While CBD (cannabidiol) isolates are still off the menu for food, beverage and supplement companies until the FDA lays out a regulatory pathway, most companies are navigating the regulatory minefield by selling ‘broad spectrum’ hemp extracts (which contain CBD, among other things), with some choosing to use the word ‘CBD’ or ‘CBD-infused’ on the label, and others not.
Evo Hemp, which has built a business around hemp seed products (bars, oils, proteins, de-hulled seeds or ‘hemp hearts’) over the past eight years, first started selling full spectrum hemp extracts (which are derived from hemp flowers) via tinctures and softgels about a year ago, and has seen this part of its business skyrocket, co-founder Ari Sherman told FoodNavigator-USA.
“At Expo East 2017 we started getting approached by a lot of our retail partners to do CBD products as we saw that the stigma around CBD and cannabinoid products was really going away.
“When Lucky’s Market first approached us at Expo East, they said their supplement sales were about 7% of store sales. The day they launched CBD products that percentage jumped to 17% of store sales, so 10% of store sales were coming from CBD. I don’t know if they sustained that, but it showed what these items can do.
“Our [HempX branded] softgels and tinctures [marketed as ‘full-spectrum’ hemp extracts] have done phenomenally well and really transformed our ecommerce business almost overnight, so we’re now adding hemp extracts [with 15mg of CBD per serving] to some of our bars, hemp hearts, protein powders, and oils, and have seen a huge amount of interest from retailers because we are already a known and trusted brand in the hemp food space.
“But we are pretty cautious about labeling and branding and we don’t say CBD, we say full spectrum hemp extract. We also don't make any [health] claims on our packaging or on the landing pages of our website."
Evo Hemp’s HempX full-spectrum hemp extracts are made from organic hemp grown by Native American hemp activist Alex White Plume on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota.
Retailers that have been selling these products for a while are shifting their position to want to say 'CBD' clearly on the products, because their customers are confused
He added: “Retailers have been asking us where we think these products should be merchandised and we say at the beginning, a dedicated section will create awareness and educate the customer, although as time progresses they will slowly be incorporated into the rest of the store.
“Retailers that have been selling these products for a while are now shifting their position to want to say 'CBD' clearly on the products because their customers are confused. They’re getting a lot of questions: 'This one says CBD, this says hemp extract, which one is better?'
"They want us to say this many milligrams of CBD on pack as there is also confusion as to whether the milligrams refers to hemp extract, or to CBD in particular.
“But some retailers that are only just getting into this space such as Wakefern, CVS and Walgreens, say we need products to say 'full spectrum hemp extracts' [not CBD].
“Within six months I think we’ll be seeing CBD products in every major retailer. We're talking to Kroger, which has been selling these products through its Lucky's banner for a while and you'll see them in other Kroger banners soon.
"CVS Pharmacy is taking a very aggressive approach so they are going to be a very big player, but Fresh Thyme, Fresh Market, lots of the natural foods stores, VJ’s are selling them, and Costco is also looking closely at this space."
What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?
While retailers are increasingly well educated on this topic, many consumers are confused about the difference between hemp, cannabis, marijuana, CBD, hempseed oil and other products, said Sherman, who says consumers engaging with Evo Hemp via social media say they are using CBD for three primary reasons: As a sleep aid, as an anti-inflammatory, or as something to reduce anxiety.
"The most common question we actually got at a trade show we just attended was not about CBD, but 'What is a hemp heart?' so the good thing about all the buzz around CBD and hemp extracts is that it is stimulating more interest and questions about hemp in general, and we can introduce people to hemp seeds and proteins."
Hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis sativa plant, but varietals of the plant that have less than 0.3% THC (the part that gets you high) are classified as industrial hemp following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, and are now regulated by the USDA, while those with more than 0.3% THC are classified as marijuana plants.
Most consumers don't know which part of hemp the CBD comes from
Meanwhile, CBD – or cannabidiol, one of several cannabinoids in the plant - is only found in meaningful quantities in hemp flowers, something many consumers don't realise, he said. "Most consumers don't know which part of hemp the CBD comes from and a lot of people [mistakenly] think it comes from the seeds."
This is in part because some companies were telling distributors that their CBD was sourced from stalks and stems or even hempseeds, because they were trying to get around [pre-2018 Farm Bill] rules that put hemp flowers under the DEA’s jurisdiction, he said. "I talk to retailers today and some of them still think CBD comes from stalks and stems and I tell them straight out it's from the flowers."
How much CBD is in hemp extracts? And what else is in there?
As for how much CBD is typically in a hemp extract, and whether dialing up the CBD level in an extract to a super high level means that you are selling something the FDA might consider to be a drug, he said: “As long as you’re selling a whole plant extract and you’re not selling the isolated CBD compound, then I don’t think you’re selling what the FDA considers to be a drug.
“But the levels of these different components can vary between extracts you can buy on the market. The CBD levels are often standardized but the polyphenols and terpenes and so on are often all different.
“CBD is the most common cannabinoid and a high CBD variety of hemp often has around 15% of CBD in the extract. But we’re working on varieties that have around 15% of a different cannabinoid called CBG (Cannabigerol), and we forsee that in future some extracts will have 15% CBN (Cannabinol), some will have 15% CBC (Cannabichromene) and so on.
"Eventually I think we'll move to a supplement facts panel that highlights all the cannabinoids and terpenes per milligram, but now when we say 15mg of full spectrum hemp extract, we actually mean 15mg of CBD because that is the one most consumers are interested in right now."