How this family cannabis brand went from legacy to legal

Twitter icon
man and woman

Before Fritz’s Cannabis Company launched on the legal market last month, it had operated as a grey market cannabis brand since 2015.

Appearing at pop-up cannabis events and developing a reputation for tasty and potent edibles, Fritz’s built a loyal following. But that wasn’t enough to capture the interest of the half dozen or so licensed producers that met with Ari Cohen and Tabitha Fritz, the husband and wife duo behind the company, as they navigated going legal.

Some producers saw an opportunity to leverage the couple’s knowledge into corporate jobs, but after years of building the business, that wasn’t what they wanted. So they kept looking.

“I have this really strong internal conviction that contrasted starkly with the LPs perspective on us and our brand and our business,” Fritz says. “So it was really just a matter of waiting until we found the right opportunity that aligned with us as people and as a business.”

The opportunity arrived via Medz Cannabis Inc., a federally licensed cannabis production and processing facility on the outskirts of Toronto. Within a 50,000 square-foot facility, Medz is home to five in-house partners, including The Hash Corporation, Glow LifeTech, 6Pak Packaging Solutions, Harts and Fritz’s Cannabis Company.

There is also an onsite farm-gate dispensary, Royal Cannabis Supply Company, which offers products from the in-house brands.

The unique arrangement allows Fritz and Cohen to lease a space in the facility and operate under Medz licenses, with Medz assisting on some aspects of the business, like connecting with Health Canada and different provincial retailers and wholesalers.

The couple maintains control over the company and that structure has been key in transitioning into the legal market, Cohen says.

“It wasn’t about them absorbing our brand and saying ‘You’re now under our umbrella.’ It’s us maintaining full control over our company in every way, in every decision that we make, within the very strict and draconian guidelines that Health Canada has set out,” Cohen says. “It’s worked out really well for us.” Maintaining the brand and operating on their own terms is also an important part of the story behind the company.

“It really is just the two of us doing this,” Cohen says, speaking from the Medz facility as he prepares a shipment for the Ontario Cannabis Store. “It’s literally the two of us that started this in our basement, doing essentially everything. We don’t have a marketing team. We don’t have a sales crew out there. We don’t have a CFO. We have the two of us making these gummies by hand.”

Fritz’s offers a variety of soft chews, in flavours like raspberry lemonade and peach, that are handmade in small batches.

The order Cohen is working on as he speaks is for 7,000 gummies. With two gummies included in each bag, that’s 3,500 packages. The turnaround takes about 10 days from raw ingredients to final packaging, Cohen says, and that includes the three days required for lab testing.

Doing everything by hand “gives us ownership over the quality,” he adds. “We’re not putting anything out there that we don’t think should be in a Fritz’s bag and the taste is truly better than any gummy on the market right now.”

The roots of Fritz’s can be traced back to Bunz Trading Zone, a cashless online bartering community that began as a Facebook group and allowed people to exchange goods for goods.

Early on, Bunz was essential to the business and it allowed them to get feedback on their products and trade edibles for needed supplies and ingredients.

“It gave us the ability to do it without any money because we did not have any money,” Cohen says.

“It also connected us so closely with the consumers of our products,” adds Fritz. “It gave us this really granular and specific and focused feedback about each of the products and about what consumers really wanted.”

Those early days weren’t always easy, though. There is no insurance when you’re operating in the shadows and in one instance, Cohen arranged to purchase a kilogram of CBD isolate for around $10,000. They had to borrow money to make the purchase and the hope was that the investment would pay off down the line as their margins improved. It might have proven true, but the CBD isolate turned out to be rock salt.

“That, along with a number of other impediments on the way, really challenged our conviction that we wanted to keep doing this,” says Cohen. By that point, however, they had travelled far enough from their previous jobs — Cohen used to work in finance on Bay Street, while Fritz managed the capstone course at the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto — that there was no going back.

“I can’t say that I’ve always had as much faith and foresight towards the business as Tabs has, but really I looked at what I used to do, and I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going back to that. There’s no way I’m going back to finance, there’s no way I’m going back to working for anyone else,'” Cohen says. “I think it was like, ‘Let’s get through the market this weekend and see how sales go, and then we can decide next week what we’re going to do.'”

“We took it a day at a time because that’s really all we could do,” Fritz adds.

And while there’s still stress that accompanies operating in the legal market, at least it’s stress that can be managed.

“I’m not looking over my shoulder anymore. I’m not worried about either the cops coming to get me or dealing with a shady character who doesn’t follow the rules,” Cohen says. With a family at home, as well, being a grey market producer wasn’t a viable long-term model, he adds.

“Yes, we have a high risk tolerance. Yes, we’re grateful we had the opportunity to get out there in the legacy market and do those things. But to do it for the next 20 years? It didn’t seem sustainable. And we’re really grateful that we have the opportunity to continue doing what we love and get great gummies to Canadians.”

As for those initial meetings with licensed producers? They aren’t sweating it.

Their products are now available at retail locations across the province and after quickly selling out the initial purchase order from the OCS, the company is preparing its fourth shipment for the provincial wholesaler. The footprint of the business is growing, too. Recently, they’ve been able to hire their first employees.

“I love what we do, and we’re really blessed to be doing it,” Cohen says. “We are taking the same approach we took in the legacy market, about care and quality in our products and doing it right, and putting it into the legal recreational framework.”

e-mail icon Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Reddit icon
Rate this article: 
Article category: 
Regional Marijuana News: