Riviera Creek Readies for Year Two with New Products
By Josh Medore
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The first year of operations for Riviera Creek wasn’t an easy one. It wasn’t just that the medical marijuana grower was among the first in the state to start growing a crop after it was decriminalized, said Brian Kessler, board chairman of the company.
It was also the fact that supply and demand didn’t match up. When Riviera Creek made its first harvest in February – “hundreds of pounds” Kessler said at the time – there were 20,000 patients and only six dispensaries. By the time November rolled around, there were 80,000 patients and a dozen dispensaries across the state.
Now, that number has risen to 47 dispensaries, setting the stage for Riviera Creek’s next big step.
“Our goal is to almost triple our output in the coming year,” Kessler said Wednesday during a tour of the grow site on Crescent Street. “In November and December, we started to get a glimpse of what the industry can be for patients.”
Patients tend to be in their late 40s or early 50s, he observes, signaling that many buying medical marijuana are those with medical issues and are searching for “solutions across the board. If the patient count reflects the success of that, that’s exciting.”
He expects the state to have 55 dispensaries by the end of the year and up to 150,000 registered patients able to buy the products.
Two new products will soon be hitting markets: vape pens filled with oil from Riviera Creek’s marijuana plants and specially designed boxes that improve storage of buds.
“In a new industry, little things wind up being important. In our case, there have been bottles and there have been bags [for storage]. Each one has their problems,” Kessler said. “By coming up with the bud box, it creates a way to get the bag opportunities that are beneficial but also the benefits of a pill bottle.”
After about 2 1/2 years of development, the company has a patent on the box. It is airtight, providing an extra layer of protection for the product. The shortfall of the bags that medical marijuana is sold in is that they can be easily crushed, destroying what’s inside, while the clear plastic bottles have less attractive packaging and can allow for the buds to be shaken, which can separate them in the container.
Also coming to market are vape pens, each filled with a dose of oil from Riviera Creek’s marijuana strains like Gypsy Chocolope or Stambaugh Garlic Cookie. While there were problems nationwide with unsafe vaping products last year followed by several states, including Ohio, banning the sale of flavored vape products, Kessler said his company’s offerings will contain only pure oils from its marijuana plants.
The sicknesses caused by tainted products and the subsequent backlash only highlights the need for oversight, he said, which can help medical marijuana gain acceptance and, perhaps soon, be followed by recreational marijuana.
“If they set up that environment for [recreational use] in the state at the right time, hopefully it can get there. Right now, there’s a [push] to get it done in 2020. I hope that people recognize the industry’s changing,” he said. “Every year, more states go to a personal consumption level. As long as it’s done right, I’m for it. I think Ohio has an opportunity to get there, but we all have to be rolling in the same direction.”
Riviera Creek will launch another product to market, one that has never been used before. Pending approval from the state, the company will introduce a new method of ingestion that finds a middle ground between buds and oil. From there, the company plans to introduce new products every six months.
Even without recreational use legal in Ohio, Riviera Creek is well positioned for success in 2020.
The company didn’t make money last year – “I don’t know of anyone that made money the first year, especially with nine months of the year having only 12 stores,” Kessler said – but did double its workforce to 25 and by the end of the year had increased production capacity to five times its initial level.
“The big thing for us is we can’t keep it in stock. We had [five] harvests last year and the bad news has been that it sells out within a couple of weeks of hitting the shelves. We’re taking active steps to expand our capacity,” he said.
Plans are in the works to add more grow rooms, he said, and if “we can get fully saturated,” Riviera Creek can hit the 100 employees it initially estimated it could hire.
“Hopefully in 2020, we’ll be able to increase our volume, the customer support will be there and we can be profitable; that’s our goal,” Kessler said.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.