Q&A with The Flowr Corporation

Published on November 13, 2020 by David Wylie

An ad campaign for The Flowr Corporation by Zerotrillion has been described with colourful language.

Vinay Tolia, CEO of The Flowr Corporation, spoke with the oz. in a phone interview from Toronto, where the company is headquartered. Flowr’s production facilities are based in Kelowna.

This is Part 2 of our interview with Tolia, in which we discussed Flowr’s branding evolution, its expansion into other parts of the world, the necessity of its Toronto HQ, and whether drinks are in their future.

   • Part 1: ‘Right place, right time’ for Flowr

the oz. — We’ve wondered whether COVID-19 may cause cannabis companies to abandon their costly Toronto headquarters. What is the strategic advantage of having an HQ in the country’s biggest city and is it still worth it?

VT — Definitely it’s something we’ve thought about long and hard because having the headquarters here in Toronto has been a challenge just for communication. Ideally we’d all like to be in the same place. When we made the decision four years ago now, before I was even part of the company, it was really about two things: One, Ontario’s still the biggest market in the country; specifically the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is by far the biggest market in the country. If you are going to succeed here in Canada you have to have a presence here. Secondly, the talent. If you’re trying to get world-class financial, sales and marketing folks, it’s harder to do that in a smaller place. COVID is changing a lot of that, so we’re all questioning the value of having an expensive office in an expensive place in Toronto. We’ve not made any decisions one way or another. If we can shed some costs and potentially relocate some people to Kelowna and work remotely we are definitely open to it. I do think that’s going to be a trend we are going to be seeing in the not too distant future.

the oz. — The provincial government announced farm-gate cannabis in the future. What does that mean for Flowr in Kelowna?

VT — We still have to look into the legislation to see what we would qualify for… and given that it’s 2022 when they’re talking about it, frankly it’s not something we’ve spent a lot of time studying yet. (The Kelowna facility) is just north of the airport, and when you pull up to the campus there’s these rolling hills in the background. It’s a beautiful scene. We’ve always talked about how would it be an amazing marketing tool to use the beauty of the Okanagan to sell Flowr product and the Flowr culture. As soon as we get a little more clarity on what we are allowed to do, we will set up something so that people can buy product right from the facility, which also gives them the chance to buy the freshest product. We’re really excited about this.

the oz. — Marketing news site The Message has called your glossy photogenic ad-style “cannabis porn.” Can you talk about the direction you’re taking with branding?

VT — There hasn’t been clear messaging given by cannabis companies as to what their brand stands for. Especially given the difficulty in branding in a highly regulated market, you need to have a brand in place. Building a brand takes years. You can’t expect a company to build a loyal brand within a couple of years. It takes a long time. What we’re really trying to focus on is being different than some of the other companies. Our motto is “grown true” — and that’s grown from our BC roots and grown with precision. It’s BC craft product that’s grown consistent all the time. If those are the few things you can remember when you think of Flowr, I think we’ll be ahead of the pack. We’re really not trying to be everything to everyone. We just want to get across those key takeaways.

the oz. — What’s happening with Flowr’s international growth?

VT — We have a small facility in Australia where we’re sending dried flower from Kelowna. In Europe we have a large outdoor grow. It’s actually the largest licensed cultivation facility anywhere in Europe. We have the ability to grow lots of product in Europe. We had our first harvest there this year, and we’ll have some more next year. The European market is like Canada was six or seven years ago, just starting to open up. It’s medical only right now, but you can see there’s green shoots there and there’s lots of growth potential.

the oz. — One of your team members is Nicole Wolff and she has a background in Molson. Does that signal we’re going to be seeing drinks in the future from Flowr?

VT — Drinks are down the list for us. Our edge is to grow high-grade premium dried flower. If you’re talking about just extracting a molecule from the plant and putting it in a beverage, it doesn’t really matter under what conditions and how precisely the plant was grown. When we think about our 2.0 strategy, it’s really going to be focused on more products where the quality of the input affects the quality of the output. With beverage, the whole point of it is you want to make it so it doesn’t taste like much. We want to grow our products to accentuate the taste. So our 2.0 products will be more like live resin.

the oz. — What drew you personally to the cannabis industry?

VT — I grew up in the States. I started randomly investing in US cannabis companies back seven, eight years ago when I didn’t know anything about anything. We realized just how important that cultivation know-how and IP was and when we met the team up here that eventually founded Flowr, I was one of the seed investors—and we were just blown away by the depth and level of cannabis expertise. Almost three years ago now, I was tapped on the shoulder to come and run the company and take it public. For me it was a huge leap. I moved up here from New York. It’s been a wild ride but it has been incredibly rewarding. It’s been way more volatile than any of us thought, but I’m still a believer. It’s been a rocky ride for us too, we haven’t hit all of our benchmarks—but I still think that as we’re getting traction on BC Pink Kush, I see this as coming true that people want premium product. I think we have a chance to really build something special. The name is synonymous with quality.