This industry dodged a serious bullet recently. Most of us didn’t even realize shots had been fired. Luckily for us, however, there were a vigilant few who took it upon themselves to watch our collective back.
It all went down in 2019. Here in the states, head shops were coasting from one success to the next, thanks in no small part to the seemingly endless revenue stream provided by that magical leaf from Southeast Asia we all know and love. Yes, of course, we’re talking about kratom. Meanwhile, halfway across the world, things were being set in motion to upend that market and turn off the tap entirely.
The threat, for once, didn’t come from our government—at least not directly, or in a manner that could be proven. This time around, it was the Indonesian government, who, for reasons still yet to be completely divulged, began actively pursuing a ban on all kratom exports.
“We know that they had misinformation,” says Jen Lauder, Director of Marketing and Advocacy for Kraken Kratom. “They were told that kratom was illegal in the US . . . There were real misunderstandings.” For the record, the FDA has vehemently denied any involvement, but the whispers of industry insiders quietly suggest otherwise. For her part, Jenn is wisely sidestepping that question entirely.
“We can speculate on how those misunderstandings came about, but . . .” she begins, but then trails off with an ambiguous shrug. We’ll spare you the tedium of details here but suffice it to say that with the help and support of companies like Kraken Kratom, the American Kratom Association was able to step in and set things straight. Crisis averted; life goes on—and as Jenn points out, we scored a few extra points in the process. Silver linings, as they say.
“Of course, this would have been terrible for vendors,” she concedes, “but the situation gave us an opportunity to go over to Indonesia and not just speak with the ministers making the decision, but actually liaise with the growers and suppliers much, much more than we had before. Because the growers know the pressure is on them, they are working extra hard to put practices in place that are going to make sure . . . they’ve got sanitation practices up to par. They’re training their staff on their cleanliness, their hygiene, on the way the product needs to be stored.”
Jenn readily acknowledges that her use of collective pronouns like “us” here is more of a reference to the AKA than her company specifically. But with how deeply involved in advocacy that Kraken has been from the beginning, she’s comfortable identifying as part of the team.
That comfort is more than justified. Kraken Kratom has been a major supporter of the AKA, as well as the Botanical Education Alliance, and has worked tirelessly to aid these organizations in their fight to keep this marvelous leaf legal and accessible to U.S. consumers. Hence, why Jenn’s official job title doesn’t stop at marketing; advocacy is on equal footing.
Kraken may have only shown up in the retail market a couple of years ago, but they are by no means newcomers or carpetbaggers to the world of kratom. Their story began in earnest all the way back in 2005 when company founder, Jeff Stratton combined his skills as an IT professional with his love for plant remedies to create phytoextractum.com, an online store dedicated to sourcing and supplying a vast array of ethnobotanicals from around the world.
“Kratom, or mytragina speciosa was one of the first items in the catalog,” Jenn recounts. The full catalog was basically the ultimate wish list for the ethno-enthusiast, with such treasured gems as blue lotus, damiana, kava and kanna gracing the warehouse in abundance. It didn’t take long at all, however, for Jeff to see kratom’s unique potential. In 2014, he launched Kraken Kratom in earnest. Initially, it was solely a digital brand marketed directly to consumers, but in 2018, they expanded their assault to include retail outlets as well. Since that shift, they’ve quickly become a formidable player in the market, combining their dedication to advocacy with a line of quality products produced to cGMP standards and level of customer service only a family business could give.
“It’s a real family business,” Jenn confirms. “When Kraken started, it was Jeff, his (now) wife Brooke and his son Drew—just the three of them for the first two years. The staff has since expanded beyond the blood, but according to Jenn, the family element is still at the core of the operation.
“Everyone is a part of the family,” she says. “We all know that the work we’re doing is important and we all have a role to contribute to the greater good. “That’s just kind of infused into everything we do. Even though it might be stigmatized, even though we might have to fight government agencies, we are doing something that is really on the right side of history and we’re really, really helping people. I think we all come to work every day feeling that.”
But a company can’t be built on good intentions alone. That’s why they’re bringing their A-game to the retailers—and that goes beyond the verifiable quality and friendly customer service.
“We already have tons of consumer loyalty and brand recognition from being an e-commerce brand,” Jenn asserts, “But since we know that we have some really heavy hitters to compete with who’ve been in stores for a long time, we figured we’d make it easy on the retailers to carry us. We don’t want to have to compete with shelf space, so we’ve developed an all-inclusive countertop display that comes with the majority of our line . . . it’s all about alleviating that pain point for a retailer in finding space shelf space and creating recognition for one brand or another . . . things are grouped together, it’s organized, you’ve got some consumer education included—it makes it a no-brainer for retailers, honestly.”
Though only on the market in full capacity for two years, the folks at Kraken Kratom are using their decade and a half’s worth of experience with the sacred leaf to climb the ranks quickly and carve an impressive niche for their business, honing each and every selling point they have with meticulous precision. Ultimately, though, it will be the market that decides their fate, a reality by which Jenn is completely unfazed. She trusts the market.
“We’re really excited for more people to get the product in their hands and give it a try . . . We firmly believe our combination of superior products and awesome people behind them is going to make the difference.”