who succeeded Mark Murray as CEO in June.
“When Mark chose to retire, we brought in David, who is an escalation point and a catalyst to that same mentality,” Blair said. “If you think about his experience with PepsiCo and all that, we have big CPG soda, but then he spent the last year with Cheech and Chong commercializing one of the most legendary cannabis brands and brand names of all time. And it just shows that this is somebody who's not just comfortable playing in this space, this is someone who is already pushing into this space. And so honestly, it just feels like stepping on the gas a little bit with where we were going, and I couldn't be more about it.”