It is our privilege to speak with Christina Sasser, CEO and founder of Vital Leaf, a CBD wellness company that has grown in leaps and bounds.
Christina, thank you for joining us for this interview today. Let’s kick this off by getting to know more about you and your company.
My name is Christina Sasser. I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Vital Leaf, a CBD Wellness company that started in 2016, on 4/20. We officially launched the brand in January of 2018 and have grown very quickly since then! Our family of products can be found on store shelves in over 35 states and more than 400 retailers, as well as many online retailers and our very own web store.
It seems that so many entrepreneurs were inspired to pursue their passions based on their background or certain experiences that piqued their interest. Tell us your story, in terms of what helped motivate you to start your business?
My background is in the Natural Products Industry and I have worked as a holistic chef and nutrition educator for many years. Founding Vital Leaf was a natural evolution of where I came from, as I have always believed in and promoted the idea of food as medicine. Combining incredibly high quality medicinal foods with impeccably sourced cannabinoids made perfect sense from the start!
I also knew that the budding CBD industry would need highly effective formulations from truly trustworthy brands and that I could make products with great flavors that appeal to people searching for something wholesome and healing. Even better, everything we do is complemented by reliable, trusted, and well-informed educational outreach.
It is inevitable that start ups and new businesses encounter challenges as they work to launch and scale. Can you tell us how you’ve navigated some of those obstacles?
We have encountered so many obstacles in our journey! From regulatory and banking hurdles, to scaling our formulations, to growing our team and company culture very quickly, new challenges arise almost every single day. The thing that really gets me through all of it is focusing on our larger mission of service to the environment and the individuals that our products support. We are always striving to improve and do right by our customers, our suppliers and farm partners, and to be a responsible leader in this industry.
I ultimately hold faith that, when we do the right thing and hold true to our mission, we will succeed and can feel proud of what we’ve accomplished. The obstacles are a necessary part of that journey, in that they build more character and internal resiliency to face what comes next!
In the emerging industry of CBD, it seems important that brands and products find a way to stand out from the crowd. What makes the Vital Leaf brand compelling?
There is so much that helps Vital Leaf stand out from the crowd. I am personally most proud of our Regenerative Sourcing standards. Whenever possible, we use ingredients from farmers and suppliers that are helping to replenish, stabilize, and rebuild the soil that these ingredients are grown in. We prioritize local sourcing and, luckily for us, our home state of Oregon is a leader in cultivating incredible craft hemp strains so we partner with skilled regenerative farmers close to home. In addition to the hemp, we source many other food ingredients, including our heirloom cacao, from regenerative cooperatives that help to restore soil, watersheds, and communities.
I’m also very proud to say that our entire line of products is 100% plant-based and free of refined sugar and gluten. Not only can customers feel happy about putting these products into their bodies, but they taste, smell, and feel wonderful too! I also hear feedback all the time about how beautifully branded our products are.
Lastly, I feel proud that our entire team so highly values educating consumers. We want to empower people with information to better understand their own endocannabinoid systems and how to nourish them properly, and how to choose the right products for their lifestyle.
We’d love to know who your target demographic tends to be. Can you share who generally purchases and uses the Vital Leaf products?
We sell our products primarily online and in natural products retailers, so naturally our products really appeal to the “label-readers” and people who make their purchasing decisions based on the quality and purity of ingredients. Vital Leaf also connects around values, appealing to people who care about the ethics behind the companies that they support and contributing to a better world through their purchasing decisions.
How do you attract customers and encourage brand loyalty?
An attractive and appealing product may be enough to get someone to try your product for the first time, but ultimately what customers are looking for is something that helps them. And, let’s be honest: people are more likely to stick with things that they really enjoy, so products with good flavors and aromas, that really work, is key!
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is hearing the testimonials that come in from our customers about how our products are truly helping them and benefiting their lives.
It sounds like your customers love your products! Can you tell us more about the benefits your best-selling products provide?
Our chocolate bars are definitely our top sellers, and I’m especially proud of this since a great deal of care and intention went into crafting these bars. We direct source all of our cacao from a regenerative cooperative in Ecuador. This cacao is truly special: it’s decadent, delicious, and rich in antioxidants and anandamide (the bliss molecule). Anandamide is one of the key neurotransmitters that helps to deliver cannabinoids to their receptor sites. It’s sweetened with low glycemic coconut nectar and comes in easy-to-dose bars. It’s such a delicious every day treat and delivers a big dose of vitality!
Let’s talk some science here. Are each of your product batches tested by a third party lab? If so, are you willing to attach and share your lab results?
Yes! We have some of the most robust testing protocols in the industry and go above and beyond what is legally required. Given that the CBD industry is forming faster than the regulations that protect consumers, we take a transparent and comprehensive approach, testing for potency, heavy metals, pesticides, residual solvents, and microbiological contamination.
Our Lab Results are posted regularly to our website, and QR codes printed on each product label direct customers to our site.
We’d love to know what advice you would give to someone who was wanting to pursue a business centered around the CBD industry...
As the industry continues to evolve, I see more and more big money being thrown into the mix. The number of women in executive roles is diminishing. I’m seeing more corporate types rushing in, with backgrounds coming from Big Ag, Big Pharma, and execs from companies like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Amazon, etc.
It is becoming more and more difficult for less capitalized companies to have a fighting chance at success. Honestly, my advice is to do extensive research, have realistic expectations, and don’t launch a product unless it is going to be unique and meet a real need that exists. Stay focused on which consumer needs are not currently being met in the industry, and have a very well thought out plan for how you’re going to reach that customer and generate the capital to support that plan!
Can you offer your thoughts or predictions on how you see the landscape of CBD-related products evolving in the future?
Currently there are an estimated 5,000 companies or brands that are selling or marketing CBD products! Some of these companies are fly-by-night operations and do not meet any of the safety qualifications that should be in place for food or supplement products.
I have huge concerns about safety, as many products are misleading, inaccurately labeled, and often times do not contain any active cannabinoids. There are many products that contain only CBD isolate, and already consumers are wisening up to the fact that full and broad spectrum products provide far more benefits.
I see a windfall coming to the industry over the next few years as it reaches a saturation point and consumers become more educated about CBD, thus far more discerning about which brands and products to put their faith and dollars in.
I also see opportunities for further innovation! We are just now beginning to understand the power of cannabinoids beyond CBD and THC. I envision carefully targeted formulations, better delivery and absorption options, and more products that are specifically geared towards certain conditions or populations, including kids.