Q&A: Andrew Kalan, the Pot Candy Guy

The Delco man whose novelty goods company has Buffalo pols all pissed off

A few days ago, legislators in Buffalo, New York denounced three varieties of marijuana-inspired candy (no, it won’t get you high) made by Kalan, a Lansdowne-based company. This morning, I called company CEO Andrew Kalan to see what all the fuss is about.

Until the Associated Press broke the story about your candy, I don’t think most Philadelphians were familiar with Kalan.
The reason they never heard of us is that we don’t sell direct to the public. You can’t come to me to buy the candy. You have to go to one of the stores that we sell to.

There are national stores that people would recognize and shop at, but in light of the current controversy, I don’t want to say. People who are pissed off at the products may become pissed off at them. We also sell to family stores, Christian stores. If their customers started realizing … well. I don’t want to say.

So what exactly is it that you guys do?
We’re a novelty item manufacturer. Key chains, shot glasses, air fresheners, stickers, car decals, lighters, those rubber silicone bracelets. We started out roughly 40 years ago as a greeting card company in my grandfather’s basement in Overbrook Park, right off City Avenue. We eventually added some novelty products to our assortment and that end of the business took off while the greeting cards declined.

When did you first hear from the people in Buffalo about this?
The first time I heard a complaint was when I got a call from an AP reporter in Buffalo. She told me that there was a councilman there who was upset and making a big stink about the candy. So we talked about it, but I had no idea what it would become.

Do you understand their concern?
I do understand, actually. But I think, honestly, that it’s misplaced. I don’t know where in Buffalo it was purchased. I don’t know where it was sold. But if it was at a corner grocery store, that’s not the right place. It’s not intended to be marketed as, “Hey, kids. This is a fun marijuana candy!” It’s supposed to be marketed to people who like marijuana, and I don’t think that little children belong unsupervised in shops like that. I have three kids of my own, and I do have a pretty high tolerance for inappropriateness. But when the story broke, I actually used it as an opportunity to talk to my kids about drugs.

What’s your stance on candy cigarettes?
I certainly don’t let my kids play with them, but I also don’t think that the government should be banning them. I tend to lean very heavily to the side that says we’re a free society. And I believe in freedom of expression and a company’s ability to market things like this is part of being American. The opinions of the minority don’t dictate to the majority.

Do you expect a big boost in sales?
Let’s just say that my website’s been very active for the last 36 hours. It’s not going to make my year, but it’s a pleasant increase in sales to say the least.

When are people going to learn that if they make a big stink about something they don’t like that it’s only going to draw more attention to it?
Never, especially when politicians like to grandstand about stupid little things instead of solving real problems.

Do you actually make the candy in Lansdowne?
No. We design everything ourselves here, but we have it manufactured in China.

Uh oh. You said the C word.
You know, it’s difficult when you’re trying to sell something that is going to retail for one or two dollars to make it in the U.S. The labor rates in China, despite the fact that they have come up, are still a lot better than in the U.S. If I made it in the U.S., it wouldn’t sell, because you couldn’t sell it cheaply enough.

And how is the novelty goods business these days?
It’s good. 2008 and 2009 were tough years, but even in a recession, people have enough money to buy something that costs one or two dollars and makes them smile.