Brands to Watch: Vertical’s Alien Era
2021 was an exciting year for cannabis nationally, but in Missouri 2021 was the first year of being fully open for business for the state’s medical marijuana industry. With more opportunity and expansion, operators and brands are growing bigger than ever. With that in mind, Greenway has put together a list of the Brands to Watch for 2022. From homegrown talent and design to out-of-state players looking to make a big impact, these are the brands to know in 2022.
While many of Missouri’s marijuana companies struggled at times against a backdrop of fluctuation as definitions and rules, especially packaging requirements, created cumbersome and costly solutions to define regulations, one company found opportunity in chaos when embracing change.
Vertical embraced the new packaging guidance, going above and beyond the state’s requirements, wrapping the world MARIJUANA in bold print around the package in its entirety. The move made Vertical’s products stand out and created an intrinsic value for dispensaries to stack multiple Vertical products together on shelves to showcase the packaging in full view.
Vertical, in many ways, has been one of Missouri marijuana’s best-kept secrets. A company that operates on a smaller scale than some of the state’s larger operators, Vertical has found a niche in a crowded market. In addition to the company’s unique dispensary brand and state-of-the-art facility, Vertical has crafted some of the state’s most sought-after products from a cultivation facility whose brand is based on a boutique approach and high-end exotics. The company’s list of cultivars and genetics and its approach to R&D and creation has birthed Alien Era, a subset brand that gives Missouri’s patients a peek into the development, lineage, and dedication that have made Vertical unique.
Greenway recently spoke to Vertical CEO, Christopher McHugh, about how the company is embracing marijuana and bringing craft cannabis to the Missouri medical market.
“The idea with Alien Era is to release our R&D strains, our pheno hunts, to the public so that they can get a taste for what we’re experimenting with in our grow,” McHugh told Greenway. “Once those get into production they become Vertical strains and we introduce new Alien Era strains.”
The process gives Missouri patients an opportunity to explore new and unique profiles, some of which won’t be replicated or appear again in the future, as not every cultivar fits the bill for commercial viability. “There’s a lot that goes into picking a production strain, it’s not just ‘Do people like it?’ or ‘Does it test well?”
“It has to taste good, it has to smell good, it has to yield, it has to be a strain that grows well in an industrial or commercial setting – not all of them make it, we have some pretty popular Alien Era strains that we don’t put into production, just because it doesn’t make economic sense,” McHugh explained.
Vertical has built a robust seed bank of genetics of nationally recognized strains to pull from and experiment with.
“Those strains we call Alien Era are always going to be limited drop strains because they’re what we are experimenting with.”
Alien Era finds its name from Vertical’s Cultivation Director, Ivan Cartagena, a man they call “The Alien.” The branding pays homage to Cartagena and his skill, while also communicating the idea of “new, different, otherworldly, genetics,” McHugh explained.
“This is the cutting edge of genetics that you’re going to see nationwide, there’s nothing better out there right now than Alien Era, no matter where you go,” McHugh said.
“Frankly, you’ll have a hard time finding the strains or genetics we have in the Alien Era brand in Colorado or California, you’re not going to find them in Oklahoma.”
How do you build off of an identity that’s based off of constant change?
“Easy, we keep experimenting with new strains. I think that’s vital to a company like ours. We have to constantly be bringing new strains to the market, because there are breeders out there who are constantly coming out with new and better strains. Our seed bank and breeding program allow us to keep changing. We sell a lot of Apple fritter, we’re not going to grow Apple Fritter forever. We are constantly pheno hunting and growing from seeds in our seed bank and breeding so that we can bring these new, better genetics to the public.”
What can we expect to see from Alien Era in 2022?
“We managed to get ahold of Compound Genetics Apples and Bananas drop, which includes 40 some odd different genetics, we’re excited about that. Beyond that, there’s always something we’re playing with. Earlier this year we dropped Lemon Shiv, Scotty’s Cake, and LA Kush Cake. We’ve been experimenting with some Masonic Seed Company stuff, I think people know that Masonic specializes in strains that are for washing, hash, hash rosin – but we feel like the hash rosin market is very important to Missouri and we want to be a part of it. We think masonic seed and that group do that very well.”
How do Alien Era and Vertical stay competitive in a crowded market?
“I don’t see it as crowded, and I don’t want to sound flippant, but we’re not really in the same market as Illicit and Flora. There’s a lot of what I would call ‘mids’ out there, and we’re not in that game. We sell premium flower. We sell premium genetics, there’s actually a shortage of that in Missouri.”
“I’m not saying we’re better than anybody else, we’re just kind of in a different business. We see things differently.”
“We’re never going to produce as much marijuana as Illicit will – it’s just not our game, we only have 10,000 square feet of flowering canopy and we’re a craft business. We don’t want to be the equivalent of Ford or Chevy, we’re more like Ferrari. We pay a lot of attention to each plant.”
For McHugh and Vertical, the focus has never been on mass production, the company’s approach has always been to create flower that stands apart in Missouri and the country.
“We want to make sure people are impressed by the marijuana they get from us, this is not a value product. We try to sell it at a good price but we spend a lot of time, skill, attention, and money on making sure this is the best cannabis in Missouri, and frankly some of the best cannabis in the nation. I don’t know how to put that in a way that sounds more humble.”