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How One Chocolatier Wants to Bring Luxury Cannabis to a Mall Near You

How One Chocolatier Wants to Bring Luxury Cannabis to a Mall Near You

Shoppers flock to Union Square for its luxury retail outlets, with icons like Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, and Prada all sharing space in the busy downtown destination. Soon there could be a new option for high-end spending, but the wares are a little different than handbags: a shop to showcase high-end, sustainably produced, ethically sourced chocolates infused with sun-grown, organic cannabis.

At least that’s the hope of Eric Eslao, founder of Oakland-based Défoncé Chocolatier. Eslao spent six years at Apple before diving into the world of weed about three years ago to start Défoncé (meaning “high” in French) in a quest to elevate chocolate cannabis to gourmet levels.

He saw a clear market opportunity: targeting health-conscious Californians, new to marijuana and wary of smoking, who would gravitate toward high-quality, low-dose edibles. His hunch has been right so far — edible sales are up since January 1, and Bloomberg estimates they may capture half of the cannabis market in the coming years.

”For me, I have two little girls at home, I’m married, I’m just not going to have a bong at home in my garage,” Eslao says. “I still don’t know how to roll a joint. Edibles just make sense for a lot of people.”

Now, the 38-year-old CEO is serious about opening the first-ever branded cannabis storefront this year — whether in SF or another California city. He’s even recently hired Christopher Peak, former head of retail design for Apple from 2012 to 2017, as a consultant.

His end goal (aside from presumably turning a profit) is to normalize gourmet edibles so much that people won’t think twice about bringing one of his chocolate bars to a dinner party instead of wine.

Cannabis and chocolate, together forever

“For so long, your typical edible company was a brownie or gummy made in a home kitchen, with no consistency — which is why most people have had a bad experience,” Eslao says as he makes his way through the first floor of his company’s 10,000-square-foot warehouse near the Oakland Coliseum.

While the warehouse smells like a new-age California version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it looks a little less magical, with concrete floors, white tents, and various machinery scattered throughout. Upstairs is more fun, however, as it’s home to the company test kitchen — there, chefs can try out new cannabis concoctions with ingredients like pistachios, toasted coconut, and even rosé Champagne.

Défoncé recruited skilled chocolatiers from well-known companies like Mars, Cadbury, and Godiva, and sources materials from Belgium and France. As for the cannabis, they use an extract from plants grown at organic farms throughout California, like Hummingbird Medicinals, which grows all of its marijuana in the sun of Sierra Nevada foothills using biodynamic farming principles.

Eventually, the bars are packaged in Défoncé’s sleekly designed boxes, with bold colors signifying each flavor. The bar itself is also designed to stand out — molded into 18 separate pyramids, each with a dose of 5 milligrams for a total of 90 milligrams.

Each bar is roughly $20, currently the average price of any cannabis chocolate bar found a dispensary shelf. “There’s not yet a spectrum pricing like you see in wine or spirits, but if you think about each dose as equal to a glass of Champagne or even a truffle at Godiva, it should be higher,” Eslao says.

Courtesy of Défoncé

A maturing market with a long road ahead

So far this year, sales have been a bit slower in California that some anticipated, but experts remain confident about the industry’s outlook. Cannabis research firm BDS Analytics estimates that marijuana sales in California will reach $3.7 billion by the end of the year and $5.1 billion in 2019 — that’s bigger than the state’s entire beer market, which went over $5 billion just last year.

As for edibles, the game has changed dramatically since recreational use became legal on January 1 — a large number of companies have folded, unable to keep up with the expenses brought on by new rules and regulations. “It’s been a mass extinction,” Eslao says. “There will be even fewer of us once the July 1 grace period ends.”

Full story is available here.

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