Raising the Bar: The Sweet Saga of Kiva Confections

Co-Founder Kristi Knoblich Palmer shares how her company became one of California’s most popular edible brands.

When it comes to cannabis, Kiva Confections co-founder and COO Kristi Knoblich Palmer approaches the subject with infectious enthusiasm. She frequently uses adjectives like “amazing” and “awesome,” imbuing her words with a sincere excitement that reflects the passion she has not only for her own brand of edibles, but the larger industry.

Founded in 2010 by Knoblich Palmer and her husband, Scott, Kiva Confections has established itself as one of the more popular edible brands in California. There was a time when having a ring of worn fabric on your jeans meant you likely chewed tobacco; now the smart money is on the shape a tin of Kiva Terra Bites creates. Available as either espresso beans or blueberries coated in THC-infused chocolate, Terra Bites were an early adopter of the current cannabis trend that prioritizes controlled-dosing over maximum potency.

“At the time we started Kiva, edibles were just extremely unprofessional,” Knoblich Palmer explains. “They didn’t give consumers the information that they needed to make a responsible choice.”

With Kiva Confections, Knoblich Palmer set out to raise the bar — by making one out of chocolate. While the design of Kiva Bars — rectangles of chocolate evenly separated into 20 pieces — may be commonplace today, at the time, Kiva’s inaugural product was a change of pace from edibles that were packed to the gills with THC. From there, the Bay Area company methodically branched out further, an approach that has led to eight varieties of bars, two types of matcha-blended mints, and their ever-popular Terra Bites.

Before Kiva became a household name, Knoblich Palmer and her husband were growing cannabis to cope with an economy in shambles. Having met at school and moved home to the Bay Area to pursue careers in photography, the pair realized they’d need a new source of income following the market crash of 2008.

“We did what every starving-artist couple does,” Knoblich Palmer says. “We started growing weed in our backyard to make ends meet. It seemed like a logical thing to do at the time. When you’re young and you’re in your 20s and trying to make money and find your place in the world, the risk component isn’t really something that you can measure. You think you can do anything, which was really a blessing for us at the time because it got us into the market.”

An Oakland company, Kiva was in the industry long before recreational use was legalized for California, which led to their role as an advocate in shaping policy and regulation surrounding cannabis manufacturing. Knoblich Palmer currently sits on the board of the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association and suggests that one of her chief goals is to help educate regulators about the nuances of the cannabis industry.

“They know as much about cannabis as we know about the government,” she says, “so we spend a lot of time giving feedback to regulators and advocating on behalf of small and large operators alike. It’s something that I’m extremely passionate about.”

At present, Knoblich Palmer is also focused on Kiva’s recently launched new foray into the world of gummies.

Available in four blends, Kiva’s Camino line is a departure from edibles that emphasize the infused THC’s roots as either a sativa or indica-dominant strain, and instead highlight the more complex and diverse terpene profiles that give each flavor a unique effect. From the “chill” feelings of Wild Berry to the “uplifting” sensation of Camino’s Pineapple Habanero, Knoblich Palmer hopes Kiva’s latest creation will speak to canna-curious consumers who are still hesitant to try an edible over fears of taking too big of a dose.

The Camino line also introduces Kiva’s first CBD-forward product, a Sparkling Pear Prosecco gummy with a three-to-one ratio of CBD-to-THC. With this newest gambit and continued strong sales, it seems that Kiva’s status as one of the preeminent edibles manufacturers in the state is safe and secure.

As to why the cannabis industry seems to offer more chances for women and minorities to start, own, and lead their own businesses when compared with neighboring sectors like Silicon Valley, Knoblich Palmer points back to the nature of the cannabis market itself.

“I think that part of the reason is because our industry is getting started at a time when our society is beginning to push back against these old-school ways of thinking,” she says. “I also think that by its very nature, the cannabis industry represents going against the grain, so it’s supportive of folks that believe in that.”

While certainly not without its flaws, it’s clear that for Knoblich Palmer, the faults of the industry are vastly outweighed by its promise and potential. As Kiva continues to expand its reach on the edibles market, the company’s COO notes that their biggest challenge may simply be ensuring they don’t bite off more than they can chew.

“The cannabis industry is like a tiny seedling,” she says, “The growth potential feels infinite right now, which is amazing, but also a little daunting. In the cannabis business right now, the joke is that the ability to say ‘no’ is how you grow your company. There are so many different opportunities to chase after that you may end up doing a hundred different things mediocrely rather than doing one thing amazingly well.”