U.S. customers are buying new types of filtered tubes filled with plant material. These smokable products share many similarities with tobacco cigarettes, down to the boxy packs they’re sold in. But they’re filled with hemp, and, according to one company, represent a hot commodity.
In a roughly 11,000-square-foot facility in Milwaukee, Wisc., Vance Global manufactures its CBD and delta-8 THC cigarettes called “Vances.” It also manufactures delta-8 gummies and packages nuggets of high-CBD hemp flower for the smokable market.
While the nearly 30-employee business now sells these products across the U.S.—using plant material sourced directly from Wisconsin and Oregon hemp farms—it originally started three years ago when CEO and co-founder August Battles began rolling CBD cigarettes with hemp he bought from Colorado.
In 2018, Battles, then 21, and his friend Brandon Marhal launched Vance Global, becoming two of the youngest business owners in hemp.
In those early days, Battles tells Hemp Grower, he practiced frugality. “I was definitely eating a lot of Dollar Menu McDonald’s items because that’s really the cheapest route,” he said. “Like, I was only eating once a day—Red Bull in the morning to get you going, and then like a McChicken and a McDouble at night to kind of reward yourself.”
After Vance Global received its first profits, the company purchased an office—where Battles also slept for a while.
Now, the company sells its products across the country via ecommerce and has a presence in more than 12,000 retail stores.
Below, Hemp Grower spoke with Battles about Vance Global’s growth and the changing landscape of the hemp industry.
Patrick Williams: You sell filtered CBD cigarettes. Could you talk about why you decided to go with that versus traditional pre-rolls?
August Battles: I always have product ideas in my head. It’s like a little side thing that I do, like a hobby—and I was seeing where the market was going [in 2018]. Obviously, the  Farm Bill hadn’t been passed yet. We started in October—the Farm Bill got passed in December. It seemed to me like the pre-roll industry was going to be dominated by the pre-roll makers. I figured RAW would probably jump in and manufacture it all themselves and have the machinery and whatnot.
When you look at how smoking has adapted with things like tobacco, it all started as a pre-roll—everybody was rolling their own cigarettes in the 1800s and smoking them, and then the evolution of it turned into a filter because people didn’t want to get anything stuck to their teeth. It turned into a 10-, 20-pack so you could have something to buy.
[Vance Global’s] goal was to not have a product where it’s something you reward yourself with at the end of the day. The goal was to have a product where it would be affordable and convenient to smoke it in the morning, smoke it on your lunch break, smoke it when you get off of work, smoke it when you get home, smoke it before dinner—like how you do with regular cigarettes. The pre-roll market outside of the cigarette industry—it’s one of those ones where anybody can jump into it at any time. You can get one of those shaker trays, buy a bunch of tubes and then just roll it in there. Now, you’ve got a bunch of pre-roll joints. Cigarettes are a little more difficult because the cylinder’s more tight, which, if you’re trying to start a niche company, it’s got to be hard to get into. That way, you don’t have as many competitors.
PW: When did you link up with your partner?
AB: Me and my friend—he was my best friend in high school, Brandon—we always, for fun, in school, instead of going to parties and stuff we would just think about business ideas and come up with business stuff. Meanwhile, a lot of kids liked drinking and going to parties. We would just drink in our bedrooms together and come up with a way to make money. I’d come up with Vance Global for another business we were going to make when we were, like, 16. Then it just kind of stuck.
PW: You still produce the CBD cigarettes. Are you still heavily focused on that, at the same time as you’re now launching delta-8 gummies and pre-rolls, and hemp flower?
AB: Yeah, yeah. Our focus is CBD. The market’s obviously changed. Delta-8 has kind of taken over. I was just at [the USA] CBD Expo … in Chicago, and it should have been called the “Delta-8 Expo,” honestly—everybody was on delta-8 there. Our main focus and our main selling thing right now is delta-8, for sure. There’s a lot of derivatives that have come out this year, like [HHC] and THC-O [acetate] and THCA. So, we’re looking into those, as well.
PW: Have you seen a lot of customer growth and retention on the delta-8 side since you first launched those products, and have you received outside investment or investment inquiries about that?
AB: We just had some news that came out … about how the DEA was kind of like, ‘Delta-8’s legal.’ But I think investors are more scared to invest in the things that are more delta-8-focused. I think now is the time where they’re going to be opening up to that a little bit more. And we’re realizing you don’t want to throw all your eggs in one basket in this industry because it could be like CBD, where it’s hot one minute and then not the next. So, you kind of have to jump into every single aspect [of] it. … [A] lot of companies are getting bought up this year. There’s a lot of talk about the ... capital gains tax, so a lot of companies are trying to sell now because the capital gains tax is deemed to eventually go up within the next year or two, or whenever. So, there’s a lot of companies looking for that purchase right now, as well as investors looking to invest right now.
PW: Do you bring in outside investment, or are you taking revenue that you had previously brought in and putting it back into the business?
AB: Yeah, it’s mostly revenue. So, on month four or five—I think it was month five, after I had quit my job at the law office—I had worked at the law office for about six months—my attorneys liked me …. I let them know when I was quitting, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing.’ I expected them to sort of blow it off, but they were highly interested in that market, and they gave me $50-grand for 20% of the company in month five. So, that was the only investment I got, really, and I wasn’t even really expecting it. It helped out as far as being able to ramp up production more and to get numbers a little bit higher that first year, for sure. But everything else has just been us throwing our profits back into the business.
PW: Have you seen that a lot of your customers are current or potential high-THC cannabis consumers who might not either have access to THC or they’re looking for an alternative or steppingstone to figure out what cannabis and hemp’s all about?
AB: It’s a whole realm of people. There’s people that want to feel that high, and then there’s people that want to feel calm, which is why we’ve got the CBD. We get a lot of reviews online, and it’s a lot of people, from pain victims who are having issues with some sort of disease and they need this to go to sleep or to feel their legs or something. Then, there’s people that just want to feel that buzz, and they don’t want to worry about getting pulled over or arrested.
PW: Has Vance Global been affected by state smokable hemp bans, or are you closely following developments in these various states where there are these legal battles going on?
AB: Yeah, yeah. We’ve been affected since the very beginning. It’s always something that you have to keep an eye on because it changes all the time. Every month, it seems like there’s a state that bans it or a state that’s trying not to ban it. It’s going to be like that probably forever, unfortunately. There are certain states that you don't want to ban. There’s certain states that have a lot of consumer value—states like Texas, states like Illinois, states like New York, Florida—huge states that you want to make sure they don’t put any bans on it, because that’s where [much] of the country distributes from.
But yeah, we’ve felt the wrath of that quite a few times. That’s kind of the advantage of this business right now, is because if they ban delta-8 in Texas, well then, now we’ve got THC-O. Now, we’ve got THCA. There’s always going to be something that people are going to buy and purchase. And it’s going to keep changing.
PW: You have customers across the country. Is your customer base pretty evenly distributed, or are there certain states where demand is higher?
AB: Yeah, I’ve noticed there’s a high demand in more conservative states, simply because a lot of them don’t have legal THC there. States like California—they’re big when you look at it on paper, but [much] of the population in California has their own cannabis company …, or their neighbor does. But in states where it’s more niche or sort of has to be hidden, they buy [hemp-based products] because they don’t want to get arrested. They don’t want to get thrown in jail. That’s why Texas is a huge market, for sure. But we’re pretty evenly distributed amongst the states, I would say—coasts a little bit more, for sure.
PW: What’s it like being one of the younger CEOs in the industry, and what are the benefits of coming at this with young eyes?
AB: In the beginning, it was a little different because my voice was a little higher-pitched, I think—I don’t know. I was 21, obviously, when I started. It hasn’t affected me as much as I would have thought. It’s difficult going into distribution meetings and stuff, where there’s almost like a masculine kind of energy in a lot of these distro meetings where you’re fighting over pennies at this point. They look at you as a young person, and they’ve got 30, 40 years of experience in this, and they’re thinking, ‘This kid—I’m going to be able to knock him down a peg.’ That's really the only thing. Other than that, there’s more personal aspects of owning a business that are little bit more difficult … things like friends asking you for money or family members needing jobs. Things like that are a little bit more difficult, I would say. But all you got to do is say no, so eventually, they get the tone.
PW: What else should hemp growers know about your business and these different market segments that you’re in?
AB: There are very little regulations on these products. I would say regulation is good. Everything we manufacture here gets checked, double checked, tested, approved. … A lot of times, distros and stores—they’re not there because they’re the best—they’re there because they’re the cheapest, 9 times out of 10. So, I’m trying to be the highest quality at the lowest price possible.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.