Nikki Kujawski, Brand Leader at Ripple, on Marketing Hurdles and Food Pairings in Cannabis

Plus, a recent artful packaging project

Nikki Kujawski is the senior brand manager for Ripple by Stillwater Brands, an expanding line of dissolvable cannabinoid products. Nikki develops consumer research-driven marketing initiatives, establishes long-term goals for media outreach and elevating brand awareness, oversees campaign execution, and ensures all product lines feature cohesive messaging that aligns with company values.

Nikki's management role encompasses Ripple's original calorie-free, flavorless cannabinoid powder packets that consumers can add to any hot or cold food or beverage, Gummy Supplements and QuickSticks that are designed to be ingested on their own. Since 2016, she has helped steer Ripple's growth in both the THC and CBD product sectors, elevating the brand into a top category sales leader in Colorado's adult-use market. 

Previously, Nikki managed a video production company in New York City that developed content for media outlets and national brands including Food Network, Unilever, Tabasco and Bon Appetit. When she's not at work, you'll find her outside. She loves camping and exploring nature trails with her partner and their two dogs.

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


Nikki, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and I currently live in Denver. I spent about seven years in New York City before moving out to Denver, and I haven't looked back. 

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

I am the senior brand manager at Stillwater Brands, makers of Ripple, and I spearhead our marketing initiatives. We are based in Commerce City, right outside of Denver.

Your earliest cannabis memory.

I consumed cannabis for the first time with a friend out of a homemade orange-juice-container bong. We've come a long way in the world of cannabis. In Colorado, my first dispensary experience was in Aspen, and I couldn't believe it was real.

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

I use cannabis for relaxation. As a very high-intensity person, it can be a challenge to turn off my "work brain" at the end of the day—to hang out, relax, or even sleep. Since making the move to Denver, I have really focused on managing my body and giving it what it needs. Cannabis has been instrumental in helping me take the time that I need.

A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.

I'm a big fan of flower, and right now I am really into the strain Green Crack. I personally enjoy smoking flower because I feel the effects immediately and can manage my dose well from years of learning and journaling. When discretion is advised or I am unable to smoke, I will always turn to Ripple to get that same quick onset. I like using forms of cannabis that I feel confident I can control. 

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

We are still in a world where regulation is holding back our ability to really market, in the traditional sense. Unfortunately, we are still working on large-scale cannabis education and how it should be treated in a legalized setting. I am constantly inspired by my colleagues in the marketing space and the new things that are coming to light.

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

I am really excited about the regulation clarification between advertising and branding that occurred at the beginning of 2020. This has allowed cannabis companies to explore so many more marketing tactics and strategies. I am always proud to see one of the many cannabis billboards around the Denver area as I drive by; it means we are making progress on better education and breaking the stigma.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

I am a huge fan of the team over at Kind Colorado, Kelly and Courtney. They are absolute warriors and some incredible women doing really important work in the industry. They have done some really incredible projects with cannabis companies in addition to fully launching corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in some large companies. They continue to be pioneers and leaders in the space, and they're also just amazing humans.

A recent project you're proud of.

Ripple recently partnered with local artist Tony Ortega to create unique Día de los Muertos limited-edition labels to raise money for arts education. We donated 5 percent of sales to RedLine Contemporary Arts Center, a nonprofit that fosters education and engagement between artists and communities to create positive social change. Ripple has been one of the first companies to execute such distinctive limited-edition labels, and I am thrilled that this partnership turned out the way it did.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I have really loved the work that Lightshade Dispensaries has done within their CSR program. The team has created a robust program that includes their employees as well as their partners' teams. The program has been incredibly influential in their communities, and they have chosen specific nonprofit partnerships that really speak to the values of the organization. I would love to see more cannabis companies speaking about the wonderful work they are doing in their communities.

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

Keith Woelfel, director of research development at Caliper Foods, is someone I greatly admire for his innovation and absolute genius in the R&D space. Coming from the Mars candy company, he has a mind unlike many others and has pushed the boundaries with near-constant innovation. He has been able to create truly superior water-soluble cannabinoids, which in itself is such a feat, but then he has continued to improve and develop new products. I love seeing folks like him who are coming from huge companies and can finally get their hands dirty in this space. The brilliance that comes out of it is a joy to watch. 

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

My favorite food/cannabis pairing is "Ripple Pho." Especially when it's cold out—sprinkling in some Ripple to infuse your pho is just dynamite. The Vietnamese food scene here in Denver is really fantastic, and I have certainly taken advantage of eating my fair share of it. The combination of fast-acting cannabis with the warm broth and delicious noodles of a good pho is everything. 

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

Prior to the cannabis industry, I worked in food media at a small boutique production company and studio space in Manhattan's Lower East Side. If I weren't in the cannabis industry, I would likely have stayed in the food media industry, as food is absolutely my passion. I studied media and food studies in college, and I had some amazing experiences on projects working with chefs and more traditional consumer packaged goods (CPG) food companies. The great thing is that I am still in the food industry. Ripple is a functional food cannabis company, and our commitment to food safety and manufacturing practices is unparalleled.

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.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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