Kiva's Kristi Palmer on Job Creation, Distribution, and the Rise of Beverages in Cannabis

Plus, the biggest challenge facing the industry

Kristi Palmer is co-founder of Kiva Confections.

Prior to a career in cannabis, Kristi worked in the fine dining/hospitality industry and co-founded a wedding photography business. Taking what she knows from the customer services industry, Kristi is the driving force behind Kiva's customer service philosophy and has created and applied best practices in sales, distribution and marketing to cannabis operations. 

Kiva serves six states with its premium edibles, and provides category leaders in other verticals through its California distribution company, Kiva Sales and Service. Kiva also won a Grand Clio at the Clio Cannabis Awards last year for launching a limited-edition, fast-acting cannabis-infused turkey gravy for Thanksgiving 2019. 

Kristi is passionate about creating a healthy regulatory environment for the cannabis industry. She is on the board for CCIA and is a founding board member of CCMA, two reputable, impactful California cannabis trade organizations.

We spoke with Kristi for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Kristi, tell us.

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in San Leandro, California, and now I live 15 minutes away with my husband and our 1-year-old in Alameda.

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I'm currently the co-founder of Kiva Confections, and we're based in Oakland, California. In addition to Kiva, I serve on the boards of the CCIA, CCMA and CDA, all prominent cannabis trade organizations in California. 

Your earliest cannabis memory.

Ha. I'll preface this story by saying I come from a pretty pot-friendly family. Growing up, we had the party house in large part because my parents love to socialize and so having our friends over was highly encouraged. My dad—whose catchphrase about himself is "I'm not like the other fathers"—could be witnessed heading into what used to be our doll house when we were kids, but by this time was designated a tiny weed-smoking hotbox. It was a pretty special little spot to light up with friends, and we couldn't possibly deprive my dad of that experience, so he became an occasional special guest in the playhouse sessions.  

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

One of the most positive impacts cannabis has had on my life is what it has allowed us to give back to the community by the way of job creation. There is no way that in my previous life as a wedding photographer that I would have been able to give over 350 people a job. Not even a chance! That is truly a wonderful thing to see people have a steady job, a career, a paycheck so they can better their lives. 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

I am really into the Pure Beauty Cannabis Cigarettes. The pink box is the indica leaning strains which are perfect for after the baby has gone to sleep and it's time to wind down from the day. They are delicious, effective, and the cigarette format feels super premium and fancy.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Not being able to have our products available on grocery store shelves is a real challenge. If you think about other consumer packaged goods, like alcohol, you can put up a billboard and the consumer can take the next exit and buy your product. In cannabis today, there are very few licensed access points to find legal products. People have to go to a licensed dispensary, and many cities don't allow them in their jurisdiction. And people are already hesitant to go to a dispensary, even if they have one in their city. 

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

Beverages! There are so many cool new beverage brands emerging. I really hope all the beautiful design and product development we are seeing will give this highly anticipated category the place it deserves in the mind of consumers. A night of drinking with no hangover? Come on, it's brilliant!

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support and why.

The Last Prisoner Project is an organization dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform. There are still people behind bars today for very minor cannabis possession charges, and here we are, with an actual license to sell cannabis. Something is very wrong with that picture and I cannot stand for it. 

A recent project you're proud of.

Recently I have gone to work on bringing new brands into our distribution company. It's a lesser known fact that Kiva also offers business-to-business distribution in the cannabis industry, but it's a part of the business that I absolutely love. We serve dispensaries with awesome products, and work with promising, emerging brands who need shelf placement and sales. We recently brought two new brands into our network, Paradiso and Pacific Reserve, and it was a great feeling to have their confidence that we would be their only distributor in the state to sell their products. I love having the trust of others, and delivering on those expectations. 

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I step back frequently to admire the work of the Kiva team. We have monthly business reviews where we look closely at the month that just closed, and the presentation this week looking at last month's was really impressive. The team reports out on the good, bad and ugly, and we are really hitting our stride in these meetings. There are about 30 people on the call, and the level of preparation, departmental knowledge and expertise is unbelievable. I am so proud of our team and this is just one of the many ways they prove that they really kick butt. 

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

We love competition, and right now I admire the guys over at Wyld, Chris Joseph and Aaron Morris. They came into the California market from Oregon with their gummy and really disrupted the market. Their product, the packaging, and go-to market strategy is strong. They are doing a great job, but we're coming for ya! Haha.

A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.

After smoking a joint, I love a glass of red wine because the cannabis just lights up the flavor nuances. Also, the food from our local Burma Superstar is next-level after consuming. Green grapes are another favorite. And water. Apparently everything is better after consuming cannabis. For entertainment, you can't go wrong with a smoke and a Pixar movie.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

Spending too much money on weed, that's for sure! I give away a lot of product; it's one of my favorite things to do. Whether you show up to a friend's house with some treats, or give a goodie bag to a person with a medical condition, cannabis is beneficial for people in so many ways. Too many people don't understand it or have access to it, and that's really upsetting. I guess it's my personal mission to change that and give cannabis to the masses. Or I'd be a restaurant hostess.

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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