Inside California's leading pot chocolate factory - Kiva Confections
Cannabis infused mint irish cream chocolate mixes at Kiva. Through trial and error, Kiva learned cannabis oil complements flavors like mint, irish cream, and blackberry. Kiva has 25 different products at three potency levels.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
A worker pours melted, mixed chocolate into molds for hardening. The cannabis world's idea of "industrial" is the normal world's idea of artisanal.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
A worker transfers filled molds to racks in the 13,000 square-foot facility.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Kiva custom sources their chocolate 500 pounds at a time for flavor, texture, and mouth feel — with no waxes or fillers. "It has to have a silky smooth texture," Knoblich said.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
A worker moves racks of filled chocolate molds to the cooling room. Kiva started with a single mixer on a residential kitchen counter. "Chocolate is extremely scalable," Knoblich said.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
A worker prepares finished chocolate for the wrapping machine. Before the machine, Kiva was hand-wrapping.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Machine wrapping proved 100 times faster, Kiva found.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Packaged bars of Kiva 180mg blackberry dark chocolate bars at Kiva's chocolate factory on Friday, August 11, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
A worker pours finished Kiva chocolate covered espresso beans for packaging. "That's like gold that he's pouring out into these containers," Knoblich said.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
A worker inspects a handful of finished Kiva Terra bites in the panner. "Panning is seen as an art rather than a science," Knoblich said. "You're like forming a snow ball."PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Cleanliness protocols at Kiva include bug zappers, hair nets, beard nets, gloves, coats, hand-washing and HVAC scrubbers.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Kiva Terra Bites are hand-packaged by weight.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Every Friday, employees get free gift bags of misshapen Terra bites dubbed "terra-flops".PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Kiva workers get full benefits including medical, dental, and vision. Kiva picks up 90 percent of the cost.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Kiva employs 85 people. "We're pretty flat," Knoblich said of management layers. "Your company is your people."PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
"We're not a mom and pop business anymore," Knoblich said. "We've built a brand people trust."PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Kiva research and development staff experiment with new formulations. Kiva turns trim into cold water hash for its chocoalte, but also has ethanol and CO2 systems.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
A workers walks past massive bags of trim held for testing. Kiva tests for 280 different pesticides.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Knoblich and husband Scott Palmer — Kiva's CEO — with a bag of cannabis trim. Clean trim is difficult to source. "The product up north is littered with pesticides," she said.PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
Recreational legalization could mean a 400 to 700 percent increase in demand with a 30-day lead time. That's 60,00 units a day, I remind Knoblich. She covers her mouth and says, "Oh my god — I guess so."PHOTO: Liz Hafalia
It's the American dream: start a business in your home kitchen and grow it to become a leader in the Golden State.
Today, Kiva Confections co-founder Kristi Knoblich Palmer and husband Scott Palmer are living that dream. She says has 'pinch me' moments "like 150 times a day."
"I haven't slept in eight years," said Knoblich who studied photography at the now-closed Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara where she met her now-husband.
Founded in 2010 in Knoblich's childhood San Leandro home, the 85-employee Kiva now handcrafts 15,000 cannabis-infused chocolate units per day in their factory in Oakland, California to serve roughly 1,000 retail outlets across California. Kiva has also licensed its intellectual property to offshoot Kiva companies in Arizona, Nevada and Illinois.
With modern legal marijuana regulations, Kiva's journey cannot be replicated.
"It's both good and bad. It's unfortunate you need millions and millions [of dollars] to get started, but it's a good thing to get product safety standards and people operating above board," Knoblich said.
Growth has been so torrid, Kiva has run out of space. And due to high local taxes in Oakland, Kiva has also begun looking to relocate for recreational sales.