“Quality and consistency through our experience with coco coir”
An Interview With Shan Halamba, CEO of Riococo:
As we approach the second half of 2022, growers continue to face issues maintaining a steady supply of the materials necessary for efficient cannabis production. Chief among the inconsistently supplied materials area are substrates, namely coco coir. Numerous players in the coco coir market are continuously coming onto the scene, falling out of business, succumbing to buyouts, and unable to provide a consistent supply for their customers. The volatility of coco coir supply was a constant, and all this before the fallout caused by the global pandemic.
“Back in 2004, I, like many others, saw the immense potential in the unique properties of coco coir as a substrate,” says Shan Halamba, CEO of Riococo, a leading manufacturer of coco coir for the past two decades. “From the outset, our vertically-integrated manufacturing and distribution have been designed to supply enterprise-level fruit and vegetable cultivation facilities globally.” Among Riococo’s vast client list are Driscoll’s Strawberries in the US, Geoponica in Mexico, Kagome in Japan, and Windset Farms in California, USA. “Riococo has grown alongside its clients, developing manufacturing processes to the exacting specifications of industry-leading fertigation practices. From the outset, we’ve focused on minimizing Riococo’s environmental footprint. The entire product is biodegradable, including the bag itself.”
Shan explained how lessons from commercial agriculture made them uniquely qualified to enter the emerging cannabis industry. “We had designed a coir chip/pith blend to maximize the effect of crop steering practices by tomato and strawberry growers. After meeting with the team at Med Men in the USA, we were able to optimize a mix tailored specifically for commercial cannabis production.” This was five years ago. Since then, Riococo’s PCM (Premium Cannabis Mix) line has seen exponential expansion within the industry. “The PCM line offers growers a single-source solution for the entire life-cycle of the crop with 100% organic material and 100% biodegradable packaging. Starting seeds and rooting cuttings with 100% organic Riococo’s CBOP plugs allow for direct transplant into the specially designed plug recess in our 10cm x 10cm (4″ x 4″) coco coir starter blocks with biodegradable mesh,” Shan continued. “These are then placed directly atop the final open top or long coco coir grow bag where the roots are established quickly, decreasing the time spent in the vegetative cycle.”
“It’s been exciting working in a new space,” Shan told us of the cannabis industry. “Our variety of sizes has brought the viability of Riococo’s use to diverse markets within cannabis. Medical growers with limited plant counts tend towards our 3 and 5-gallon pots. And our multi-state operators have been the largest buyers of 1 and 2 gallons.” To keep up with the increase in demand for its coco coir, Riococo developed a network of distribution hubs throughout the continental US. “Our team has established a network of warehouses, with stock available in quantities from pallets to full containers. We’re currently dispatching shipments daily from both coasts as well as our US headquarters in Dallas, Texas.” We also distribute Riococo PCM coco coir products in countries such as Canada, South Africa, Denmark, Australia, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Israel, and many other countries.
Growers aren’t limited by the standard PCM options. “As established operators are looking to optimize their existing SOPs, we’ve been producing more coco coir grow bags to custom specifications.” This last point is another way in which Riococo is unique among coco coir producers. “We’ve been manufacturing coco coir products to a wide range of specifications for 18 years now. In doing so, over time, we’ve expanded variegated processes in our network of manufacturing facilities. Our team has spread the word on this, and we’re seeing an increase in inquiries from cannabis companies looking for proprietary blends.”
Shan has also expanded Riococo’s coco coir product line, bringing home growers and garden centers into the fold. “Last year, we launched the PCM at home line with 100% organic material and 100% biodegradable packaging. The blend was developed to retain more water than our Commercial PCM line, allowing for home and legacy growers without advanced fertigation systems to take advantage of Riococo’s benefits.” Once word got out about the new ‘Blue Bags’ (as they’ve been dubbed), the appeal wasn’t limited to home growers. “Our R&D team saw the demand for our ‘at home’ line from home growers and garden centers,” Shan explained, “But several commercial greenhouse growers are now taking advantage of the retail line, 10% higher water content as well. I’m told the additional water buffer is a welcome piece of insurance, especially given the temperature volatility in some regions.”
Asked about competing brands, some funded by deep-pocketed conglomerates, emerging in the last couple of years, Shan is unfazed. “In many ways, the coco coir industry is reminiscent of any commodities market. Companies purchase an established brand and alter production methods to minimize overhead. Then, in an effort to gain market share, they flood the market with a lower-quality product. Time and again, we speak with growers who’ve built a specific brand of coir into their SOPs, only to find the product’s quality drastically changed from order to order.” He explained Riococo’s success and longevity among the volatility of substrate suppliers. “Consistency is everything. We own our raw material and finish product production facilities and control every step of production, filter out fine dust material, audit raw material mixes, and track every individual product from the material mix to the finish goods pallet. We owe our growth directly to our customers. The path towards Riococo’s continued success is forged by our core values: quality, consistency, sustainability, and transparency.”