January 21, 2020 4 min read
Tariq Farid thought he had a lock on the word edible. For more than 20 years, his company, Edible Arrangements, was famous for its bouquets of fruit and platters of chocolate-dipped fruit, and customers had begun casually referring to the company as simply Edible. In 2013, Farid went all in — trademarking the name Edible by itself and dropping Arrangements.
Then, in 2016, California passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana. Farid read the text of the bill and was horrified: The word edibles was in there — familiar to any pot lover, and now enshrined into law to mean weed-laced food. We can’t let it happen, he recalls thinking. We have to do something about it.
Do what exactly? He wasn’t sure. But he tried to fight it — and as he did, he learned an important lesson about business: Sometimes the greatest threats are opportunities in disguise.
This is an issue many industries grapple with, as consumer tastes and culture change. The beef industry, for example, has lobbied for laws to protect the word burger from booming plant-based companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Meanwhile, the dairy industry has tried to protect the word milk from oat, soy, and other plant-based competitors.
Farid felt similarly protective. Back in 1997, he owned a few flower shops in Connecticut and had developed an eye-catching product he called Delicious Designs. It was slices of fruit, speared onto sticks and arranged like flowers in a vase. As his team brainstormed a description for Delicious Designs, someone proposed the term edible arrangements. Everyone loved it so much that they changed the product’s name — and from that, a successful national franchise company was born.
So when cannabis moved in on Farid’s word, he was spooked. “I mean, I had never done marijuana, and didn’t want anything to do with it,” he says. Shortly after California passed its law, he called his lawyer to develop a plan. Then he started lobbying, telling lawmakers that marijuana edibles were a modern-day version of cigarettes being marketed to kids.
But he wasn’t getting anywhere. Then, during one lobbying trip in 2017, someone told him this: “You can look at [the situation] two ways. You can look at it as a tsunami — and if it’s a tsunami, get out of the way. Or you can look at it as a really nice wave — and go get your surfboard out.”
This made Farid pause. I may be fighting a really uphill battle, he thought. What’s the alternative?
He decided to educate himself about cannabis. Farid subscribed to every industry magazine he could find, took meetings with experts, and traveled to Colorado to visit production facilities. He discovered a world of CBD and other wellness-oriented products — stuff that doesn’t get anyone high but still comes from cannabis and hemp. Farid heard from a friend whose mom uses CBD, “and for me, that word, mom, was like — oh!” he says. His own mom had been the first to predict that Edible Arrangements would be a huge hit. Farid believed in the wisdom of moms.
After a year of research, he felt convinced: There was a way for him to embrace this. He hired a team and partnered with a research university, and his company planted 40 acres of hemp to develop an edible CBD powder. To sell it, he decided to go big. He wouldn’t just create a product — he’d launch, he says, “a retail experience.”
The new brand is called Incredible Edibles. It’ll be a line of edible CBD, but also a chain of stores that offers CBD-infused juices, smoothies, and other foods. The first opens in January 2020, in New Haven, Conn. — not far from where Edible Arrangements began two decades ago. Farid plans to expand soon.
Now that he’s gone through this process, he has some advice for other businesses that feel threatened by a changing culture. “Understand the threat,” he says. “Look at it, study it, spend some time on it. And you may just see an opportunity — a big opportunity.”