Grower Stories #35: Julie Mercer-Ingram

Tia Moskalenko
Tia Moskalenko

Tia Moskalenko, author of the AskGrowers blog, brings a unique blend of content to her readers. She is known for conducting insightful interviews with key figures in the cannabis industry, including brand representatives, manufacturers, and experts. In addition to her interview skills, Tia has a keen focus on CBD. She expertly curates product selections and reviews, offering her readers detailed insights into the various effects and benefits of CBD. Tia's ability to combine in-depth interviews with comprehensive CBD analysis makes her a valuable asset to the cannabis community, offering a well-rounded perspective on the industry.



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Grower Stories #35: Julie Mercer-Ingram

Proof Positive: How a Family Business Is Shaking Up the Cannabis Industry

We chat with Julie Mercer-Ingram, founder of California-based cannabis company Proof, about their various cannabis products, the future of the brand, and busting the stigma around cannabis use. Check it out!

Tia (AskGrowers) : Tell us how you started the brand? What inspired you to start the brand?

Julie Mercer-Ingram : I started the brand, along with my spouse, as a reflection of our values and the belief that cannabis has healing and therapeutic properties. To me, Proof evokes honestly, wellness, a love of nature, and human connection. As a woman founder, it’s important to me that Proof products feel inclusive to everyone who sees them in the stores because cannabis has historically been a male-dominated industry. In reality, there were and are all different people who consume cannabis and who work in the industry. I want everyone to feel welcomed and comfortable interacting with cannabis because it has so many amazing benefits. Through Proof, we try to convey inclusivity and help people understand how cannabis can help them feel better.

Tia : What do you think is the most common mistake that new cannabis companies make?

Julie : In cannabis, the most common mistake is simply that brands are started for the wrong reasons -- to make a quick profit. During the first few years of legalization, the “Green Rush” mentality fueled a lot of the irrational exuberance and spending. The cannabis industry is far too overtaxed and regulated to make a quick buck. New cannabis companies spend more money than they will ever see in return. The focus on money is misguided. Brands often miss the point, which is that cannabis has an enormous potential to heal and help people. With Proof, it’s always been about the power of cannabis, and that core belief has worked for our company. Every success we enjoy flows from that premise.

Tia : What inspired you to dive into the cannabis industry?

Julie : I am an artist, an attorney, a mother, and I was looking for a way to bring all those parts of my life together. My husband and I are entrepreneurs who love working together, and we wanted to build a company our kids would be proud of someday. When I saw that this plant, with so much value and potential, was going to be accessible to more people, I wanted to use my skills and creativity to be a part of this change. As an analytical lawyer and creator, cannabis is a great fit because it’s an industry where you must be nimble and innovative to keep up with a fast-changing nascent industry.

Proof products picture
Tia : How do you think your brand differs from others similar to yours?

Julie :  Three things make us different from other brands: focusing on customers’ needs, connecting to the community, and being compliance-driven.

While a lot of the industry growth has been fueled by investor dollars and unrealistic growth expectations, Proof has the luxury of following our customers where they take us and growing organically. We’ve never accepted growth investment so we can keep customers at the center of what we do, rather than investors. We can release niche products that consumers, usually patients, need and want. We’ve been intentional about building a brand that reflects our values and lifts up the community around us. We are a great employer; we offer good pay and a full benefits package to our whole staff, and we work with other like-minded individuals across the supply chain. We do a lot of volunteerism and community philanthropy. Proof has been hyper-focused on compliance, so we’ve been able to adapt to the ever-changing cannabis rules. With all that happening in the background, Proof as a brand feels more in tune with our customers, and keeps up with their evolving needs.

Tia : Tell us more about your products. What’s your best-selling product currently?

Julie : I am a daily user of Proof skincare products, including the face and body serum, both of which I’m completely obsessed with! Our topicals were one of the most difficult products to develop because cannabis is so thoroughly tested that essential oils (even organic ones) don’t meet our standards. We only use organic botanical extracts and oils along with cannabis oil, but still finding the best ones, which could pass our tests, took over a year of R&D. The cannabis oil was never the problem; it was the non-cannabis organic essential oils that were failing left and right! We were thrilled to develop the cleanest and best supply chain so that we can now offer incredibly safe and well-tested products.

These serums have transformed my skin, and I can’t live without them. Once people learn more about the benefits of cannabis for skincare it’s a total gamechanger.

I also rotate through the tinctures depending on my stress level and time of day. I love the 20:1 all day (and the 10:1 depending on the day!) for productivity boost and anxiety control, then usually CBN or 1:1, or both, to help with sleep. We have been careful to make products that work for all kinds of people with varying tolerances and interests in cannabis and I’ve been one of the biggest testing subjects, which I love.

Tia : What is your stand on indoor vs outdoor grown plants? Do you believe products differ based on how and where they were grown?

Julie : At Proof we use only outdoor sun-grown cannabis, mainly because it has a lower environmental footprint, but I think both indoor and outdoor flowers have a lot of value and can produce different effects with varying benefits. I really feel that people should feel empowered to use the cannabis that works best for them.

Proof interview quote
Tia : The push for cannabis legalization has been mostly focused on its medical properties. Do you think there could be more said on the recreational use of cannabis and it's positive/positively euphoric effects for non-medical purposes?

Julie : Absolutely! I see a ton of value in winding down from a hard day, or more deeply enjoying a song, or opening up creative ideation. I especially enjoy cannabis while in nature and during physical activities like hiking or yoga. The use of cannabis for enhancing intimacy is probably one of the more under-recognized applications of the plant and everyone should give cannabis a try for that reason alone. The innovation in cannabis manufacturing has created some exciting ways to use the plant. The better someone knows their desired dosage for a situation, the more confident and fun a high can be. It’s really empowering to know a certain dosage of a tincture or a certain number of puffs on a vape pen can take me to a place of euphoria, a place of rest, or anywhere in between. That type of consumer experience transcends labels like medical or recreational. However you label it, we see customers reporting enormous benefits, whether they call themselves a “patient” or not.

Tia : There is the classic stigma that cannabis affects your life in a negative way or that “potheads” never achieve or amount to anything. What is your personal response to that?

Julie : People who say that should spend a day in the cannabis industry. The people in this industry work SO DAMN HARD. The nature of the regulatory complexity, combined with the over-taxation, leaves no room for error and operators are some of the most productive, efficient, creative, and tenacious entrepreneurs you’ll ever meet...often, while stoned. Frankly, that is just drug-war-era BS. As a mother of two rambunctious kids, a cannabis entrepreneur, and a partner of a thriving law practice, I’m proof of that concept being a myth.

Tia : How does Proof maintain transparency in its product line from seed to sale?

Julie : We are required to test every single batch for a whole slew of things including pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, foreign materials, and more. As a mom, I often think back and wish the baby food I bought them had gone through even one of the several tests we must pass! The fact is cannabis is the cleanest and most well-tested consumer packaged good on the market. All of our lab results are available to anyone who asks for them and we love helping customers understand the nature of those tests and the confidence they should inspire.

Tia : How do you think the cannabis industry will fare long-term?

Julie : Ideally, the cannabis industry will be diverse in every sense of the word, with room for companies of various sizes and shapes, especially those who come from a legacy of cannabis and the war on drugs. I’d hate to see the industry become corporate and consolidated, with only a few large players. Cannabis consumers deserve to have craft businesses with diverse people leading those companies.

Proof interview quote
Tia : What do you think the next five years look like for the cannabis industry both in the U.S. and globally?

Julie : Hopefully we will see the end of federal illegality and come to a reasonable set of regulations and taxation. This will allow the industry to become a major job-creator, revenue producer, and taxpayer.

Let’s face it, 2020 has brought hard economic times for many people that won’t end for a while. I think cannabis could help with job creation and support governments who desperately need it. I also think there is going to be an exciting push around product innovation, giving customers access to new products we can’t imagine now. I can’t wait to see what we do as an industry once these ridiculous federal restrictions are removed. I’m also hopeful that some of the racist and exclusionary policies that have plagued cannabis will be reversed, and marginalized communities will have their deserved opportunity to shine, and some of the worst acts, such as convictions for possession, be remedied.

Tia : What's next for Proof? Can you tell us about your next big release?

Julie : We are expanding constantly! I think we’ve released six new products so far this year. We are in talks with some potential partners who want to bring our successful model to other states and markets, and we continue to entertain those offers as we look to bring Proof to more folks. We are also going to be releasing a whole new line in the new year...stay tuned to learn more about that. We’re really excited for what might come in 2021 and beyond.

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