As I’ve discovered in recent weeks, offering someone their first taste of Flintts Mints elicits one of two reactions: either gleeful joy or a visible disgust that borders on agony. LIke playing the bizarro art-punk band Deerhoof for an uninitiated listener, anyone having their first experience with Flintts tends to ask the same thing as soon as they’ve gotten over their initial shock: “What the fuck is happening?!”
These reactions have much less to do with the way that the mints taste than their bold and bizarre effect. Almost immediately after putting one in your mouth, your saliva glands jump into action, flooding your mouth with moisture; your tongue and gums soon feel like there is a mild electric current running through them. Flintts Mints – which do not contain any cannabis – are being promoted as a cure for the ubiquitous plague of dry mouth. They stand the chance of monopolizing the space; their only competitors, like XyliGum, only contain Xylitol, a much milder ingredient. Flintts Mints launched this spring; now, the jury is now out on whether enough consumers and retailers, will get behind the divisive product for it to succeed.
“It does require a little bit of open-mindedness,” pointed out Russell Adler, the company’s founder, of customers and retailers alike. “Our consumers tend to be stimulation seekers and novelty seekers,” he added.
The mystery factor behind Flintts is a little-known plant called spilanthes. Part of the daisy family, spilanthes typically grows in tropical and subtropical climates and has earned its nickname, the “toothache plant,” for its ability to temporarily numb the mouth. “Its flowers and leaves have a pungent taste and when touched it is accompanied by a tingling sensation and numbness,” wrote a team of Thai scientists in a paper published in EXCLI Journal in 2013. They added that spilanthes has been used as a folk remedy not just for toothache, but rheumatism and fever as well; they additionally observed out it can be eaten fresh or “as a spice for a Japanese appetizer.”
Adler first encountered the plant roughly eight years ago in rural Vermont, where he was living after a stint in the Department of Defense. While he now looks the part of the casual, clean-cut NYC entrepreneur, he sported a big beard while living in Vermont, and spent his days learning about food systems and building a garden. One particular project – to be involved in the cultivation of every ingredient of an eggs benedict, took him a full year. “I was definitely in a non New York City state of mind,” he deadpanned.
He was given his first taste of spilanthes by a fellow Vermont eccentric who grew psychedelic mushrooms and made DMT in his basement. That initial encounter with the plant, Adler explained, was nothing short of revelatory. “I remember putting it in my mouth and it was like a binary shift. And I thought ‘Okay, this is my reason for being here on this earth,’” Adler explained.
Inspired by both this potential business opportunity and a more general interest in the food industry, Adler moved to New York City, and began developing Flintts while also working as a bartender and growing a now-defunct wholesale delivery business, Sweet Success, which sold candy and orange juice to bodegas and supermarkets around the city. Adler began working towards a Flintts prototype while also hustling Sweet Success; the first stab at a Flintts product wasn’t even a mint but a tincture, which he gave to his friends in nail polish bottles. Eventually he settled on the current pastille format; they are manufactured in a machine the size of a car in New Jersey.
Flintts began shipping on April 20th of this year, and have almost sold out of their initial run. They are currently available in three flavors with varying intensities: mint, lemon and cherry. Sugar-free, non-GMO and vegan, they come in tins of 30 and have the rough-hewn pastille edges of an Altoid mint.
Adler explained that he is looking forward to growing the company in the coming year. He is planning on adding three flavors – watermelon, tangerine and cinnamon ginger – but intends to focus primarily on finding new venues to sell his product. The mints are currently available in scattered locations around the globe: from New York City to Missoula, Montana and from Canada to Germany. His strategy to go straight to retailers, and cut out a middelman distributor, echoes lessons he learned while growing Sweet Success.
“We’ll do business with anyone who likes our style, but, you know, we’re purposely not aiming at grocery stores…But cannabis on the other hand is the, I think the kind of last bright spot, of physical retail, in terms of keeping inventory on hand. [By contrast], nobody gets that excited about going to the liquor store,” he quipped.
The flip side is that stores have expressed some confusion about whether they can accept the product, and how to market it. “Due to medical and recreational cannabis being a heavily regulated industry, often times dispensaries err on the side of caution and staff are told that they can’t accept outside product,” pointed out Wesley Lau, the company’s Head of Business Development. “Some dispensaries have actually asked us what else they can put next to us, because they don’t want us to be the only product there – we recommend eye drops!” he added.
Adler and Lau are both optimistic that as the cannabis industry grows, the opportunities for ancillary products such as theirs will grow along with it. “I think we’re in the sort of the golden age of the cannabis itself,” Adler said. “The apex of the market will be when it’s federally deregulated. But I think in terms of the acceleration, we’re not going to see this again… I think that once we see that mature, more ancillary items will come, too.”