There’s probably no other product more connected to counterculture and the cannabis industry than incense. Close your eyes and think back to your first visit to a smoke shop — the aroma of Nag Champa, a heavenly blend of florals and Sandalwood, greets you as you walk through the door.
The popularity of incense today is a carryover from its first mainstream usage in the sixties and seventies when it was used to disguise the pungent aroma of a certain herb –- lets be honest — it was burned to hide the fact that you were smoking marijuana . . . and college students and adults living in their parent’s basement still use it for that purpose. Lighting incense is also something that baby boomers continue to do — for them, lighting a stick of patchouli incense is a subtle reminder of their free-spirited past.
“Part of it is that everybody’s got some kind of stink to cover up — the other thing is that people just love a beautiful fragrance. Early on, people would try to cover up the smell of reefer, and so smoke shops made incense an important part of their product mix. But there’s a whole world out there that people don’t associate with pot,” says Marc Biales, president and founder of Wild Berry Incense, the leading quality incense made in the United States, and arguably the most recognized brand on the planet.
Incense has been around for thousands of years, with ancient civilizations in Egypt and the Orient using it for medicinal, spiritual and recreational purposes. Wild Berry Incense came along in 1971 when Biales dipped some sticks into a pot of fragrance and sold them in his alternative gift shop, The Wild Berry, in uptown Oxford. Over time he developed a very special way of making incense using more intense, higher quality fragrances.
“Back in the day, people typically used methyl alcohol to thin the fragrances. You can’t just use a straight fragments — you have to mix it with something to make it work on the stick,” Biales explains. The difference in Wild Berry’s formula remains a trade secret, but uses up to 10 times the finest fragrance oils as other brands, along with a special proprietary ingredient to keep the incense fresher for far longer.
Wild Berry started with a dozen fragrances — the most popular being strawberry, patchouli, sandalwood and opium (type). Before long other retailers were pleading with the little Wild Berry store to sell incense to them. Responding to these demands, in 1992, Wild Berry developed a merchandising system for retailers, and now Wild Berry Incense can now be found in thousands of stores — in all 50 states, and all over the world.
“It has always been a great item — the key has been getting more people to appreciate it,” Biales says. “Once people try our incense they really get stuck on it.”
With nearly a hundred unique fragrances, Biales jokes that Wild Berry is the Baskin-Robbins of incense. Among the perennial favorites are Raspberry Rose, Cherry Vanilla, Dragon’s Blood (an earthy fragrance with subtle notes of pine needle, sandalwood, musk and amber) and Egyptian Cotton. The top-18 fragrances are included in the Wild Berry Starter Kit, which gives retailers a selection of the proven sellers.
A half dozen or so new fragrances are introduced each year, and sometimes they catch on so quickly that they shoot right to the top. Recently, Champa Flower, King Cake (a delectable cinnamon sugar scent with notes of fresh churned butter, agave nectar, powdered sugar), Sweet Pea and Wizard (an enchanting citrus scent with notes of Sicilian bergamot, sheer yuzu, coriander spice, silver birch, atlas cedar and white musk) were added to the mix.
Wild Berry is so confident in the quality of products that their starter kit includes everything a retailer needs to drive sales — one of the most important elements, is the easily recognizable counter display with open Mason-style jars, one for each fragrance, so customers can buy sticks of their favorite or mix and match a variety of scents.
“It’s a product that really engages the customer ‘scentually’,” Biales says, “a lot of products can’t do that — especially a product that’s sealed in a package.”
“The olfactory influence is the strongest that we have,” adds Sales & Marketing Coordinator Kim Windland. “When people associate with a pleasant smell — like the aroma of a Wild Berry Incense display, it makes them feel good.”
While traditional 11-inch sticks are Wild Berry‘s most successful products, their fragrances are also available as incense cones and shorties, fragrance oils and wax melts.
You might wonder why, if Wild Berry has become so well known for their incense, they don’t transition from fragrances to flavors and maybe launch an e-juice line. If there’s one thing that Biales has learned, it’s that you don’t mess with the sweet smell of success.
“We’ve had tons of people wanting us to do other things and get out of our comfort zone, but it just doesn’t make sense. If you can stay laser focused on a product that does really well, then that’s the way to be successful,” Biales says. “We have brand recognition, but the brand is because of the product, not the other way around. We will never let the quality suffer — that’s the key.”