Since 2017, the global phenomenon that is the Runtz strain has not abated. The brand has remained strong, but this year, newly independent, Runtz is relaunching as a top-tier luxury weed lifestyle brand, with all new Runtz genetics plus the classic strains available in multiple states. More people can finally say that they have smoked real Runtz.
The Runtz phenomenon started at Emerald Cup 2017 in Northern California. Ray Bama and Yung LB got hold of Runtz and started to market it online using social media. Grower Nick Corwin eventually met Ray Bama in the Bay Area through Friends. LB, Ray’s roommate, was an up-and-coming rapper and an informal weed ambassador for Cookies—aka one of the Cookie Boys. Nick discovered Runtz when he combined Zkittlez with Gelato 33, creating a dark purple flower with a distinct candy terp profile. They knew they had something, and they went with the Runtz name to capture that candy terp.
“When Runtz first came out it was the darkest thing and then when you opened the bag everyone would say candy,” Ray remembers. “At that point there wasn’t really a terp like that besides Zkittlez. But with Zkittlez, the exhale wasn’t quite as candy, as creamy,” Ray says. Nick says that the Gelato 33 upped the Zkittlez potency and added even more of a candy profile.
The three showed up at Emerald Cup with a little over 300 jars, along with 2,500 Runtz t-shirts to hand out and a group of models rocking the Runtz logo. They camped out in front of the Cookies booth (it was the year Cookies debuted London Pound Cake) where a line formed around them. They sold out in minutes, getting so much attention that Cookies asked them to leave. But Berner took notice, and Cookies would eventually become Runtz’s exclusive distributor.
“We made a whole appearance in letting people know who we are and we’re here. And that impacted the fuck out the culture,” LB remembers.
The same excitement and hype of that day kept its momentum over the next year. However, how the strain and brand (what LB calls a “strand”) became the phenomenon that it did, spreading all across the U.S. to hotspots like New York, Atlanta, and Miami, was not merely organic. Ray and LB worked out a sophisticated multi-pronged approach to branding the strain as a lifestyle. They went on tour, doing pop-ups city by city, everywhere drawing a crowd around this new thing from California called Exotics.
In particular, LB became the face of the brand, and he wove his identity as a weed mogul into his hip-hop singles and his social media. Meanwhile, Nick and Ray reached out to artists, creatives, people in fashion, and musicians, and built a network of culture-makers and content producers. Within a year, they saw Runtz take off. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone wanted it. Everyone claimed to have it.
“We weren’t trying to follow the trend. We weren’t too much caring about the politics behind weed,” LB said. He was trapping weed at the time and saw that the industry was expanding.
“It’s enough for everybody to eat off this plate. You’d be a fool not to capitalize,” LB said.
LB went hard at marketing and promoting Runtz as he toured with his music. As he went around the country, he put on events to raise the brand’s profile, despite the risks.
“These other weed brands, they weren’t doing the sessions and pop-ups that we were doing,” LB said. “We were taking a big risk doing that,” he said, considering most states still considered weed to be illegal.
“We brought that gorilla marketing to the corporate cannabis world,” LB said. “It had never been done before besides Berner. But Berner had a strategic classic high-end way to do it. We just kept this shit so urban, so close to the culture, it’s like one of them was doing it,” LB said.
Runtz became the phenomena that it is because, LB and Ray say, of the work they put into promoting and marketing the strain.
“We just love working. We ain’t better than nobody but we gonna hustle. I guarantee I’ll hustle a lot of these other people,” LB said. “We started getting that recognition.”
Are You Smoking Real Runtz?
Even as the hype built, Runtz was kept exclusive and relatively small-batch. The demand for Runtz in the country far outweighed its supply, and plenty of bootleggers stepped in to fill the lack with fake bags of fake Runtz. Meanwhile, growers that did get hold of Runtz genetics (which wasn’t hard—the guys made a point to spread the genetics far and wide) all too often renamed it and built their own following off of it.
Ray says getting bootlegged, copied, and ripped off was just part of the game.
“To this day if you go buy ten eighths from any dispensary or ten eighths from the street, nine of them are going to be Runtz. Runtz is the most renamed strain, the most bootlegged,” he said.
But to an extent, it was on purpose.
“We’ve constantly hunted and serviced the top one percent of the market and we’ve pigeonholed ourselves there because we never really expanded as far as we could,” Ray said. “We kept our releases very small.”
Ray, LB, and Nick were powerless to stop the brand from getting bootlegged. They saw ugly imitations of their iconic mylar bags for sale in smoke shops all over the U.S. and Europe. To handle their growth, they contracted with a much larger corporation in California to take on marketing and distribution, but found that they were even more hamstrung by not having full ownership of the brand.
“Just being on the road built Runtz so huge, that I didn’t know how big it was until I got to Atlanta in 2018-2019. Everywhere I went everybody said they had Runtz. But they didn’t get it from us,” LB said.
“I used to get mad and upset, but for what? It helped the brand out,” LB said.
The fact is, the guys couldn’t supply the demand for the strain. They developed other phenos to help make more product available, and partnered with regional growers to help suppy the rest of the country outside of California.
“The demand was so high it wasn’t enough,” he said.
For a time, everybody supposedly had Runtz and almost nobody smoked real Runtz. The guys had created a movement that they no longer were in control of. Still, they never stopped promoting Runtz, which had sprung a corresponding clothing and lifestyle brand. They continued to release Runtz phenos and crosses, each one cleverly marketed with stylish mylar bags plus whatever media LB cooked up.
Ray says that they tolerated people copying them. They understood that they were trendsetters.
“We never hated on anybody. People stole our sauce, they steal our sauce to this day, blatantly. And we’ll be like, as long as you’re feeding your family we don’t start shit with people,” Ray said.
“We actually do it for the culture,” he said.
Being copied just inspired them to be more innovative.
“The way we combated that bootlegging is by constantly releasing new products, new product identity, new IP, just always releasing new stuff and they can’t keep up with us,” Ray said.
In 2020, rumors of a strain called Obama Runtz circulated, and a video by a Atlanta trapper talking about it went viral. The team jumped on the viral moment and launched an Obama Runtz strain with a corresponding song and music video referencing the viral video. They later had another viral hit when they released Coochie Runtz in a die-cut mylar bag in the shape of a cropped photo of the midsection a big-bootied woman in a thong, one image of her front and one image of her back on either side of the bag. The photo was unrefined and unabashed and definitely attention-grabbing. Runtz marketing is often this mix of media savvy and a focus on the culture around weed instead of just the weed itself.
They’ve spent years planning, growing, breeding, and making deals for the next phase of Runtz.
“We’ve been the disruptors of the industry,” Nick says. “We’ve done it multiple times and we’re going to continue to do it.”
They disrupt and they start trends. Even before Runtz, Ray invented the GlowTray, a rolling tray with a built-in light that was a phenomenon for years. He and Nick manufactured, marketed, and distributed the GlowTray themselves. Runtz kicked off the trend of using mylar bags instead of jars, which at the time everyone had preferred. Potato Runtz, a collab with designer Imran Potato, together they were the first to create a special shape die-cut mylar pouch (bags that are cut into a shape rather than square), which are now very trendy. They claim they were the first to do things like pop-ups and tours to promote their strain, which by now has become a common tactic in the industry for indie brands.
Their next disruption will take place in smoke shops across America with the launch of Runtz brand tobacco leaf blunt wraps. They noticed that everyone around them were rolling their high-end Runtz weed into crappy Backwoods leaves, half of which from each package had to be tossed for being unusable.
“We want to push the culture forward. We don’t want our people to go buy Backwoods and throw away half,” Ray said. “The weed is so good and expensive and you put it in the Backwoods and it rips or has two stems.”
They talked to some friends in the tobacco industry and ended up traveling to the Dominican Republic to survey tobacco farms. They sampled twenty varieties before going with the Broadleaf. They hand-selected the bales, which each undergo a 5-step sorting process for quality control. Each leaf is washed, trimmed, and pressed so that it’s perfect for rolling a blunt. They’ll launch next month in 4,500 shops across the country.
At the recent Hall of Flowers convention Runtz debuted its first new strains since last year’s Coochie Runts: Bootleg Runtz, Day Day Runtz, iRuntz, Super Runtz, a collab with indie brand Don Merfos Exotics, and FTP Runtz, a collab with the clothing brand. Early next year, they’ll introduce a Classics line, with their most popular strains made widely available at an affordable price, including strains that haven’t been available in a while like Divine Runtz, Pink Runtz, White Runtz, Real Runtz, Obama Runtz, and Runtz OG.
They’ve also been working hard to build a network of growers and dispensaries in states outside of California to grow and distribute actual Runtz flower. The plan is to be able to launch new drops simultaneously in California as well as states like Florida and Michigan. In California, they’re continuing to pheno hunt their own genetics by collaborating with top brands like Wizard Trees, Doja Pak, and Seed Junky Genetics. They’ll also be selling Runtz seeds in smoke shops.
For Nick, Ray, and LB, the Runtz relaunch is about solidifying their place as a high-fashion, high-art, luxury brand. They’re relaunching their streetwear clothing line with Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club, they’re looking into doing a Runtz restaurant, and they’re planning a Runtz festival for 2024.
“LB always told us, Nick, Ray, we’re the Louis Vuitton of cannabis,” Ray said. “They’re wearing Louis Vuitton and Gucci and they’re smoking Runtz.”
For LB, the fact that the brand has made such waves while still being relatively new to the scene is something he doesn’t take for granted.
“For us to have a seat at the table with a lot of these top-tier names is an honor,” LB said.
He’s learned that the art of selling weed in today’s market comes down to marketing a lifestyle. It’s what the Runtz brand does better than anyone.
“It’s not even about selling the flower. Just even knowing how to brand a product to a level where people want it so much to where it’s like we’ll buy the brand overall,” LB said.
“That’s crazy to me to be honest. And it’s amazing. Just to be one of the brands that’s top-tier as far as even being around the top, top people is just an honor. Runtz is new, we’ve been on the scene probably 4-5 years, so we’re literally new,” LB said.