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Retailer launches CBD vending machines

Consumers can buy snacks, cosmetics and headphones from vending machines, so why not CBD? Loveland-based CBD retailer Plenty Wellness recently unveiled its automated retail channel for selling cannabidiol products, Plenty Wellness Express. The kiosk, which currently has one location at FlatIron Crossing shopping center in Broomfield, operates 24/7 and can be managed from anywhere with an internet connection.

“We foresaw the trend that traditional brick and mortar is not a long-term viable solution,” says Chris Cox, CEO of Plenty Wellness. “We had to find one that allowed us to actively compete in the retail space while reducing operational expenses and we really wanted to reach our customers where they already shop.”

Cox and CFO Dan Porter spent five years researching the vending and automated retail space to find the right hardware and software combination. They also worked on details such as machine placement, stocking and marketing. The kiosks are unstaffed, and shoppers order through a touchscreen.

The machines sell Plenty Wellness products as well as CBD products from other brands. While the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting temporary mall closure dampened sales, the company is optimistic about growth. The business model includes finding investors to install Plenty Wellness Express units in high-traffic locations such as shopping centers and airports. For another revenue generator, the kiosks also have 55-inch digital marketing screens available for advertising.

Cox and his wife, Rachel, own the store in Loveland. They launched Plenty Pharma, now called Plenty Wellness, after Chris suffered injuries from a car accident and found that CBD could help with pain management. Chris Cox and Dan Porter also own Automate IQ, which makes the hardware and software for the kiosks.

CBD is booming. According to Boulder-based BDS Analytics, U.S. sales of cannabis- and hemp-derived CBD products is predicted to increase from $1.9 billion in 2018 to $20 billion by 2024, a compound annual growth rate of 49%.

In the next 12 months, Plenty Wellness plans to have Express automated retail kiosks in 300 gyms, grocery stores, malls and other locations. “We can go where other retailers cannot,” Porter says. “We see a future where every consumer in the USA can access high quality wellness products through our kiosks at multiple stops along their daily commute.”

Launching a Business During a Pandemic

A few years ago, my family and I purchased a hemp farm in Boulder. It’s one of the original Colorado homesteads, fed by pristine water flowing from Rocky Mountain National Park. We knew this place had the power to really help people.

Driven by our desire to help everyone, from grandmothers to Gen Zers, find balance and harmony in their lives naturally, we worked for years to build our dream: a premium, full-spectrum CBD business founded on the mission of making hemp extract an everyday element of wellness, active lifestyles and sports recovery.

Then, on the eve of launching Miraflora, coronavirus hit America. All of our conversations with retail distributors ground to a halt. Our launch party was cancelled. Packaging suppliers were shut down and logistics became a challenge. To outsiders it may have seemed like the time to throw in the towel or at least delay our launch. But we didn’t, for three main reasons:

To start, many of the world’s greatest brands began during severe economic downturns. Disney launched at the beginning of the Great Depression. Google and PayPal grew to prominence amid the dot-com bust. Square, Pinterest and AirBnB launched during the Great Recession. Starting a business during a global crisis is not what anyone would choose, but it’s not impossible. While I am not comparing Miraflora to these brands, I believe our success will be defined by our grit, perseverance and dedication to the mission.

Secondly, the coronavirus pandemic exposed existing consumer needs and made them more acute. Needs that we could help with! Adults were more stressed, anxious and sleep deprived than ever as they navigated unprecedented changes to their personal and professional lives. Also, many Americans were doing everything they could to avoid going to the hospital, where patients with the covid-19 virus were being treated. We were confident our products derived from natural hemp flower extract (CBD) spoke directly to these needs: accessible, non-prescription, natural remedies to achieve relaxation, wellness and balance. And we knew we our products were differentiated versus other companies already in market due to our consistent and clean extraction methods.

Finally, we were able to quickly able to pivot our business to a 100% ecommerce model. This meant a few things: our website had to be perfect at launch. We invested heavily in getting the messaging, look, feel and platform just right. We also ramped up an intuitive and fast ecommerce functionality. And we shifted our retail sales focus to online promotions instead. To date, this shift has worked well, our website traffic has been consistently increasing 500% every month.

Our hope is that if we can touch people during this extraordinarily challenging time in their lives, they will reward us with their loyalty in the future. And as a businessman who has worked with global food and beverage brands, I know that the economy always ebbs and flows. Coronavirus is an historic ebb, to be sure, but part of the adventure of running a business is figuring out how to adapt to those fluctuations. If we can strive through this period of time, I am filled with hope for Miraflora’s future.

Christopher Wynne is the CEO of Miraflora, a premium, full-spectrum CBD wellness business based in Boulder. Chris has an impressive track record building consumer brands and ecommerce sales, including propelling Papa John’s in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to more than $100 million in online sales.