“Natura offered a blank canvas to put weed in the jar and bring the brand to market with cannabis, and really touch the consumer differently,” said Seth Sznapstajler. As the Vice President of Product and Sales at Natura Life + Science, Sznapstajler is part of a dynamic leadership team taking the company to the very forefront of the cannabis industry. The world-class platform and distribution service that Natura offers allows it to bring iconic legacy brands such as Cookies and Alien Labs to market, while also creating new products and building relationships with retailers across the nation - and the globe.
Check out Honeysuckle's peek inside Natura's world-class facility in Sacramento, California:
Josh Schmidt, Natura’s Vice President of Business Development, has been in the cannabis space for over 20 years. A longtime friend of rapper and Cookies co-founder Berner, Schmidt himself is a veteran pioneer in the West Coast market. Schmidt was a vendor under Proposition 215, California’s Compassionate Care Act that made medical cannabis legal in the state in 1996. He also owned one of Los Angeles’s first licensed dispensaries, and has been a co-founder of several major cannabis companies in the manufacturing and distribution spaces. Now with Natura, Schmidt is finding new avenues for his signature innovation, including the development of Dee, a Thailand-inspired consumer brand, which will launch on January 21st along with the much-anticipated opening of Cookies Thailand.
Natura Life + Science Brings Legacy Cannabis Brands To New Markets
Schmidt and Sznapstajler took Honeysuckle on a behind-the-scenes tour of Natura’s state-of-the-art facility in Sacramento, California to explain how the magic happens and why the company is fulfilling such a unique need in the sector. Not surprisingly, it begins with the team’s deep connection to legacy operators.
“I’ve been in cannabis - smoking since I was twelve, but in business since I was twenty-one,” Schmidt reflected with a laugh. “I just started calling Berner, Berner, a year and a half to two years ago. He’s always been Gil to me; I’ve known Gil since I was twenty-one… A lot of the relationships that we have here [at Natura] come from those old days of medical.”
For Sznapstajler’s part, he worked for nearly a decade as an integral leader at Greenlane, one of the world’s largest and oldest third-party brand accelerator/distributors in cannabis, and one of the first ancillary companies to go public on NASDAQ. He established relationships with many of the top cultivators, manufacturers and retailers then emerging into the market. Natura, he believed, provided a distinctive opportunity to be a step beyond omnichannel distribution and emphasize the human element in the cannabis industry.
“The breadth of capability [is awesome],” he noted, “but I would say the most unique thing is the platform and what they decided to bring to market. I worked with a lot of MSOs [multi-state operators] in the past and a lot of them decided to build large facilities and come out with brands that consumers didn’t [connect with]. Cannabis provides depth. There’s an artist format to cannabis and consumers like being drawn to the dispensaries. [Natura’s] main investors wanted to create a blank canvas and a supply chain partner throughout for brands that existed and have clout and that people care about. Brands that people actually get attracted to come to the store to buy, win in the long term. The willingness to work with Fidel’s, Jelly Wizard, and others, bringing those to the market for the first time, most wouldn’t think to do that. But it’s legacy that people want.”
Which Cannabis Brands And Products Come Through Natura's Operations?
On Natura’s 12-acre campus, there’s plenty of land to create all manner of new packaging and products in conjunction with the legacy brands, as well as produce several in-house brands. 175,000 square feet for cultivation, 65,000 square feet for manufacturing, and a staff of 300 employees equates to what Schmidt deems “an amazing little ecosystem.” The facility constantly turns out a vast assortment of items in categories such as flower, pre-rolls, infused and painted pre-rolls, vapes, extracts, and concentrates; its edibles kitchen makes almost any type of consumable good one could imagine, including chocolates, gummies, lollipops and hard candies.
When asked to identify their biggest sellers, Schmidt and Sznapstajler kept up a laundry list of names: Biscotti, Fidel’s, Jelly Wizard, Alien Labs, Cookies, and so on. Natura’s original brands have been major hits too, like the triple-infused pre-roll line Slugger’s. The most attention-grabbing brand at the moment is Dee, which Schmidt conceptualized based on his years of organizing events in Thailand. Dee’s products are all based on the flavors of Thai fruit markets, and they will be available this weekend when Cookies Thailand launches.
Natura and Cookies Thailand
In June 2022, Thailand became the third country in the world to decriminalize cannabis on a national level, following Uruguay and Canada. The government has been issuing ad hoc regulations to set up an eventual legal cannabis market, which the Cookies brand has wholeheartedly embraced. Schmidt will be accompanying his old friend Berner to the grand opening of Cookies Thailand, the company’s first store in Asia, on January 21st.
“To see our 1st store in Asia speaks volumes of what 2023 will look like for us,” Berner posted on Instagram in advance of the launch. “Shout out to the whole team at Cookies. And shout out to the team on the ground in Thailand. This is beautiful.”
Natura Builds Inclusivity in the Cannabis Industry
Where Schmidt and Sznapstajler are concerned, this all just helps to validate Natura’s approach to constructing supply chains and channels across the planet. “Natura is somewhat like Switzerland in that they were willing to work with legacy brands and bring them to market, and work with some licensing deal brands that have unique products and bring those to market,” Sznapstajler described. “Being able to work with the dispensaries directly and building more of a private label offering where they can have their own products and their own brand and create some differentiation from the other dispensaries around them. Being able to create brands of our own that have depth and meaning. We got to play with everyone without having to block anybody out. Cannabis is a very inclusive industry. We like to try to work with everybody as opposed to just being on a mission on our own.”
To that end, Natura is planning to implement more social equity collaborations into its offerings as well as its legacy partnerships. Look out for a Sluggers project coming soon with GasHouse, a Black-owned Oakland-based brand that’s known for its multi Cannabis Cup-winning products, its signature Pluto strain (a favorite of the hip hop community), and its mentorship of local BIPOC cultivators and entrepreneurs.
Lest one assume that Natura is akin to an MSO, Schmidt quickly dispelled the notion. “A lot of [MSOs] are publicly traded and raising stock shareholder money,” he observed. “We’re private. It’s different when you get to talk to a couple of people [versus] thousands and thousands of investors.”
“MSOs wanted to come to California and thought it would equate to nationwide success of their own brands,” Sznapstajler added. “Natura saw things very differently and thought, ‘Why don’t I start manufacturing some items for Cookies and Alien Labs? Why don’t I work with the delivery services and build that Kirkland type model where they’re making their products?’ And when we start making a couple unique and special form factor brands of our own, we’re going to have these relationships that are vertically integrated, and we’re going to be partners with them beyond our own brand. We do manufacturing directly with all these people, so we gain that great relationship. They’re making money off of products that we’re already doing with them, within their own brand, and we’re also going to do unique things that fill their shelves.”
What's Next For Natura?
The beauty of Natura, like its name, is that its business model embraces holistic thinking and the communal mentality of the cannabis industry’s pioneer days. For Schmidt, the vision of the future takes him right back to his roots. Remembering his first days at the Cannabis Cups in Amsterdam while in his early twenties, he recalled that so many cultivators and innovators had to leave the U.S. for the Netherlands to engage with the plant. But as the American cannabis industry is maturing, more of those experts are returning to the country. Not only that, but the very icons Schmidt fanboyed over at the start of his career are now treating him like a VIP.
“These [opportunities] are like manifestations,” Schmidt asserts. “They’re manifestations of meeting the right people and becoming part of a network and doing things for the greater good of the plant. At the end of the day, we dedicate everything to the plant. Everyone’s got their own interpretation of what they want to do with [cannabis], what the plant does for them, where it came from for them. And it’s nice to see all the different parts of the world now be able to have a voice. Now we’re going to see amazing things from all over the world. It’s a beautiful thing.”
As long as there are people like Schmidt, Sznapstajler and their teammates to guide that vision, we can hope to have a cannabis community that works all together again, Natura-lly.
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Featured image: Seth Sznapstajler, VP of Product and Sales, and Josh Schmidt, VP of Business Development, discuss the mission of Natura Life + Science (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture