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A tale of two factories: World Class Extractions (PUMP.C) and Naturally Splendid (NSP.V) might surprise you

12/05/2019

Over the last month I’ve left the happy confines of Casa Guru a few times and headed out to the suburbs to catch up with old friends. Both trips turned out to be surprising and interesting experiences with a similar message; “The market doesn’t see us, but we’re doing the work and quietly confident we’re at the start of something great.”

The companies making their case were World Class Extractions (PUMP.C) and Naturally Splendid (NSP.V), neither of which would be understating it in claiming the market has passed them over.

WCE took me out to their extractor factory in BC’s Lower Mainland, as part of a touring group of investors. I’m not an investor in that company deliberately but was an early investor in Quadron Cannatech, which WCE consumed this year in an acquisition.

That union was not necessarily a natural one to the casual observer. Rosy Mondin, CEO of Quadron, is an industry expert in hot demand, from legislators looking for information on how to update cannabis laws, to activists eager for her legal assessment of the current landscape, to cannabis companies in their early days of the extraction journey, looking for expert advice on how, where, when, if…

World Class Extractions, in contrast, was a giant pump that made a lot of early guys money and came with a ticker symbol that was ballsy if now regrettable.

Bringing those two parties together, it turns out, actually makes sense if what you’re trying to do is, belatedly, make PUMP a real grown up company and not just a market play.

“People need to look past the ticker symbol,” Mondin tells me. “It’s literally the least important part of the company, and if I spent time and energy changing it, that’s time and energy I wouldn’t be spending on any of 600 other more important tasks on my list right now.”

Fair.

“At Quadron, we were executing on our plan but it came slowly, because we were a smaller company,” she explains. “As part of the larger group, we can really accelerate things and scale quicker so the acquisition made sense to us.”

It’s no secret that FSD Pharma (HUGE.C) and  Cannara Biotech (LOVE.C) came from the same team. They all get lumped together as a result.

“There’s plenty to like in what HUGE has, but it doesn’t get any credit, just like World Class, because of how these companies came to market,” says Mondin. “WCE had finance and innovation, and Quadron had innovation and know-how. By merging, both companies become a better group. I’m here to execute a real plan. I told them it wasn’t going to happen overnight and that I was going to do things the right way, and to their credit, they said that’s what they wanted.”

Mondin’s team is  building out BOSS extraction units for sale, and BEAST extraction units for her own company’s use. What once was a business model aiming at putting one of their machines in every LP is now a company aiming to take all the cheap weed those companies would like extracted, and doing it themselves, in a return for a piece of the action.

In short, why make money once on an equipment sale when you can make money always being a service provider using equipment that can handle unprecedented scale?

The Boss is a turnkey (at least in extraction terms) solution for companies that want to work faster, cheaper, cleaner, and with less human bodies making it all happen.

The Beast is the next level version of that, designed to handle truckloads of feedstock instead of bags full of feedstock.

There are plans beyond those to build a facility that can take anyone’s hemp or cannabis, extract it quickly, and even clean up extraction materials that are low quality or dirty. That’s a novel play, especially at a time when lots of hemp producers have struggled to make good use of their crop, or even bring it in efficiently.

48North (NRTH.V) came in with a lot of unusable weed on their outdoor grow recently, despite assuring investors that it was looking graeat. Eureka93 (ERKA.C) wrote off an entire crop before the company faceplanted into the sewer and was devoured by alligators. CROP Infrastructure (CROP.C) had a rough time of their hemp harvest, with weeds and deer adding to their financial troubles.

Even those who are doing well with their growing need some assistance on the extraction side. Micro-cap Gaia Grow (GAIA.C) has not had problems with its hemp crop, beyond an early wet seasons forcing them to bring in the harvest early, and are crowing about their ability to not suck ass as a grower.

Gaia’s management team is excited to report that, per its original plans and overall expectations, the test results received from multiple labs have come back with the most positive results:

  • Cannabinoid potency — within the upper percentiles of the limits of X59 genetics;
  • Microbiology — pass;
  • Pesticides (full Health Canada required spectrum) — pass;
  • Heavy metals — pass; the soil reports completed by Gaia’s agronomy partner at the start of the year before planting reflected that there was no presence of heavy metals, so there was no expectation or possibility of heavy metals of being leached into the plants; an independent lab test confirming this has been obtained as well.

What’s interesting, from the perspective of World Class, is what happens next; Gaia needs someone to extract that hemp for them, or take it off their hands, as do a lot of other companies that find themselves in the same boat. For WCE, it’s a target rich environment.

As of early November, samples of the dried hemp product have been circulated to a variety of existing processors and a soon-to-be-operational cultivator (with processing ability) with the intent of continuing sales discussions that have been developing since earlier this year.

If you believe Gaia isn’t alone in those needs (and I do), World Class Extraction just needs to execute on building out their facility and show themselves as the solution and they can start ding deals with a lot of growers.

Here’s what I saw on the manufacturing side when I visited.

The BOSS is a nice entry level machine that produces faster, cleaner, and better than the competition.

 

Close-up of the BOSS display screen and software layout.

 

And there’s more BOSS’ on the way.

A lot of the time, investors are asked to imagine the size of an enterprise from words they read about in news releases rather than something they can actually see.

“A million square feet of cannabis grow!”

“2 million lbs of ore!”

“70,000 kilograms of weed!”

Those kinds of numbers and claims are all very ethereal.

In the case of World Class Extractions, people are asked to visualize a massive weed extraction unit that can handle tonnes of product, and that’s not an easy thing for the layman to do. But these pictures, that assembly line, and the following monstrous Transformer of steel and electronics that is THE BEAST takes you right there.

The Beast is legit. It’s not a design, not a mockup, not even a prototype. It’s a genuinely large piece of machinery that does what other, smaller competitor machinery can’t.

 

The BEAST is not a misnomer.

 

To get to this point, WCE decided not to reinvent the wheel, but rather co-opt existing farm grade machinery that is usually put to use for other purposes, but that could be adjusted, reworked, and reassembled for optimal cannabis industry use, as well as purchased ‘off the shelf’ rather than machined on demand, to keep prices low.

They’ll sell you one, but it won’t be cheap. That’s by design, because they’d much rather bring you one of their own, operate it for you under your existing license, and share the spoils.

“We’re establishing strategic relationships with LPs, under the license that an LP will already have, so we can de-risk our own operation,” says Mondin. “That way we don’t have to lay in wait for a license to be granted and build the sort of facility you need to build to get a license, and spend the money that has to be spent in support of that. Instead we partner up with those who have one.”

WCE lost $4m in the last quarter as it continues to build out and had $13m sitting in the bank, giving it another three quarters of runway at the current burn rate, assuming absolutely nothing changes on the revenue front.

That seems unlikely.

  • Entered into an agreement with FV Pharma Inc. to establish a joint venture to develop, manage and operate a large capacity extraction and processing facility for cannabis and hemp in Cobourg, Ont.
  • The facility will be deployed in multiple phases to satisfy the increasing market demand as the legal recreational market for cannabis extracts and extract-based products rapidly approaches.
  • During the initial phase, World Class, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Soma Labs Scientific Inc., will deploy several Boss CO2 extraction systems as well as the Beast ethanol extraction system, along with all the ancillary equipment required for the preparation of the biomass, as well as refining and distillation processes.
  • As part of the joint venture, FV Pharma Inc. will provide its standard processing licence under the Cannabis Act (Canada), which it received in February, 2019.
  • With ample room to expand, the facility will initially have an extraction and processing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds of biomass per day. As market demand increases, additional equipment will be deployed by the joint venture to accommodate the extraction and processing of up to 75,000 pounds per day.

That’s the home fires burning nicely. As for playing away:

World Class Extractions Inc. has signed a binding letter of intent (LOI) to establish a joint venture with Canntab Therapeutics Ltd. to set up, manage and operate a cannabis and hemp extraction and processing facility at Canntab’s manufacturing centre in Markham, Ont.

World Class and Canntab will each hold a 50-per-cent interest in the joint venture. The joint venture will generate revenue from extraction and processing of cannabis and hemp through its biomass extraction and processing services for third party licence holders (toll processing).

Look, it’s easy to just write a company off for its past. You can look at Namaste Technologies (N.C) and trash it for once having a fraudulent CEO, but you’d be overlooking the $69m it’s sitting on, that having been raised at the peak of its pumpage.

And you can look at the dumb moves of Canada House Wellness (CHV.C), which decided to rollback stock by a silly amount recently and went from a $0.05 stock to a $0.015 stock in doing so, with sellers overlooking that the move had taken the company to an obviously nutty $2m market cap.

Naysayers dismiss PUMP because, well, the fucking ticker symbol is PUMP, but ignore the fact a real industry go-to is now at the helm, that they’re sitting on a lump of dough, that they have real tech in a really important sub-sector of the market, and that even if they just utilize the facilities at sister companies HUGE and LOVE, they can ramp up revenues in multiple and real ways.

Mondin knows she’s doing business under the shadow of what came before her, but nobody could look more confident about the challenge that lays ahead.

“We’re just doing the work, man,” she says. “I’m not going to run a promo campaign that makes grand promises or get into Twitter wars with trolls or fight folks who want to sell us cheap. Let them say what they want, sell what they want, that’s fine. We have some really smart long term investors here who can see we’re actually building something good, without blowing the bank, without getting stuck in business models that can never be profitable, and we’re just going to let people be surprised along the way.”

NATURALLY SPLENDID shares a lot of the same kind of story. Back five years ago, when the cannabis market was just getting kicked about as a thing maybe, they were already in business making hemp omega protein powder.

Back then, NSP could have run by multiples if it just said, “Yes, we’re going to be a weed company too.”

It would have been a lie, but it was the sort of lie others were being well paid to tell.

Instead, NSP went the other way, and focused on consumer products.

That’s hurt them for half a decade now, as they missed the big bubble, but not its pop.

“It’s the ultimate irony,” says CEO Craig Goodwin, who had previously stepped out to let a more experienced consumer goods hand take the wheel, only to have to step back in after the company treasury had been run almost dry.

“We chose a hard business,” says Goodwin. “Getting a product on shelves is not easy at all, and that’s something a lot of weed companies are learning. We learned it with protein powders, back when everyone else was chasing weed licenses and still five years from being allowed to sell anything.”

Goodwin appreciates the lessons that have been learned in the time since, though there’s little doubt he would have loved to have gone on one of those $100m runs the cannabis crowd enjoyed.

“But we’re still here and really now hitting our stride, and a lot of those guys aren’t, or won’t be around for much longer. We said we were building a business, and we have.”

I haven’t looked at NSP for some four years, other than to note their straining share price. The last time I really poked my nose into their business, they’d just bought a big food processing plant on the prairies, helping a public research and product development body turn private. Or trying to, anyway.

“We tried. We really did,” he says. “Ultimately you have to be able to step back and see when it’s not going to work out, and we did. Where we are now was where we should have been at the start.”

Where Naturally Splendid is now is, a fat production facility churning out mushroom bars, protein bars, Keto bars, peanut butter bites, sport snacks, all for both their own brands and a litany of well established companies who you’d totally recognize if they were allowed to reveal they’re manufacturing for those companies.

“Man, if we could drop names,” he says, shaking his head. “The people out there who put crap on us on the messageboards, if you could look in their kitchen pantry, I’d be laughing… ‘That’s ours and that’s ours and…’ but all you can say is, ‘a national restaurant brand’.. or ‘a recognizable grocery supplier.'”

There’ll be people out there who will laugh at this, and claim it’s bullshit. I would have been one of them, until I walked through the company’s warehouse and say pallets of finished, packaged products ready for shipping, and who they’re shipping to.

Top tip: NSP is doing serious deals.

Here’s the factory floor:

Lots of activity, lots of people, and pharma grade hygiene.
The production line is flexible and can be used to create any sort of bite, bar, powder or otherwise. A food technologist kitchen provides formulations built to suit the client’s needs.

 

The warehouse: If you look closely, you’d see a bunch of brands you’re not supposed to know about. Thankfully, my photography is blurry enough to make that impossible, bar the NSP-owned Natera products front and center.

NSP isn’t averse to running its own IP. Pawsitive FX is their pet formulation, Natera Sport and FX are protein products, Woods Wild Bar is a mushroom based bar for folks who like their mushrooms less psychedelic than I, Elevate Me is attacking the Naked bar market, and Chii is their longtime hemp product sideline. A new product, Dr Love’s Sport Bites, is making inroads in the golf world and will be sponsoring the upcoming Tiger Woods Classic, as well as featuring in numerous magazine articles about the various players currently consuming it without endorsement deals forcing the issue.

Beyond their own IP is the ‘other’ IP through partners and that’s a whole other thing. The company recently had to delay a big deal for a US based food chain because their facility, big as it is, would have need quick and significant (and pricey) scaling up.

While I’m there, the phone rings incessantly from another chain that has taken one product from NSP and wants them to expand into a few more SKUs quickly.

My time there is not peaceful.  Goodwin, who others in the business at competing companies describe as “a salesman, start to finish, 24/7, always going,” is always, indeed, selling. I’ve got a mouthful of mushroom bar going and he’s tossing vanilla spice flavoured options and blueberry and, when I ask why he doesn’t have a strawberry lemonade version, gets his food technology guy on the phone and confirms he could have one by end of week.

It’s a good show. But it’s not just a show. The frenetic pace of Calamity Craig is matched by his ops guy, Bryan Carson, who comes and goes from the boardroom to the factory, sometimes remembering to take off his hair net, sometimes not, and who you can see has the most fun of anyone there.

“When you see your products on a shelf and you realize they were drawings two months ago, that’s pretty cool,” says Carson. “We built all this from nothing and have never got any credit for it, but just wait. It’s coming,” he says, the glee dripping from his face.

No, wait, that’s sweat. He’s got to get back downstairs and make sure today’s training session is finished so they can turn the machines back on. “I’ll be back!” he laughs, but he doesn’t make it back. I’ll catch him later during my factory walkthrough, surrounded by staff, walking them through some complex machinery. NSP likes everyone to be able to run any part of the plant if needed. “When you gotta go full steam ahead, you can’t be slowed down by someone being sick, you have to be able to just move pieces around. We’re working multiple shifts now as it is.”

Stock wise, nobody gives a shit. NSP has never had buyer backing because, though you could long find their Natera protein powders on store shelves, they didn’t sell hard enough to compete with the cannabis dollar.

“That’s what we’re judged against,” says Goodwin. “Investors look at us and think, that’s nice, but they’re not doing weed so not for me.”

Here’s the thing: When I signed in to NSP’s building early in the day, I took a look at their sign-in sheet and spotted two cannabis company names. NSP may not be a weed company, but weed companies are coming to them to talk about now legal products that NSP has a lot of experience with, and the LPs dont.

Naturally Splendid figured out how to powderize hemp protein back as far away as 2015. The powderizing of hemp CBD is a big deal that many companies are still working on.

“We can do a CBD bar tomorrow,” says Goodwin. “We have the machinery, the experience, the technology, the people, we just need to close a deal with an LP. That’s the stupid thing – we had people criticizing us for not being a weed company when they were taking off, now we actually can create weed and CBD based products, and the guys who want them have no money.”

To be fair, Naturally Splendid managed to spend $30 million building a $9 million company. Mistakes were made.

Recently.

But just like World Class Extractions earlier, there appears to be a quiet confidence, that being ignored for so long is fine, that it’s made them all leaner, faster, and better to have gone through the crucible of fire while others were being fluffed by dealmakers.

One day, and likely soon, NSP and PUMP will benefit from having taken the business side of things seriously, and be respected for not having followed the lemmings off the highest cliff.

“I’ll tell you this,” says Goodwin, “every person who shit on us, everyone who called us names or dismissed what we do? We’re still here. We built something good and we’re not nearly done.”

 

— Chris Parry

FULL DISCLOSURE: World Class Extractions is an Equity.Guru marketing client. Naturally Splendid is not, but in the interests of disclosure, the author is in discussions with them about an unrelated commercial opportunity.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story said the Beast was made of aluminum – that’s my error. It’s steel all the way, baby.

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