It’s not cheap or easy to establish an ethos. At Proof Cannabis, going against the conventional (dare we say corporate?) cannabis business model has been challenging but worthwhile.
The California company’s mission was “founded on the principle that consumers deserve reliable, high-quality, effective cannabis products that are affordable for everyday use,” co-founder and CEO Julie Mercer-Ingram told MJBI.
But taking the high road was intimidating at first. Mercer-Ingram and her husband Matthew founded the company in 2016, when his father was battling cancer and they realized that affordable medicinal products were hard to find. Proof has since ascended to an award-winning cannabis wellness brand, with its namesake and Super Wow lines that include topicals, tinctures, capsules and pre-rolls. The manufacturer, which specializes mainly in extraction, is based out of a “small but mighty” facility in Santa Rosa, California.
“Proof is completely bootstrapped – we have never taken any investment capital. Over the years, many competitors have taken huge amounts of investment and spent it lavishly on things like flashy parties and swag. We’ve never had the budget to spend like other brands, which has made us focus on the core of our business, making great products and helping people feel better,” Mercer-Ingram explained.
“For years, we felt like we weren’t doing things right’ because we weren’t taking investment or spending like other brands. Now, we feel fortunate that our organic growth has focused the company on the important things, like harnessing the power of cannabis to help people feel better.”
At Proof, wellness begins with compassionate core beliefs – an approach influenced by a crew of wise women. Eighty percent of management positions at the company are filled by women, and 70 percent of the total staff are women or non-binary individuals.
“Inclusiveness is core to Proof’s business model. Whether through pricing, branding, volunteerism, donations, and hiring – we strive to include those who are often underrepresented in the industry: people of color, women, trans and queer folk,” Mercer-Ingram explained.
Partnerships with small outdoor cultivators also play a big part. The company’s Ethically Sourced program requires that all flower used in pre-rolls comes from small, independent outdoor cannabis cultivators that use regenerative farming techniques. These outfits include Ventoso Farms, Tuff-N-Tendergrass, Agris Farms, Paradigm Cannabis Group and Wildland Farm. The farmers, who are all located in California’s Emerald Triangle, receive fair prices for their crops under the program.
The many-hatted Mercer-Ingram, who is also an attorney, is the company’s creative director and takes an active role in developing new products.
“At Proof, we love R&D. I’m like Willy Wonka and my team often has to stop me from going too wild in my cannabis factory,” she said, sounding amused. “We really like highlighting and combining specific cannabinoids. We recently released an exciting, new product called the CBG Elixir that combines CBG, the mother of all cannabinoids, with CBD and THC for a unique and fresh approach to wellness. I love the full-body, euphoric high this product provides. It’s great for focus, energy, and pain relief.”
Last year, after market research indicated that California consumers would respond positively to a high-potency flavored ingestible for recreational use, Proof introduced their Super Wow line of flavored tinctures. Each 1-ounce bottle contains 1,000mg THC, in flavors strawberry, cola, blue raspberry, pink lemonade and “cosmic cake.”
Mercer-Ingram said the Super Wow drops, which come in colorful retro-inspired packaging, have been popular with recreational customers, especially the strawberry and pink lemonade flavors. The Proof crew has been pleased with consumer response.
“We get a lot of positive feedback from consumers, from patients and people who use cannabis to treat specific symptoms,” she said. “We love hearing how Proof has helped consumers, their family members, and beloved pets.”
Just this year, the company entered two products into the 18th Annual Emerald Cup, with Proof Face Serum taking first place in the Best Cosmetic Topical category and CBN Sleepy Tincture placing second in the Alternative Cannabinoid category. Proof’s CBG Elixir also won first place for Best Tincture at the first-ever Women’s CannaCup Competition, held at the California State Fair in Sacramento. It was the first time that cannabis was featured as a legal agricultural crop at the state fair.
Pretty good for a small, female-forward wellness brand that never had much to invest in merch giveaways or expensive marketing. To Mercer-Ingram, awards and increased sales indicate that the company has been going in the right direction all along, and their strategy of sustainable and ethical growth has paid off.
“Over the years, our amazing sales and distribution team has helped build a strong B2B network,” Mercer-Ingram said. “We can’t afford to pay for shelf space or offer menu discounts, but we do provide retailers with a high degree of professionalism and responsiveness to our retail partners. We aim to never have product backorders and to be an active, collaborative brand partner to retailers. We self-distribute our products in Northern California and recently partnered with Humble Cannabis Solutions for most of our Southern California distribution. This fall, we will launch a direct-to-consumer sales channel for customers to purchase our products for delivery in certain markets throughout California.”
“We [also] have invested heavily in education,” she added. “Whether through budtender training, in-person events, blog posts or educational materials, our team is always looking for new ways to help people understand how cannabis can help them feel better and enjoy life more.”
Mercer-Ingram believed and still believes the “proof” really is in the principles – that’s how the company got its name.
“Cannabis is powerful healing medicine, but the War on Drugs, in addition to harming so many lives, has perpetrated lies and misinformation about the plant. We named the company ‘Proof’ as evidence of the effectiveness and healing power of cannabis,” she said.