After receiving its licence from Health Canada, Meridian 125 W Cultivation is now in the throes of cultivating cannabis.
Joe de la Plante, vice president, operations and marketing, said the company, with its plant in the old mill office in Townsite, received its licence mid-February, which switched the company from construction phase to a cultivation stage. There are now plants growing at the Meridian 125 W operation.
de la Plante said it takes upwards of 14 weeks from the time seeds are planted to the time the grower is able to sell the product, which means a period of no revenue.
“Once we have a finished product, that’s when the sales cycle begins,” said de la Plante. “You can look at four, five to six months from the start without any revenue. Our company is in a great position because we don’t have any debt on our balance sheet, so we are well-funded, we are well-managed, and we keep a tight rein on our finances.
“Essentially, what we are trying to do is commission our facility. A lot of work was done before Meridian took it over. For better or worse, we have to take what they have done and finish it the way we want for maximum efficiency.”
de la Plante said there is now the opportunity to grow test crops, to not necessarily commercialize them, but to learn about both the plants and the facility. He said Meridian is taking a four-phase approach to the business, and right now the company is in the first phase, which is commissioning. Phase two is research and development, looking at all the different plants and what Meridian is able to commercialize. The company is also a little bit into phase two.
Phase three is getting products out into the market, having a brand and being able to sell to dispensaries or wholesalers.
“There’s a great community of dispensaries here in Powell River,” said de la Plante. “We are initially going to focus on the local community, so in Powell River, Texada Island and northern Vancouver Island. That’s where we will start to build our community and reputation.”
In phase four, the company will broaden its distribution provincially and having a national brand is ultimately the end goal, according to de la Plante, supplying the market with a special product.
“We want to build a great relationship with our customers and consumers and have an amazing product that everybody knows and loves,” said de la Plante. “We’re here to create an incredible product, because if you have a great product, everything else falls into place.
In terms of succeeding and thriving in the marketplace, from a commercial perspective, potency is a major factor, according to de la Plante.
“The market is looking for high-potency products,” he said. “From a consumer perspective, they care about how it looks, how it tastes, how it smells. They love that bag appeal perspective. Then, when they are smoking it, is it a smooth smoke, does it taste good? The third consumer touchpoint is the effect, so how does it make you feel after you’ve consumed it.”
de la Plante said from research he’s done, effect is the primary reason a consumer is going to seek out a product.
“Everything we do is grounded in those four elements of quality,” said de la Plante. “In order to ensure we’re getting those qualities, we have to put a lot of systems in place. Being an indoor grower is part of that because we can control our environments.
“Within this facility we have put a large investment into automation. All our controls, from lighting, the HVAC and humidity, all those are controlled automatically through a proprietary digital system we’ve built for the facility. The main goal is to ensure the plants are getting everything they need. The second part is for efficiency.”
de la Plante said these measures are not designed to grow cannabis with the least amount of people.
“We want to ensure the team we hire is using their time effectively,” said de la Plante. “We plan to grow the team well beyond what it is right now. When we bring people in, we don’t want people necessarily walking around with watering cans, we want them to do things that are productive for their time and to really keep an eye on the plants rather than maintaining them.
“We want to work to ensure everything coming out of our plant hits our high standards.”
de la Plante said marketing and branding will be a huge component of being successful.
“We want to build a portfolio of brands that allow us to build a reputation with customers,” he added. “It allows us to have multiple different products. It’s a big project. It’s not as easy as designing a logo and putting it on a package.
“When we introduce ourselves to our consumers, we want them to know who we are, so we can build a relationship with them. In order to have the foundation to build a solid brand and the relationships with our consumers, we need to make sure the operations side of things is really tight. We take it very seriously and that’s why we are not rushing.”
In terms of staffing at the facility, when it is up and running at capacity, de la Plante estimates there will be roughly 30 full-time employees and from 10 to 20 casual workers, who will be working on the cultivation side of the operation. There are currently 10 staff members at Meridian 125 W.
“Not every day will we need people trimming or defoliating, so we look to build our full-time core team and our cultivation team will scale up and down as needed,” said de la Plante.
The cannabis facility is operating currently at about 30 per cent capacity and will gradually scale up. de la Plante said the first objective will be to sell the product wholesale. He said there are a number of companies that don’t grow their own product, purchase from growers such as Meridian 125 W, and sell the cannabis under their own brand.
“Until we are able to take the time to build a proper brand and make sure it is going to resonate and connect with our consumers, we are going to drive some of our revenues through wholesale sales,” said de la Plante. “We will have products in markets sooner than next year.
“Once we’re dialed in and feeling really confident with both our brands and our facility, that’s when we’ll launch our own brands to diversify and build relationships with our consumers.
“We’re building roots in Powell River. It’s really about grounding ourselves, growing with the community, and having the community grow with us. Powell River is a very special place.”