One day, Chattanooga might be famous as the birthplace of iconic food brands such as Krystal hamburgers, Moon Pies and LoLo Lemonade.
That kind of notoriety might be a stretch for the new cannabis-infused lemonade made here, but product-developer Lauren Mindermann isn't ruling anything out.
"I have no idea where the cannabis industry is going to go, I'm just riding the wave," Mindermann said in an interview last week at the Times Free Press offices.
Mindermann, 29, is a trained dietitian who is hawking her locally-made drink at local hemp stores, bars and coffee shops. The non-alcoholic beverage, which was introduced at this year's Riverbend festival, contains Delta 9, a chemical derived from cannabis and hemp plants that has an intoxicant effect.
In 2018, Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act which removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, legalizing CBD from hemp, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Lolo Lemonade is just the latest product in a line of infused edibles created by Mindermann and distributed by her company LoLo Bars, which she started in order to sell granola snacks. Her products now are in about 25 stores locally, she said.
"LoLo stands for locally owned, locally operated," Mindermann said. "And it was also a nickname of mine when I was a ski instructor in California."
Mindermann, a Nashville native who attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said her career was at a crossroads several years ago. A short stint as a health care nutritionist in Nashville left her feeling unfulfilled and she drifted back to her passions as an adventure sports guide, first as a ski guide in California and then as a raft guide on the Ocoee River. While working on the river, she decided to make and sell granola bars to generate extra cash. They had cute names like Hawaii Five Oats, Cranberry Carnage and Chilhowee Chocolate.
"The goal was that they would be something that rafters or kayakers would take with them on the water and not have to eat junk food," Mindermann said.
While the bars were well-received in the rafting community, they were expensive to make and had a relatively short shelf-life. Mindermann soon branched out to make dog treats (LoLo Bones) and marshmallow snacks (Cosmic Crisps).
When the hemp laws changed it opened a new lane for Mindermann's products.
"In 2018 when CBD became legal I had a couple of people ask if I wanted to infuse some of my granola bars," she said.
She said yes, and immediately her sales soared. In the first month after the switch, Mindermann said she sold more bars than in the entire previous year. More recently her company sales have doubled year over year, she said.
The feedback from customers is also rewarding, she said.
"People are saying, 'the CBD is really helping me sleep, and it's helping me with my anxiety and my back pain,'" Mindermann said. "That, to me, was bringing nutrition full circle. Now, I can feed somebody something that might reduce their medication intake."
Over time, she searched for the perfect place to build her business. After using a few other kitchen locations she moved into Landrace Bioscience, a hemp ingredient manufacturer located near Aminicola Highway. She has a manufacturing license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she said.
Almost 80% of Mindermann's business is wholesale, and she is constantly on the go recruiting new outlets for her products, she said.
She's also proud of the fact that the LoLo Lemonade team is entirely female. Along with Mindermann, the drink was co-formulated by Landrace chemist Amanda Michaud; canned by Candace Holmes and her team at the Naked River Brewing (an early adopter of LoLo Lemonade) and can graphics were produced by Anne Rushing at Landrace.
"It didn't think we'd be here," Mindermann said of her company's growing success. "I didn't know where we would end up. I have to say I'm pretty proud of all of the products we've made and how far the reach has gone."