USDA Proposal Seeks to Remove 3 Million Recipients from Food Stamps and Rescind School Lunch from Over 265,000 Children

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Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, August 2019
By Steven Hoffman

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on July 23 proposed new rules to limit access to food stamps for households with savings and other assets, a measure that could cut benefits to 3.1 million people participating in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). According to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in a call with reporters, the proposed SNAP rules are aimed at ending automatic eligibility for those who are already receiving federal and state assistance. “What we’ve found is some states are taking advantage of loopholes. This proposal will save money and preserve the integrity of the program. SNAP should be a temporary safety net,” said Perdue. Secretary Perdue’s “rhetoric makes it sound like there are many households out there taking advantage of this so-called ‘loophole,’” reported H. Claire Brown in New Food Economy. However, Brown points out that the Congressional Research Office (CRO) found that only 4.2% of households that received SNAP benefits in 2016 were making more than the SNAP program income limit of 130 percent of the federal poverty line, or approximately $1,307 per month for an individual.

The majority of SNAP recipients—85%—fell below the poverty line. This suggests that the number of families that make a little more money and are grandfathered in by broad-based categorical eligibility is quite small, Brown asserts. The Trump administration estimates that the new rule will rescind food assistance from about 3 million of a total 36 million SNAP participants, or about 8% of the total. Based on CRO estimates, “this seems to indicate it’s possible that many of the people who stand to lose benefits are actually eligible for SNAP under the regular rules—they just haven’t gone through the process of filling out all the paperwork,” Brown writes. “This rule seems to be inserting another layer of red tape between people entitled to food assistance and their benefits,” she adds. In addition, Brown reports, USDA’s proposed changes could potentially take free school lunch away from 265,000 students. Students are automatically eligible for free lunch if they receive SNAP benefits. If automatic SNAP eligibility is uncoupled from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, children may lose their free lunch as a result. When asked about this on the press call, Brandon Lipps, administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, said, “USDA is estimating all the children who will no longer be directly certified for school meals if their parents are not categorically eligible would qualify for free or reduced price meals through the regular application process.” What this means, Brown reports, is more paperwork for parents.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Market Update: Organic and Plant-Based Food Sales


Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, August 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Rabobank: Organic Food Sales Growth Slows; Market to Hit $60 Billion by 2022

Between 2010 and 2016, organic food retail sales grew by an average of 10% per year, however, that growth has slowed to 5.9% for the past two years, says Rabobank. The international bank, known for its focus on food, predicts that organic food sales will reach $60 billion by 2022. While fruits and vegetables remain the top organic food category, representing 36% of all organic food purchases in 2018, even that category is showing signs of slowed growth, noted Rabobank Senior Analyst Roland Fumasi in a report by Food Navigator USA. “Organic produce availability has now become mainstream which means that the organic produce market will continue to more closely resemble the traditionally grown produce market,” Fumasi told Food Navigator USA. “Just a few short years ago, both organic produce prices and organic produce volumes were rising, indicating that demand expansion was occurring more rapidly than supply growth. However, there are indications that continued growth in the organic movement has partially been driven by lower prices for some of the top-selling organic product items.” Fumasi predicts that in a few years, demand for organic produce will see an increase in sales as millennials grow their income and start their own families.

Plant-based Food Sales Growing 5X Faster than Overall Food Sales

Plant-based food sales are growing like a weed, according to new research from the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute. According to the research published in July 2019, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 11% in the past year, bringing the total plant-based market value to $4.5 billion. Since April 2017, total plant-based food sales increased 31% according to the study. Additionally, plant-based foods unit sales are up 8.5%, compared to total U.S. food sales, which are flat, showing the overall health and momentum of the plant-based foods category. The data covers the total U.S. grocery marketplace and was commissioned from SPINS, a wellness-focused data technology company and retail analytics provider, says the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA). According to PBFA, sales of the plant-based meat category alone is worth more than $800 million, with sales growth of 10% in the past year. Refrigerated plant-based meat is driving category growth with a 37% sales increase. Sales of plant-based milks, which grew 6% over the past year, now comprise 13% of the entire milk category, while cow’s milk sales have declined 3% over the same period. In addition, in the past year, plant-based yogurt has grown 39%, while conventional yogurt declined 3%; plant-based cheese has grown 19%, while conventional cheese is flat; and plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty has grown 27%, while conventional ice cream and frozen novelty has grown just 1%, according to the PBFA study.

Good Food Insights: Natural Continues to Set the Pace

Here’s some good news for natural products marketers, writes New Hope Network’s Bob Benenson: Natural product sales are growing five times faster than conventional product sales nationally—in the Multi-Outlet (MULO) channel, a.k.a. traditional grocery chains. Here’s the even better news: Natural product growth in this channel, where the vast majority of Americans get their groceries, outstrips conventional growth in all seven regions of the U.S., as defined by SPINS, the leading data market research firm for the natural, organic and specialty products industry. Along with FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator, Naturally Chicago and Esca Bona, SPINS is a collaborator in the Good Food Insights series. Based on the annual State of Good Food Report, derived from SPINS’ analysis of MULO market data for the 52 weeks ending May 19, 2019, while natural products comprise 9% of total sales in the MULO channel, sales in this category grew 5% over the study period, compared to 1% growth for conventional products. “Conventional retailers are recognizing that the rise of natural is an ongoing historic and generational shift, not a fad. And as they address consumer demand by adding more natural products to their shelves, they are jump-starting further growth in the sector,” writes Benenson. According to SPINS, California has the largest MULO market share of natural products at 14%, followed by the Northeast, with 12% MULO market share for natural products. The South-Central states recorded the lowest MULO market share, with only 6% of sales attributed to natural products. According to Andrew Henkel, SVP of Brand Growth Solutions at SPINS, the forerunner regions have the biggest consumer bases that are apt to adopt a “good food and natural products lifestyle.” “Parts of the country that have significant urban, progressive consumer bases are indicators of where the rest of the country is going to go,” Henkel told New Hope Network.

A New Public Private Partnership, the Colorado Hemp Advancement & Management Plan (CHAMP), Is Set to Strengthen the State’s Leadership Position in Hemp


Originally appeared in the Let’s Talk Hemp Blog & Newsletter
By Steven Hoffman

With the passage in 2012 of marijuana legalization in Colorado, the hemp industry also got an early start in the state, and Colorado is now considered one of the country’s epicenters of hemp agriculture, manufacturing and production. To further that leadership position, Governor Jared Polis has created a unique new public-private initiative, the Colorado Hemp Advancement & Management Plan (CHAMP). His priority in establishing the CHAMP initiative is for “Colorado to remain an innovating force in the promotion of this high-value agricultural commodity,” says the CHAMP website.

Led by Betsy Markey, former Representative to U.S. Congress and current cabinet member of the Polis administration and Executive Director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, along with Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg, CHAMP is a year-long statewide initiative that brings together state, local and tribal agencies, as well as industry experts in cultivation, testing, research, processing, finance, economics and marketing. The collaborative effort to help formulate a blueprint for Colorado’s hemp industry includes the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Governor’s Office, Department of Public Health and Environment, Department of Revenue, Department of Regulatory Agencies, Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Department of Public Safety, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Department of Higher Education, local governments and industry experts.

“We had one of the first hemp programs in the country,” Greenberg recently told Westword Magazine. “We’ve got pretty incredible experience in Colorado; our state is set up for it, and our governor is all about hemp. It’s a fantastic time to be doing this work in Colorado, so I think by all accounts, we are ahead of the game. Our intent is to stay there,” she said. In addition to serving as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, Greenberg is the former Western Program Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition.

When asked about how to handle issues like “hot” hemp (hemp that exceeds the legal limit of THC), Greenberg said, “Before CHAMP, we didn’t have an avenue to figure these things out, so we took leadership in creating a structure that will allow regulatory agencies, industries, Native tribes, learning institutions and farmers to sit around a table and actually develop answers. There are still so many questions about the X, Y and Z of hemp — like interstate transport [and] how the Department of Public Safety can determine what is hemp and what is not. All of those questions finally have a table to sit at,” Greenberg said.

“CHAMP… is a huge, coordinated effort that includes anyone who has a stake in the game across Colorado, but it’s also going to be open-sourced,” Greenberg continued. “We’ve been talking to other states that don’t have programs, and are offering our expertise. We don’t see this as something we need to hold on to and keep away from everyone. We’ve got a national and international industry with this now, and we can’t keep it within closed borders in Colorado. This is going to have to include interstate commerce, and we really see our creativity and desire to bring in thought leaders as ways to continue our leadership,” she added.

“One way to establish our leadership is getting our state plan into the USDA. We’re in close communication with the USDA to make sure they see us as a partner in this, and that we are a resource. Submitting our state plan is big here, just to make sure our state’s hemp program is still a leader. Another one is the larger CHAMP report, which will show what it takes to grow our hemp industry beyond the Farm Bill. This is a big-vision process,” Greenberg said.

The CHAMP initiative is divided into eight “Stakeholder Groups,” including Research & Development and Seed; Cultivation; Transportation; Testing; Processing; Manufacturing (Food Commodities); Marketing; and Banking and Insurance. The stakeholder groups are scheduled to meet this summer and fall. In addition, leaders of the CHAMP initiative will hold several public meetings, with the first scheduled for Friday, August 16, 2019, in Hesperus, CO. To RSVP for the public meeting and for more information, visit https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/agplants/champ-initiative.

Editor’s Note: Morris Beegle, Co-founder of We Are for Better Alternatives (WAFBA), producer of the NoCo Hemp Expo, Southern Hemp Expo, Hemp on the Slope, Hawaii Hemp Expo and the Let’s Talk Hemp Podcast and Newsletter, was appointed to serve on the CHAMP Marketing Stakeholder Group. In addition, Steven Hoffman of Compass Natural, public relations agency of record for WAFBA and Editor of the Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, was also named to the CHAMP Marketing Stakeholder Group.

Can Unilever Stop Massive Plastic Pollution of Our Oceans?


Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, August 2019
By Steven Hoffman

An estimated 1 million ocean animals are killed each year as a result of plastic pollution. Now, one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters – Unilever – has made it a top priority to reduce plastic pollution. According to CNBC, on any given day, 2.5 billion people use Unilever products that comprise 400 household brands, yet the company knows its $158-billion market cap has come as the expense of the environment. According to Unilever, the company invests more than $1 billion annually on research and development, of which new plastics innovation is a component. In 2018, Unilever’s brands most committed to sustainability, including such “sustainable living” brands as Ben and Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Pukka Herbs, grew 46% faster than the rest of its business and delivered 70% of its turnover growth.

“All of Unilever's brands are on a journey towards reducing their environmental footprint and increasing their positive social impact. Sustainable living brands are those that are furthest ahead on the journey to achieving the company’s ambitious sustainability goals,” Unilever said in a statement. As a result of its initiatives, the consumer giant says it has cut down on plastic use by 15% and is beginning to use bioplastics and refillable metal bottles for bodycare and other items. Since the company signed on in 1017 to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative called The New Plastics Economy, Unilever committ3ed to making all of its plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Addressing the issue of packaging is a great way to start changing the way plastic is used, Shelie Miller, a University of Michigan professor who studies packaging and sustainability, told CNBC. “Packaging is produced to become waste,” she says. “That makes it unique among manufactured goods.” Natural products manufacturers can find a wealth of sustainable packaging resources at OSC2’s Climate Collaborative: https://www.climatecollaborative.com/packaging_resources, and at New Hope Network: https://www.newhope.com/manufacturing-and-supply-business-resources/what-can-my-brand-do-help-solve-our-plastics-problem.

Hemp Happenings This Summer

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, August 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Compass Natural is pleased to organize the following hemp leadership events.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis to Give Keynote Speech at AHPA Hemp-CBD Supplement Congress, August 16, Denver


Colorado Governor Jared Polis will present the keynote speech during the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) Hemp-CBD Congress on Friday, August 16, 2019, in Denver. The address by Gov. Polis helps set the national stage for the vitality of the hemp industry and the positive economic impact the commodity will have for farmers and for dietary supplement companies nationwide, says AHPA. Currently, the industry is navigating a rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscape on how to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).

“We’re proud that Governor Polis will present AHPA’s keynote presentation. His participation is integral to the future of hemp and we look forward to continuing to be a voice of the herbal products industry and share his groundbreaking message to our 500+ leading members,” said Michael McGuffin, President of AHPA. “This collaboration with Governor Polis solidifies his plans to make good on the promise he made in January to position and help shape the future of industrial hemp.” The two-day congress includes speakers from USDA and FDA, plus legal and regulatory experts, farmers and producers, manufacturers, retailers and hemp and dietary supplement association leaders. Presence Marketing’s VP of Innovation and Brand Development, Tracy Miedema, will speak at the event, and Presence Marketing / Dynamic Presence will also be a featured Sponsor Partner of the AHPA Hemp-CBD Summit. Visit http://www.ahpa.org.

Photo: Office of Colorado Governor Jared Polis

Second Annual Southern Hemp Expo Returns to Tennessee, Unites Rapidly Growing Hemp Industry

More than 5,000 farmers, entrepreneurs, investors, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers will gather at this year’s 2nd Annual Southern Hemp Expo, a program-rich conference, exhibition and trade show structured specifically for the rapidly growing industrial, nutritional, and therapeutic hemp industries, held at Williamson County AG Expo Park in Franklin, TN, Sept. 6-7, 2019.

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Participants at the 2019 Southern Hemp Expo will learn about the exploding hemp market, which is expected to surge to more than $26 billion in sales by 2025. This year’s Southern Hemp Expo will include a business and investment conference; hemp farm symposium; industry day with a business-to-business expo hall; general public day with an expo hall for consumers; workshops and demonstrations; and networking and entertainment. Attendees will receive up-to-date information about federal and state legislation and regulations, current trends in CBD and hemp supplements; the latest developments in processing, technology and innovation; certification, compliance and lab testing; and breeding, genetics, seeds and clones, and more. Exhibit space and sponsorship opportunities for the Southern Hemp Expo are available online at www.southernhempexpo.com. Southern Hemp Expo is produced by the Colorado Hemp Company—which has been producing the NoCo Hemp Expo, the world’s largest hemp industry gathering, in Colorado since 2014.

Beyond “Best By” – MOM’s Organic Market CEO Ate Expired Food for a Year

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in Presence Marketing News, July 2019
By Steven Hoffman

“I mean, I ate heavy cream I think 10 weeks past date, and then meat sometimes a good month past its date. It didn’t smell bad. Rinse it off, good to go,” Scott Nash shared with the Washington Post in a June 18, 2019, interview. Nash is the founder and CEO of MOM’s Organic Market based in Rockville, MD, with 19 stores in four Eastern states. According to the Post, Nash consumed yogurt months after the expiration date printed on the label, and tortillas a year past their expiration date. It was all part of his year-long experiment to test the limits on food that had passed its expiration date. Nash blogged about that experiment in February 2019. 

Of course, you can get very sick eating expired food, but more often than not we're throwing away food that is perfectly safe to eat. Some foods, such as deli meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and prepared foods like potato salad that you don't reheat, probably should be thrown away after their “Use By” date for safety reasons. However, in many cases, the Post reports, expiration dates do not indicate when the food stops being safe to eat; rather, they tell you when the manufacturer thinks that particular product will stop looking and tasting its best. 

Why does it matter? A lot of good, safe food gets thrown away, generating unnecessary food waste in landfills and greenhouse gas emissions. The FDA estimates that we throw out a third of our food, worth $161 billion a year, and the agency believes that confusion over expiration dates may be contributing a significant portion of that waste, reported Popular Science.

In an effort to find a solution for clearer package date labels, in 2017, the grocery industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, announced a voluntary standard on food-date labeling. Together, they narrowed a number of date-label terms down to two: "Best if Used By" and "Use By." "Best if used by" describes product quality, meaning that the product might not taste as good past the date but is safe to eat. "Use by" is for products that are highly perishable and should be used or disposed of by that date. 

To help dispel confusion, the FDA announced on May 23, 2019, that it is supporting the food industry’s efforts to standardize the use of the term “Best if Used By” on its packaged food labeling “if the date is simply related to optimal quality – not safety,” said the agency in a statement. Studies have shown that this best conveys to consumers that these products do not have to be discarded after the date if they are stored properly, the agency said. “We expect that over time, the number of various date labels will be reduced as industry aligns on this ‘Best if Used By’ terminology,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “This change is already being adopted by many food producers.”

When it comes to food safety, the FDA said that manufacturers can put whatever terminology they want to convey health risk. While the FDA is encouraging manufacturers to use "Best if Used By" terminology as a best practice, it is not required by law. There is no federal law that requires dates on food, except for infant formula, which is required to bear a “Use By” date, reports the FDA. Other industry experts have suggested using language that indicates shelf life after opening or the date when the product was packed.

“They’re trying to bring clarity to the descriptor of the date,” MOM’s Organic Market’s Scott Nash said. “OK, that’s great, that’s better than what we have now. But I think some things just shouldn’t be dated.” 

FDA advises consumers to routinely examine foods that are past their “Best if Used By” date to determine if the quality is sufficient for use. “If the products have changed noticeably in color consistency or texture, consumers may want to avoid eating them,” FDA advises. FDA also developed a FoodKeeper App for Apple and Android phones, designed to promote understanding of food and beverage storage to maximize freshness and quality.

FDA says its efforts are part of a White House initiative called Winning on Food Waste, a collaboration between the FDA, USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to educate consumers on ways to reduce food waste and how to do it safely without risking illness from consuming spoiled food.

Learn More:
Winning on Reducing Food Waste
FDA Letter to Food Industry, May 23, 2019
FDA’s Food Waste and Loss Resource Page, May 23, 2019

Southern Hemp Expo, September 6-7, 2019, Franklin, Tennessee – Learn about the exploding market for “all things hemp” – from bioplastics to CBD – at the second annual Southern Hemp Expo, the largest hemp exposition and conference in the Eastern U.S., featuring an investors summit, business conference, agriculture symposium and a full exhibition hall. Visit www.SouthernHempExpo.com. To exhibit, sponsor and for info, contact steve@compassnatural.com.

Butter Labeling Wars: Wisconsin Dairy Industry Takes On Plant-based “Butter”

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in New Hope’s IdeaXchange, July 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Until recently, the U.S. dairy industry remained relatively quiet regarding the proliferation of plant-based products that use words such as “milk,” “yogurt” and “cheese. Now, lobbyists and policymakers for dairy producers in Wisconsin, the nation’s leading producer of butter made from cow’s milk and the state that calls itself “America’s Dairyland,” want to limit use of the word on plant-based products, such as the best-selling vegan “butter” sold by Miyoko’s Kitchen, reported Bloomberg News.  

This past spring, Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) instructed supermarkets to remove nondairy products that use the term “butter” on labels, based on complaints from dairy producers that these products don’t comply with the state’s definition of butter, which requires that butter be made from dairy-based milk or cream. After being singled out and pulled from several stores, Miyoko’s agreed to affix a sticker to the label that read “vegetable spread.”

Companies such as Miyoko’s are riding a wave of popularity for plant-based products, especially dairy alternatives, reports Fortune. Plant-based milk retail sales totaled $1.8 billion for the year ending May 25, 2019, a 6.5% increase, according to data shared from Nielsen. Cheese substitute sales totaled $117 million, showing 17.4% growth. Cashew butters were up to $12.6 million, representing an increase of 4.9%, Fortune reported.

Changing consumer preferences toward plant-based foods are often cited as a chief cause of dairy’s slow decline, however, vegan products using labels such as “milk” – or in this case, “butter” – are seen by the milk lobby as misleading consumers to unfairly steal market share.

An official at DATCP said the agency is not planning to enforce labeling laws on other dairy products, such as “milk,” however, it will follow the FDA’s lead in this regard. Regarding butter, however, “It’s been an important product.” Wisconsin products more than one third of all butter sold in the U.S., Fortune reported.

FDA, for its part, may seek to restrict use of such traditional dairy terms by plant-based food producers. As part of its Nutrition Innovation Strategy, FDA announced it is modernizing standards of identity, which “define through regulation certain characteristics, ingredients, and quality of specific foods,” said an agency statement from Scott Gottlieb, who served as FDA commissioner at the time of the strategy’s launch. However, a review commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) reported that 76% of people who commented to the FDA were in favor of allowing plant-based products to continue using dairy terminology. 

“The entire debate over the use of the term milk and other dairy terms on plant-based foods and beverages is a solution in search of a problem,” Good Karma Foods CEO Doug Radi told Food Navigator USA in January 2019. “Plant-based foods that can directly replace dairy-based products make use of the same terminology (e.g. milk, butter, cheese) because they serve the same purposes and are used in almost exactly the same way as their dairy counterparts (in cereal, a glass, smoothies, coffee, etc.) Consumers understand words in context,” he said. “Consumers think these words represent proper descriptors for the products and do not believe we are trying to pass off our products as a dairy product. In fact, we would not be successfully doing so, as consumers buying our products are looking for alternatives to dairy,” Radi added.

Hemp Harassment: Leading Online Retailer Thrive Market Forced to Cease Sales of All Hemp and CBD Products in Banking Backlash

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in the Let’s Talk Hemp Blog & Newsletter
By Steven Hoffman

In a seeming backlash to the burgeoning hemp economy, hemp and CBD retailers, industry associations and other hemp-centric businesses are being denied or threatened with denial of banking, credit card processing and other key business services, including a national newswire service that announced this past month it will no longer accept press releases from hemp companies, and is, in fact, deleting all existing and previously issued press releases related to hemp and CBD from its online archives. It is a disturbing trend in an industry that was made legal across the U.S. as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill and is projected to grow to $26.6 billion by 2025.

It has forced such retailers as leading online natural products grocer Thrive Market to cease sales of all hemp and CBD products, a best-selling category over the past 18 months on its nationally recognized ecommerce site. The member-based online retailer boasts more than 500,000 members. “In early June, we received a notice from our merchant processor demanding that we cease the sale of all hemp and CBD products on Thrive Market. We unfortunately have no choice but to comply, and we’ll begin removing our assortment as early as Thursday, June 20,” wrote Thrive Market’s cofounder and CEO Nick Green in his blog on June 17. As of this writing, clicking on that assortment link takes you to a blank product page on Thrive Market’s website.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Hemp Authority, a not-for-profit trade group developing certification standards for the industry, lost payment processing services in June after being dropped by its vendor, Stripe, based in San Francisco, reported Hemp Today on June 20. According a report in CNN Business, Stripe said it dropped the U.S. Hemp Authority’s account because of liability concerns, despite the fact that the trade organization is not a seller of any hemp products. “We’re being told we’re high risk. We’re actually trying to minimize human risk,” Hemp Authority president Marielle Weintraub told CNN.

Abrupt Notice
Since a leading credit card processor, Elavon, a subsidiary of U.S. Bank, abruptly notified its hemp and CBD clients in March 2019 that it had recategorized hemp and CBD merchants as a “prohibited business type” and was backing out within 45 days of handling payment processing for such companies, a number of hemp businesses have been scrambling to establish secure and durable payment processing relationships. According to one estimate by Philippa Burgess, cofounder of MMJ FinSol, a Denver-based financial services solutions company for hemp, cannabis and other “high-risk” businesses, Elavon’s policy changes affected up to 40,000 CBD companies.

Another merchant processor, Fortress Payment Technologies, in May 2019 notified all its ecommerce customers selling CBD products that they would no longer be able to process Visa credit card payments through the bank. Some sellers received less than eight hours’ notice of these changes, reported Folium Biosciences, a vertically integrated hemp-derived phytocannabinoid producer based in Colorado Springs. The company recently launched a CBD/hemp friendly financial services platform for its customers to help remove the financial hurdles faced by the CBD industry, it said.

Kyle Rapoza, cofounder of Vermont-based Mansfield Provisions, which distributes CBD products online and through brick and mortar retail partnerships, lost credit card processing services for his company in late May 2019, when Elavon stopped doing business with the hemp industry. He explained to Ganjapreneur Magazine that, in the wake of Elavon’s action, many of the industry operators he knows and does business with are moving back to high risk (and high fee) accounts. Rapoza has since been able to access more traditional business accounts through a state credit union, Ganjapreneur reported.

Biggest Challenge Facing the Hemp Industry
It’s a “difficult time” for the industry as it related to financial services, which he called “the biggest challenge in the industry right now,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for Kentucky-based industry association Hemp Roundtable, told Ganjapreneur. “The law, we believe, is clear that since the [2018 Farm Bill], hemp and CBD are no longer controlled substances. There should be no concern whatsoever that there would be violations of federal law to engage in commerce. …Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation – it’s banks, it’s credit card companies, it’s merchant services that have been refusing to do business with these hemp and CBD companies.”

Because banks have been so hesitant to serve hemp and CBD businesses despite the legalization of hemp in the Farm Bill, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Ron Wyden (R-OR) – chief proponents of legalizing hemp – in April 2019 sent individualized letters to four federal banking and financial regulatory institutions, imploring them to prevent banking discrimination of the hemp industry, reported Cannalaw Blog.

In addition, when pressed by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) at a hearing in June 2019, Marijuana Moment reported that Federal Reserve board member Michelle Bowman pledged to inform banks that they can service hemp businesses. When Tester asked specifically how the Fed is advising institutions when it comes to hemp, Bowman responded, “We have not told them that they cannot bank them.” Tester countered that while he and Bowman might be on the same page, it is possible that banks were hearing a different message—hence why hemp businesses have said that they’re still experiencing difficulties accessing credit. Tester said clarification is especially important at this stage because of fallout from trade wars with China and Mexico, as hemp represents a potentially lucrative crop for American farmers. “I would agree with you. We would not discourage banks from banking these types of customers,” Bowman said. “We’ll try to clarify that. Hemp is not an illegal crop.”

What, No Press Releases?
While certain merchant banks seek to stifle hemp industry growth through the denial of critical financial services, another service provider in the media newswire business seeks to silence its voice.

One leading hemp industry media and event production company, Colorado Hemp Company, based in Loveland, CO – producer of the NoCo Hemp Expo, Southern Hemp Expo, and the Let’s Talk Hemp weekly newsletter and podcast – was recently informed by its newswire service, ReleaseWire, that it will not post or distribute any new press releases that mention hemp, and in addition, it was deleting all existing and previous press releases mentioning hemp that Colorado Hemp Company had posted in the past. In a policy update issued on May 8, 2019, ReleaseWire, one of the nation’s leading online national newswire services, issued the following statement, after which it began informing hemp-centric businesses that not only were they not accepting new press releases for distribution, they were deleting all existing press releases and archives related to cannabis, hemp or CBD:

“ReleaseWire was recently contacted by our credit card processor and informed that they have a policy in place that restricts merchants, including ReleaseWire, from linking to, or providing information about, marijuana, cannabis, CBD, hemp and related products. As such, we have been instructed by our credit card processor that we must not only stop taking press release submissions on these topics, but we must remove any existing press releases and related content from our site. They have provided us with a small window of time to complete this process or risk losing the ability to process credit cards.”

Meanwhile, other newswire services including Cision, owner of PR Newswire and PRWeb, continue to accept and publish hemp, CBD and cannabis related press releases on behalf of clients.

Hemp Friendly Payment Processors
So which payment processors are willing to serve hemp and CBD companies? One such processor, Adept Payments, says on its website that it helps high risk businesses, including vape, CBD, adult, casinos and more.

While financial services group, Edward Jones, has no official policy about outreach to the hemp industry, a broker in Bend, OR, contacted Hemp Industry Daily to say he was offering a “full spectrum of banking, investment, insurance and financial planning services to hemp farmers.” Officially, Edward Jones is “looking at the provision in the Farm Bill that addresses hemp growing,” John Boul, manager of global media relations for the St. Louis-based Edward Jones told Hemp Industry Daily in April 2019.So which payment processors are willing to serve hemp and CBD companies? One such processor, Adept Payments, says on its website that it helps high risk businesses, including vape, CBD, adult, casinos and more.

Square, a leading online payment processor, recently soft-launched credit card processing for CBD companies, but the program is still in beta testing phase and is by invitation only. Former credit card processing professional and current blogger Phillip Parker, who describes his site, CardPaymentOptions.com, as a credit card processing watchdog group, posted a guide to the Best Merchant Accounts for Hemp Products in June 2019. Also, Merchant Maverick, a self-described comparison website that reviews and rates credit card processors, mobile payment services and other small business software, published a guide to the Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers in April 2019.

For CBD sellers on Shopify and other major ecommerce platforms, a recently launched processor, Organic Payment Gateways, advertises that its mission is to help people in the CBD business process payments online, and that its payment gateways work smoothly with Shopify, WooCommerce and others. Leap Payments, Instabill and other services promote that they are dedicated to ensuring CBD businesses “can accept debit and credit card payments just like any other business can.”

So, for now, you won’t find any hemp or CBD products at Thrive Market, however, the ecommerce retailer says it won’t give up without a fight. “We believe that ethical and sustainable hemp is another cause worth fighting for, so rest assured that we will be working behind the scenes in the coming weeks to get hemp products back on Thrive Market,” Nick Green wrote in his blog. “In fact, we’re already in conversations with a new processing partner to try to make that happen.”

Kroger, Nation’s Largest Supermarket, to Carry CBD in Nearly 1,000 Stores


By Steven Hoffman, Compass Natural

As the hemp and CBD market continues to evolve at hyper-speed, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, Kroger, announced it is joining Walgreens, CVS, Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, Nieman Marcus and other major retailers that have all started carrying CBD products in their stores.

Kroger, which made a “meaningful investment” in Boulder, CO-based natural foods chain Lucky’s Market, which itself is a leading seller of CBD products, announced on June 11 that it will now sell hemp-derived CBD topical products, including creams, balms and oils, in 945 Kroger-owned stores across 17 states, reported CNBC News, which referred to CBD as “one of the hottest consumer trends.”

“Like many retailers, we are starting to offer our customers a highly-curated selection of topical products like lotions, balms, oils and creams that are infused with hemp-derived CBD,” said Kristal Howard, head of corporate communications and media relations at Kroger, in a statement. “CBD is a naturally occurring and non-intoxicating compound that has promising benefits and is permitted within federal and state regulations. Our limited selection of hemp-derived CBD topical products is from suppliers that have been reviewed for quality and safety,” she added. 

Consumer interest in and demand for products made with cannabinoid compounds or CBD derived from hemp extract is at a fever pitch. Hemp Industry Daily projects hemp-derived CBD retail sales will surge to as much as $7.5 billion by 2023, up from about $1 billion in sales in 2019. 

Yet, while CBD derived from hemp is now legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress late last year, the FDA maintains that companies still can’t add CBD to food or sell it as a dietary supplement. However, with so many CBD supplements and CBD-infused food and beverage products already on the market, the FDA on May 31 held a public hearing to learn more about the issue and hear from hemp industry representatives, manufacturers, advocates and others as it considers its position regarding sales of these products.

For major retailers, selling CBD-infused, topical beauty and skin-care products brings less legal risk, which may explain why retailers such as Kroger, Nieman Marcus and others are starting to offer those types of products first. Given the explosive growth of the market, big box retailers Walmart and Target are also reported to be exploring the potential for hemp and CBD-related products in their stores.

Kroger, headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, is the world’s largest grocery retailer, with fiscal 2018 sales of $121.2 billion, and operating stores under names including Kroger, King Soopers, Ralph’s, Dillon’s, City Market, Fry’s, QFC, Mariano’s, Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter and others. Kroger also is a leading seller of healthy lifestyles products – it’s sales of natural and organic products alone exceeded $16 billion in 2017. Kroger’s private label organic brand, Simple Truth, with sales exceeding $2 billion, is one of the largest natural and organic brands in the U.S.

Kroger says it will sell the CBD products in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Organic Hemp Production Emphasized to Lawmakers, Farmers During “Organic Week” Policy Conference in Washington, DC

Originally appeared on www.LetsTalkHemp.com

One Organic Farmer Treats Hemp Grown for CBD Like a “Specialty Vegetable Crop”
By Steven Hoffman

The importance of certified organic in hemp agriculture cannot be overstated. Currently, nearly 80,000 acres are in hemp production in the U.S., and very few of them are certified organic. That means that the majority of hemp produced in the U.S. is being grown conventionally, using potentially toxic, synthetic pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer derived from the fracking of natural gas.

Frankly, that’s not very good for the environment or for the oncoming climate crisis, as conventional agriculture is one of the largest non-point sources of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to global warming, and fracking releases massive quantities of methane – another potent GHG – into the atmosphere. On the other hand, organically grown hemp can actually sequestercarbon out of the atmosphere and put it back in the soil where it belongs, helping to keep CO2 and other noxious GHGs out of the atmosphere.


Additionally, when given a choice, I’ll choose CBD and hemp extract products that are produced and processed organically, thus minimizing my dietary exposure to toxic pesticide residues and other chemical solvents, because who wants pesticide residues included with their concentrated botanical medicine?

Seeing the explosive growth of the hemp market in the wake of the 2018 Farm Bill, the organic industry’s leading trade association, the Organic Trade Association (www.ota.com) invited my communications agency, Compass Natural, to help plan and present an educational track focused on farmers’ perspectives and market opportunities for certified organic hemp, CBD and related products as part of OTA’s annual Organic Week policy conference, held May 20-23, 2019, in Washington, D.C. OTA’s Organic Week draws organic industry leaders from across the U.S. to interact with policymakers and Congressional leaders to help forward the interests of organic food and agriculture.

At the Organic Week conference, OTA announced that sales of organic products in the U.S. surpassed $50 billion, growing 6.3% to reach a record $52.5 billion in 2018. Almost 6% (5.7%) of all food sold in the U.S. is now organic, driven in large part by demand for organic produce, dairy, plant-based products, dietary supplements, textiles and fiber. “Organic is now considered mainstream. But the attitudes surrounding organic are anything but status quo,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the OTA. “In 2018, there was a notable shift in the mindset of those working in organic toward collaboration and activism to move the needle on the role organic can play in sustainability and tackling environmental initiatives.”

Lobbying for Hemp
As part of OTA’s Organic Week, I was scheduled to visit several congressional offices on Capitol Hill, lobbying on behalf of organic food and farming and industrial hemp, CBD and related products. The staff at the offices of Colorado Senators Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner were supportive of industrial hemp in our meetings, and in alignment with Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ goal of furthering Colorado’s leadership in industrial hemp, as were staff leaders in the offices of Colorado Representatives Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette. However, staff at the offices of Idaho Congressmen Russell Fulcher and Mike Simpson deferred to their state’s legislature when it came to my questions regarding Idaho’s seizure in January of a container shipment of industrial hemp from a licensed grower in Oregon bound for processing in Colorado, despite the 2018 federal Farm Bill declaring that interstate transport and commerce of hemp-derived products is now legal throughout the U.S.

In addition to our Capitol Hill visits, I moderated a lively seminar attended by a number of organic farmers interested in or already growing hemp for food, supplements and fiber as part of an educational track focused on hemp during OTA’s Organic Week. At the seminar, longtime organic farmer Chris Jagger, owner of Blue Fox Farm in Oregon, shared how he began growing hemp three years ago. Instead of planting hemp densely, like they do for fiber production where tall stalks and little foliage are desired, Chris farms his hemp like a specialty crop, or “like vegetables,’ he says, to cultivate the delicate hemp flowers for CBD extraction. Currently, a small number of organic certifiers, including OneCertCCOF and MOSA are certifying farms for organic hemp production, and rumor has it some other major certifiers will soon follow.

At the same time across town, hemp advocate Ben Droz participated in the inaugural Congressional Cannabis Forum hosted on May 21 by Washington, D.C.-based KCSA Strategic Communications. “While covering all aspects of the cannabis market, the KCSA forum presented a hemp panel that examined capital markets and the global economic implications of the legalization of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Droz. “If hemp extracts become a global commodity, it might not necessarily benefit small scale farmers and producers,” he cautioned. “However, until the FDA comes up with more clear guidelines concerning hemp products, the big corporate players will continue to sit on the sidelines, allowing time for smaller brands to establish and build market share, but that could change at any time,” he said. Droz noted that the FDA scheduled its first public hearing on hemp and CBD in food and beverage for Friday, May 31, 2019. Information on the hearing is published in the Federal Register.

Organic agriculture is a bright spot in the U.S. farm economy, continuing to grow at a rate more than double the growth rate of the overall U.S. food market. According to new OTA data, the number of organic farms grew by 39% while the total number of farms in the U.S. shrank by 3% between 2012 and 2017. Organic products can now be found in more than 82% of U.S. homes, and in some states, including California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and my home state of Colorado, organic products are in over 90% of U.S. households. Here’s hoping that organically produced hemp follows suit.

Natural Investing: The Movement Toward Natural & Organic Food and Healthy Lifestyles

Originally appeared in the June 2019 edition of GreenMoney Journal.
By Steven Hoffman

Sales of Natural & Organic Products Outpace Conventional Food and Beverage as Consumers Get the Message about the Relationship between Diet and Health

Launching natural and organic products companies, as well as investing in them, is a daunting challenge in today’s shifting and competitive retail and consumer products marketplace. Yet, consumer demand for healthier products continues to grow. With concerns ranging from the cost of healthcare to the effects of food and agriculture on climate change, consumers of all ages are opting for natural, organic and functional foods and beverages, nutritional supplements, natural medicines and other eco-friendly products from mission-based companies, local producers and brands that share their values and address their concerns.

And, with conventionally grown apples included at the top of the Environmental Working Group’s infamous “Dirty Dozen” list of contaminated fruits and vegetables because each conventional apple contains on average 4.4 toxic, synthetic pesticide residues, people are realizing that it’s the organic apple a day that keeps the doctor away. By choosing organic, regenerative and other healthful and eco-friendly products, people are investing most directly in their family’s health, the health of the planet, and the health of family farms and local communities. And it’s translating into sustained business growth in the natural and organic products sector.

2018 Natural Organic Sales Growth Chart - New Hope.jpg

In 2018, sales of natural and organic products increased 6.9% to $219 billion, according industry market research leader New Hope Network, while sales of conventional food and beverage products, totaling $634 billion, declined by -0.2% in the same year. “It’s not news that sales of natural, organic and functional foods and beverages are growing at a far faster pace than conventional food and beverage,” said Carlotta Mast, New Hope’s Senior VP of Content and Insights, in an industry trends seminar presented at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA, in March 2019. (Attracting nearly 90,000 visitors from over 70 countries, Expo West is the world’s largest natural and organic products trade show.) “The natural and organic products industry is on track to surpass $250 billion in sales by 2021,” Mast added.

In a real sense, Mast noted, conventionally produced, highly processed food and beverage products, made with artificial flavors, colors and other ingredients, are experiencing negative growth. All the growth today in the food and beverage sector is in natural, organic, nutritional, non-GMO and other clean label products. From a small health food and crunchy, hippy movement of independent natural foods stores and co-ops in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, natural and organic is now leading the way in food and beverage retail and manufacturing innovation – marking a huge shift in the market and in the consumer mindset.

Online vs Brick & Mortar
While manufacturers are compelled in today’s market to pursue what’s referred to as “omnichannel” sales strategies, natural and organic continues to be a “brick and mortar” industry, with 86% of total sales being rung up in either mass market or natural foods stores. Conventional grocery retailers including Kroger, Walmart, Costco and others are taking a larger chunk of the market. According to New Hope data, 60% of total natural and organic product sales are happening in the mass market and mainstream conventional grocery channel, which grew 7.4% to $130 billion in 2018. However, more midsize natural food retail chains such as Sprouts Farmers Market (NASDAQ:SFM), Natural Grocers (NYSE:NGVC) and others, which are dedicated to selling predominately natural and organic products, continue to perform well.

“The natural channel, which helped create this industry and continues to be a vitally important channel, grew at a slower rate of 3.3% to reach about $58 billion in sales in 2018. Although natural is now smaller than the mass market channel, it is still strategically important, particularly for new brands,” Mast said.  

Online sales are getting a lot of attention in the natural and organic products space, but according to 2018 data from New Hope Network, e-commerce is driving less than 5% of total sales. However, “that will change pretty quickly over time,” Mast said. E-commerce is becoming increasingly important as a launch pad for new products and brands, and online sales for natural and organic products grew 18% to reach $8.4 billion in 2018. “In a survey of 300 natural brands, half of the new companies that entered the market between 2015 and 2018 started selling online before they moved into any kind of retail distribution. That’s a huge shift for our industry,” Mast noted. 

“Even with wild swings in the economy over the past nine years, people are moving into natural for health reasons and not financial ones,” said Nick McCoy, Co-founder and Managing Director of Whipstitch Capital, a leading independent M&A and private placement advisory firm focused on the healthy living consumer market. And the good news for natural products businesses trying to establish themselves in the market is that “retailers are still embracing smaller brands, even in conventional natural food sets. Once people start investing in their health, they’re not likely to go back,” he added.

Categories and Trends Driving Growth in Natural and Organic

Organic:  Sales of organic foods and beverages grew 5.6% to become a $45 billion market segment in 2018. According to the Organic Trade Association, the organic industry’s leading trade group, in the last decade alone, the U.S. organic market has more than doubled in size. According to New Hope’s Mast, “Organic is absolutely mainstream now and with increased volume and size has come a slight slowing of growth. Some of this has come from the struggles of organic dairy, which makes up 14% of the category, and last year the organic dairy category continued to see growth plateauing due to oversupply and growing consumer preference for plant-based beverages,” Mast observed. According to New Hope’s data, organic produce – fresh fruits and vegetables – comprises 38% of all organic sales. “Organic supply is lagging behind growing consumer demand, a challenge the organic industry has to address,” Mast added. According to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and IFOAM Organics International, leading international organizations based in the EU, the global market for organic food reached an estimated $97 billion US in 2017 (approximately 90 billion euros). The U.S. is the leading market with 40 billion euros, followed by Germany (10 billion euros), France (7.9 billion euros), and China (7.6 billion euros). The Swiss spent the most on organic food (288 Euros per capita in 2017), and Denmark had the highest organic market share (13.3 percent of the total food market). In 2017, 2.9 million organic producers were reported worldwide, a 5% increase over 2016. Total global farmland under organic production increased 20% to nearly 70 million hectares (173 million acres), representing the largest growth ever recorded by FiBL and IFOAM. Yet for all the success of organic, globally, only 1.4% of the total estimated farmland is organic. Organic production, and in particular, Regenerative Agriculture, with its focus on sequestering carbon and building healthy soils, has the potential to help mitigate climate change and is a powerful new movement emerging in sustainable food and farming. 

Plant Based:  With a $183.8 million IPO filing submitted recently by plant-based meat alternative company Beyond Meat, maker of the Beyond Burger, plant-based foods are now firmly a trend, as more Americans seek “flexitarian” diet options to reduce the consumption of meat and incorporate more plant based options in their diet. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based foods grew 20% in 2018 to more than $3.3 billion. This growth is significant when compared to the sales of all foods, which grew just 2%, so plant-based foods dollar sales are outpacing dollar sales of all retail foods by 10X, the association claims. In particular, plant-based dairy alternatives are a rapidly growing category with 50% growth reported. This category includes plant-based cheeses, creamers, butter, yogurts, and ice creams (but not plant-based milk). Plant-based milk now represents 15% of the total milk market, says the Plant Based Foods Association.

Hemp and CBD:  According to data collected by Nutrition Business Journal, sales of products derived from industrial hemp, including full spectrum hemp extract and CBD products, grew 60% to reach $238 million in 2018. Industrial hemp, while derived from the same Cannabis sativa plant as marijuana, is defined as containing less than 0.3% THC. At such low levels, hemp is the non-intoxicating cousin to marijuana. With more than 25,000 recorded uses throughout human history from building materials, paper and bioplastics to textiles and fashions, superfoods and natural medicines, hemp is rich in other cannabinoid compounds, of which CBD or cannabidiol is the most widely known. These cannabinoid compounds have been shown to be beneficial to human and animal health. In a historic move championed by U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), industrial hemp was legalized in the United States for the first time in over 80 years when the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law by President Trump in December 2018. For farmers across the country seeking alternative crops to GMO corn and soy and tobacco, hemp has been a godsend. According to industry group Vote Hemp, total acreage under hemp cultivation in the U.S. exceeded 78,000 acres, an increase of nearly 26,000 acres over 2017 estimates. For independent natural products retailers, sales of CBD products, which are now legal across the U.S., though some states and municipalities are still challenging the national law, have also been a boon, enabling them to differentiate themselves from the mainstream retail competition. And while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is monitoring sales of CBD products, the agency has indicated it will allow the market to evolve while also keeping a close watch on potential bad players who make misleading or fraudulent claims on products.

Functional Foods and Ingredients:  Consumers are opting for food and beverage products that provide real health benefits and functionality, reported Mast, and beverages and functional snacks helped drive 7.5% growth in this category to $68 billion in sales in 2018. The most popular functional ingredients included the herb ashwaganda, pre- and pro-biotics, and hemp and CBD. “The growth in probiotic foods and beverages represent a continued blurring of the lines between dietary supplements and foods and beverages, as consumers have a growing preference for non-pill and non-capsule delivery forms for functional products,” Mast shared. In addition, the “snackification” convenience trend continues to drive expansion in better-for-you and functional snacks.

Dietary Supplements:  Sales of nutritional supplements grew 6.1% in 2018 to $46 billion, driven by sales of collagen products, adaptogenic herbs and other botanical products, mushrooms and other immune support products, anti-inflammatory products such as turmeric, pre- and pro-biotics, multivitamins, and CBD and hemp products.

Natural Living:  A $20.8-billion category comprising natural personal care and beauty care products, household products and pet care. In addition to pet care, mentioned above, product trends driving this category, which grew 6.5% in 2018, include household cleaners (double-digit growth), organic oral care and feminine care products. Referred to as a “self-care category,” Mast observed that consumers are embracing clean beauty and are paying more attention “not only to what they put into their bodies but also what they put on their bodies and bring into their homes.”

Pet Products:  “Natural and organic pet products outperformed all other categories in 2018 – sales growth for the natural pet category was up 10.2% to $7 billion, reported Mast, who also shared that growth in natural and organic pet products far outpaced the 1.9% growth achieved in 2018 by the $26-billion conventional pet products market. “More than 70% of Millennials currently own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association, and 86% of Millennials believe that natural and better-for-you pet food is vital for the health of their pet,” Mast added. 

Sugar Ain’t So Sweet:  Other “macro trends” driving the market include changing consumer perceptions around nutrition and healthy fats, and a growing awareness that “sugar isn’t all that sweet when it comes to health.” Diet trends include the Paleo and Keto diets, and convenience still rules, but products have to have great nutrition and taste. Consumers are also becoming increasingly concerned about packaging waste and are looking to support inventive business and ownership models, sustainable sourcing and packaging, and fair trade, socially responsible and mission driven brands.

Where to Invest?
Motley Fool writer Brian Stoffel says, “If you’re looking for the short answer as to who will be the big winners in the organic and natural food movements, the answer is simple: smaller, local organic farmers … and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).” The reasons, he says, include the trend that today’s Millennials – now the largest demographic spending group – want to purchase from brands that are more organic, small, and locally focused. Stoffel posits that when bigger brands buy out smaller natural and organic brands, today’s savvy consumer simply pivots to a different brand that better reflects their desires

On the other side of the coin, Stoffel’s reasoning behind considering online power house Amazon as a major player in natural and organic products is its position as owner of natural products retail pioneer Whole Foods Market, as well as its leadership position in the e-commerce world where it sells millions of natural and organic products at low margins. 

In between are a number of publicly traded companies including distribution leader UNFI (NYSE:UNFI) and mid-size natural and organic products retail chains Sprouts Farmers Market (NASDAQ:SFM) and Natural Grocers (NYSE:NGVC). Seeing the shift in consumer preference to natural and organic, major retailers including Kroger (NYSE:KGR), Costco (NASDAQ:COST), Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and others have all become significant sellers of natural and organic products. Kroger, which reported more than $16 billion in natural and organic products sales in 2017 and double-digit growth of natural products over the past several years, also is a majority investor in Lucky’s Market, a rapidly growing, midsize natural and organic products retail chain with 35 stores in 11 states. 

In the exploding market for hemp and CBD products, a handful of companies have emerged as market leaders, among them some publicly traded companies including Charlotte’s Web (NASDAQOTH:CWBHF), Elixinol (OTCMKTS:ELLXF), CV Sciences, sold under the brand name +CBD Oil (NASDAQOTH:CVSI), Isodiol International (CNXS:ISOL), Aurora Cannabis (OTCMKTS:ACBFF), Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC), and others.

As a closing piece of advice, independent natural foods retailer Philip Nabors, co-founder of the family owned Mustard Seed Market in Akron and Cleveland, OH, proffers that while an investment in market giant Amazon might seem attractive, it does not necessarily support local business and economies. “Green investors who want to place some of their funds in higher risk investments might want to consider investing in local businesses, where such investments can more directly impact local communities” – and also where individual investors can invest not only money, but potentially time, energy, resources, and relationships, and be rewarded with a more immediate connection in the communities in which they live, and in the long run as these businesses grow and build value, he says. 

On the Organic Trail

Originally appeared in New Hope Network’s IdeaXchange, May 2019
By Steven Hoffman

In which the author spends the month of May visiting Whole Foods Market Global Headquarters in Austin, TX; EARTH University in Costa Rica, the world’s leading university of sustainable tropical agriculture; and Washington, DC, lobbying at OTA’s Organic Week on behalf of organic agriculture, industrial hemp and CBD.

Boulder, Colorado, is a pretty great place from which to run a public relations, communications and brand marketing agency dedicated to natural, organic, eco-friendly, hemp-centric and other mission-based brands. For a relatively small town, the concentration of natural products entrepreneurship and resources available for both startups and established businesses is like few other places (see Naturally Boulder).*

Yet, after a long winter, and having received a small handful of unexpected invitations, I packed my bags for a nearly month-long road trip that began with a visit in early May to Whole Foods Market’s global headquarters in Austin, TX (another “epicenter” of natural products; see Naturally Austin), to attend a unique brand innovation summit; and ended by participating in the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Week in Washington, DC. There, yours truly served as a speaker and sponsor of OTA’s annual policy conference, which included visits to congressional offices to lobby on behalf of organic agriculture and industrial hemp and CBD.

In between, I took advantage of a unique opportunity to travel to Costa Rica – a country in which I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1970s – to visit and learn about a number of permaculture, regenerative organic and sustainable agriculture operations and educational institutions in a country that has taken the lead on sustainability and climate change in Latin America.  

From Punta Mona, an educational permaculture farm reachable only by boat or hiking trail where the Caribbean Sea meets the coastal rainforest, and EARTH University, the world’s leading sustainable tropical agriculture institution drawing more than 400 students and researchers from over three dozen countries, our Costa Rica tour also took us to Finca Luna Nueva (New Moon Farm), a 300-acre biodynamic farm and eco-resort located adjacent to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, a 250,000-acre nature reserve at the foot of Arenal Volcano in the north of the country. There, Finca Luna Nueva’s founders are dedicated to promoting sustainable building and regenerative agriculture, and spreading the message worldwide about soil health, carbon sequestration and climate change.

This, then, is my brief tale, On the Organic Trail.

  • Boulder and Austin are not the only epicenters of natural products entrepreneurship in the country. Check out Naturally Chicago for companies and events in the Windy City. Note: Presence Marketing is a founding Sponsor of Naturally Chicago.

Whole Foods Market, Austin, TX – Brand Innovators Summit
With a lower pricing strategy and a renewed commitment to supporting brand innovation, Whole Foods Market hosted on May 2-3 Secrets to a Healthy Brand Strategy, an invitation-only summit that matched some of the world’s largest food companies with unique startup and emerging brands vying for attention online and on the shelf. Held at Whole Foods’ corporate headquarters in Austin, TX, and produced by Brand Innovators, the largest peer-to-peer community of brand marketers in America, the event featured an exploration of consumer behavior and technology and what it takes to build enduring healthy lifestyles and mission-based brands.

Former Whole Foods Market board member and Celestial Seasonings founder Mo Siegel opens the Brand Innovators summit in Austin on May 2

Former Whole Foods Market board member and Celestial Seasonings founder Mo Siegel opens the Brand Innovators summit in Austin on May 2

I was invited to the brand strategy summit after getting to know Michael Schall on a hiking trail during an earlier trip to Hill Country outside of Austin. Michael, Senior Coordinator of Global Growth and Business Development for Whole Foods Market, is also former CEO of Manischewitz Kosher Foods and Guiltless Gourmet. A very knowledgeable and experienced business leader and one heck-of-a nice person, after learning of my work, Michael insisted I attend. How could I possibly say no?

There, I met Wes Hurt, a recovering drug addict and founder of CLEAN Cause, a sparkling Yerba Mate beverage company founded in Austin in 2015 that donates 50% of its profits to support recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. The products are sold online and in select stores nationwide; nearly $300,000 in profits have been donated to date. I also spoke with Peter McGuinness, CMO of Chobani. While the company has an unsurpassed social mission, I asked Peter if Chobani is considering coming out with certified organic products, produced without the use of toxic, synthetic pesticides such as glyphosate, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones to serve a core organic consumer like me. While Chobani’s yogurt products are not produced organically, Peter mentioned the company is exploring some plant-based offerings made with organic ingredients – a positive move for people and the planet, in my respectful opinion. Other speakers included the founders and senior-level managers of Siete Foods, a Texas-based and family owned maker of grain free chips; Harmless Harvest, seller of premium certified organic coconut water; Jamba Juice; Pepsico; Sir Kensington’s; Vital Farms; Maple Hill; Health-Ade Kombucha; and more.

My takeaway: Competition is everywhere today, yet Whole Foods Market continues to be the mecca of natural and organic products – it is the place where the largest multinational corporations as well as local startups aspire to sell their products. And its association with Amazon, while infrequently mentioned during the conference, was certainly felt. In my perspective, the leadership at Whole Foods’ is energized and empowered to expand the company’s influence and reach and further enhance the bridge between brick and mortar and online retail. Whole Foods remains the gold standard in natural products retailing.

Costa Rica Organic Farm Tour
With a national greeting of “Pura Vida,” meaning “pure life,” Costa Ricans share a sunny attitude and gratitude for what they have. The government abolished the armed forces in 1948, and has since invested in healthcare and education. Costa Ricans welcome visitors from around the world; English is spoken and the dollar is accepted throughout the country, though being able to speak some Spanish is certainly a benefit. Costa Ricans, or “Ticos,” are very proud of their nation’s biodiversity and natural beauty. This past year, Costa Rica took the lead on sustainability and climate change in Latin America. During my excursion, we were able to visit the following organic and sustainable agriculture locations.

Herbalist Sarit Bianca at Punta Mona in Costa Rica

Herbalist Sarit Bianca at Punta Mona in Costa Rica

Punta Mona – South of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a delightful, off the beaten track, Rasta-style community on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, beyond road’s end, lies Punta Mona, a 100-acre permaculture outpost just 10 miles north of the Panama border, reachable only by boat or by foot on a trail cutting through eight kilometers of primary rainforest. (The boat ride was a blast; during our trip it was much too muddy to hike the trail.) Powered by solar panels, Punta Mona is located right off the beach, and it is also decidedly off the grid. Founded by father and son organic products entrepreneurs and permaculture advocates Norman and Stephen Brooks, Punta Mona draws visitors and volunteers from all over the world to tour and/or work in the farm’s lush and diverse fruit and vegetable gardens, community kitchen, herbal products laboratory, and all other aspects of managing the farm and “rustic” resort. If you go, be prepared to “rough it.” But if you can handle rainforest-style basic camp conditions, the natural beauty, organic agriculture, good clean healthy plant-based food, and biodiversity simply cannot be beat. Stephen Brooks also is founder of La Ecovilla, a planned permaculture community located northwest of Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose.

Students from nearly 40 countries attend EARTH University for degrees in mission-based, sustainable tropical agriculture

Students from nearly 40 countries attend EARTH University for degrees in mission-based, sustainable tropical agriculture

EARTH University – On the eastern coastal lowlands outside the town of Guacimo, Costa Rica, among massive commercial banana and pineapple plantations, is a 10,000-acre nature preserve and internationally renowned sustainable agriculture college, EARTH University. You may have heard of EARTH University, or at least its sustainable fair-trade bananas, sold in Whole Foods Market stores across the U.S. Established in 1986 as an international nonprofit agricultural education and research institution, EARTH university draws more than 430 students from over three dozen countries for a full, four-year degree in Agricultural Sciences. Led by an international faculty, EARTH University’s innovative educational approach has been preparing entrepreneurially minded young people from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and other regions to contribute to the sustainable development of their home communities while constructing a prosperous and just global society. According to its leadership, EARTH University offers a world-class scientific and technological education emphasizing ethical entrepreneurship and a strong socio-environmental commitment. Traveling with lifelong friend and colleague Jim Frank, an estate tax advisor and former fraternity brother from my Penn State University days, we were treated to lunch and extensive tours by a number of EARTH researchers, faculty and staff who generously took the time to show us sustainable banana and cacao research and production, student test plots, state of the art facilities and more. Frankly, there is no place like EARTH University. The campus is open to visitors; consider it in your travel plans if you are a tropical sustainable agriculture geek, like me. One additional note: our visit included a stop at Ecolirios, a boutique eco-resort, restaurant and modern architectural treasure located on a beautifully landscaped plateau in the heart of the mountainous rainforest up a steeply inclined, low-gear, four-wheel drive road. A bumpy ride, but once you get there, the experience is well worth it.

Finca Luna Nueva (New Moon Farm) in Peñas Blancas near Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Finca Luna Nueva (New Moon Farm) in Peñas Blancas near Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Finca Luna Nueva – With a newly completed, open-air, poolside restaurant built from locally sourced bamboo and other sustainable materials, plus comfortable cabins, bungalows, yoga studio and common areas located throughout the property, Finca Luna Nueva in Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica, is a jewel in the rainforest and the biodynamic pride and joy of New Chapter’s former CEO Tom Newmark and his wife Terry, owners of Finca Luna Nueva along with their longtime business partner and farm manager Steven Farrell. With its neighbor and program partner, Brave Earth, Finca Luna Nueva offers educational workshops in sustainable building and regenerative agriculture, corporate retreats, yoga retreats, and a world-class eco-resort in the heart of one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Located adjacent to the 250,000-acre Children’s Eternal Rainforest preserve near the Arenal Volcano, visitors to Finca Luna Nueva can take farm and cacao tours and view toucans, sloths, and other wildlife along the property’s hiking trails. Finca Luna Nueva was named among the Ten Best Eco-lodges in Costa Rica by Bookmundi in January 2019. Co-owner Tom Newmark co-authored a recent article in Yes! Magazine on the importance of soil health, carbon sequestration and climate change. Tom, a board member of Greenpeace USA, also is co-founder of The Carbon Underground, a nonprofit organization committed to drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil to help mitigate climate change. Spoiler alert: my agency, Compass Natural, compiles a quarterly e-newsletter for Finca Luna Nueva. For more on Finca Luna Nueva, visit here or contact me at steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

OTA’s Organic Week, Washington, DC
Capping off a marathon month of travel was a visit to Washington, DC, on May 20-23, where my agency, Compass Natural, was invited by the Organic Trade Association to help plan and present an educational track focused on the growing market for organic hemp, CBD and related products as part of OTA’s annual Organic Week policy conference.

Carla Vernon, President of General Mills’ Natural & Organic Unit, speaks on May 22 at OTA’s Organic Week in Washington, D.C.

Carla Vernon, President of General Mills’ Natural & Organic Unit, speaks on May 22 at OTA’s Organic Week in Washington, D.C.

At the conference, OTA announced that sales of organic products in the U.S. surpassed $50 billion, growing 6.3% to reach a record $52.5 billion in 2018. Almost 6% (5.7%) of all food sold in the U.S. is now organic, driven in large part by demand for organic produce, dairy, plant-based products, dietary supplements, textiles and fiber. “Organic is now considered mainstream. But the attitudes surrounding organic are anything but status quo,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the OTA. “In 2018, there was a notable shift in the mindset of those working in organic toward collaboration and activism to move the needle on the role organic can play in sustainability and tackling environmental initiatives.”

As part of OTA’s Organic Week, I was scheduled to visit several congressional offices on Capitol Hill, lobbying on behalf of organic food and farming and industrial hemp, CBD and related products. The staff at the offices of Colorado Senators Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner were supportive of industrial hemp in our meetings, and in alignment with Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ goal of furthering Colorado’s leadership in industrial hemp, as were staff leaders in the offices of Colorado Representatives Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette. However, staff at the offices of Idaho Congressmen Russell Fulcher and Mike Simpson deferred to their state’s legislature when it came to my questions regarding Idaho’s seizure in January of a container shipment of industrial hemp from a licensed grower in Oregon bound for processing in Colorado, despite the 2018 federal Farm Bill declaring that interstate transport and commerce of hemp-derived products is now legal throughout the U.S.

In addition to our Capitol Hill visits, I moderated a lively seminar attended by a number of organic farmers interested in or already growing hemp for food, supplements and fiber as part of an educational track focused on hemp during OTA’s Organic Week. The importance of certified organic in hemp farming cannot be overstated – currently, nearly 80,000 acres are in hemp production in the U.S., and few of them are certified organic, meaning that all that hemp is being grown conventionally using toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

At the seminar, longtime organic farmer Chris Jagger, owner of Blue Fox Farm in Oregon, shared how he began growing hemp three years ago. Instead of planting hemp densely, like they do for fiber production where tall stalks and little foliage are desired, Chris farms his hemp like a specialty crop, or “like vegetables,’ he says, to cultivate the delicate hemp flowers for CBD extraction. Currently, a small number of organic certifiers, including OneCert, CCOF and MOSA are certifying farms for organic hemp production, and rumor has it some other major certifiers will soon follow.

Organic agriculture is a bright spot in the U.S. farm economy, continuing to grow at a rate more than double the growth rate of the overall U.S. food market. According to new OTA data, the number of organic farms grew by 39% while the total number of farms in the U.S. shrank by 3% between 2012 and 2017. Organic products can now be found in more than 82% of U.S. homes, and in some states, including California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and my home state of Colorado, organic products are in over 90% of U.S. households. Now, after a month of travel, that’s news worth coming home to.

Noteworthy Events

  • Grain Place Foundation 2019 Field Day, July 13, 2019, Marquette, NE – Help preserve the legacy of the 300-acre Grain Place organic farm in Eastern Nebraska, which first went organic in 1953 and has been shepherded by the Vetter family ever since. Join over 100 organic farmers for a tour of the Grain Place and a keynote luncheon presentation by renowned organic farming pioneer Bob Quinn and Liz Carlisle, co-authors of Grain by Grain. Learn more. To sponsor the 2019 Field Day with a tax-deductible contribution, contact me at steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

  • Southern Hemp Expo, Sept. 6-7, 2019, Franklin, TN – Learn about the exploding market for products derived from industrial hemp – from bioplastics to CBD – at the 2nd annual Southern Hemp Expo, the largest hemp exposition and conference in the Eastern U.S., featuring an investors summit, business conference, agriculture symposium and a full exhibition half. Visit www.SouthernHempExpo.com. To exhibit, sponsor and for more info, contact me at steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.


Steven Hoffman, is Managing Director of Compass Natural, dedicated to providing brand marketing, public relations, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. A former agricultural extension agent and also former Editorial Director of New Hope Network’s natural products trade magazine and trade show division, Hoffman brings 30+ years of communications, sales and brand marketing expertise to his clientele. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Photos: Compass Natural

Hemp Market Takes Off at Expo West


For Presence Marketing Newsletter, April 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Anyone attending Natural Products Expo West, the world’s largest natural products trade show, held this past March, couldn’t help but notice that 2019 has emerged as “The Year of Hemp” in the natural and organic products market.

Indeed, the legalization of industrial hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill has been a boon for independent natural foods retailers, said Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance. “For smaller stores, this category has been a lifeline for them as they battle to maintain foot traffic in the stores as online sales continue to grow.”  

Larger stores, too, are eyeing the hemp market: Boulder-based Lucky’s Market has taken the lead in hemp and CBD product sales in its stores nationwide, with full shelf sets in the natural living department. Ohio-based Mustard Seed Market’s supplement sales are being driven by its commitment to CBD products, says Nutrition Director Abraham Nabors. Whole Foods Market’s trend spotters identified hemp as a “top 10 food trend for 2019,” and recently, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey indicated the possibility of Whole Foods selling cannabis products should they become legal in the future.

According to Hemp Business Journal’s new report, The Global State of Hemp: 2019 Industry Outlook, U.S. sales of hemp products – from full-spectrum hemp extract and CBD products to hemp foods, textiles, building materials, bioplastics and more – estimated at $1 billion in 2018, are projected to grow 27% annually to reach $2.6 billion by 2022. Global hemp retail sales totaled $3.7 billion in 2018 and are projected to grow to $5.7 billion by 2020.

The passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the Farm Bill, in late December was nothing less than historic, legalizing for the first time in more than 80 years the commercial cultivation and sale of industrial hemp. “Most importantly, noted journalist Chris Chafin in Rolling Stone, “it removes hemp and any hemp derivative from the Controlled Substances Act, legally separating it from marijuana and putting its supervision under the Department of Agriculture. In the most basic sense, these plants serve three primary uses: fiber (paper and cloth), seeds (for hemp oil and food), and cannabinoid oils. It’s this last category that’s the most profitable and has the biggest potential for growth. The [Farm Bill] defines hemp as any part or derivative of cannabis with a THC level below 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis,” Chafin reported.

Hemp Steals the Show at Expo West
Interest in the category was so strong at 2019 Natural Products Expo West that a full-day Hemp & CBD Summit held at the show spilled out beyond a 500-person ballroom into two other rooms where a similar-sized audience watched by live video feed. Also, during a panel discussion hosted by Presence Marketing and NCG at Expo West for over 150 retailers, CBD and hemp supply chain (e.g., ensuring that the full spectrum hemp extract products you carry are sourced from certified organic producers, etc.) dominated the discussion.

Full spectrum hemp and CBD products from new and national brands alike were introduced everywhere at the trade show: carob snacks with hemp extract from Missy J’s; CBD sparkling water from Weller; hemp-infused honey from Colorado Hemp Honey; CBD wellness shooters introduced by Navitas; organic full-spectrum hemp extract from Gaia Herbs, Charlotte’s Web, CV Sciences and others; hemp supplements by Leaf Therapeutics, a new brand launched by legacy brand Solaray; hemp gummies and caramels from Boulder-based Restorative Botanicals; CBD sports nutrition, hemp balms, hemp infused body care products and more. Honestly, what didn’t have CBD hemp extract at Expo West?

And that’s not to mention hemp foods derived from hemp seed – high in plant-based protein and omega-3 essential fatty acids, but with no CBD or cannabinoid compounds. Sold for over 20 years in natural foods stores, hemp seed-derived products are now widely regarded as superfoods. Brands such as Tempt, Manitoba Harvest, Evo Hemp and others presented new hemp food offerings at Expo West, capitalizing on heightened interest in all things hemp.

CBD or Hemp Extract?
The FDA may yet come out against use of the term “CBD.” While the agency is expected to review CBD and hemp extracts in food and supplements in the near future, according to outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, CBD isolate was approved as a drug by the agency after granting license for Epidiolex, the first pharmaceutical derived from cannabidiol (CBD), manufactured by the company GW Pharmaceuticals. The commissioner had recently spoken of a “pathway” to acceptance of hemp CBD as a dietary ingredient. However, with Gottlieb announcing his resignation in early March, many in the natural products industry are uncertain whether progress on FDA regulatory policy regarding hemp and CBD will be made.

However, judging from exhibit after exhibit on the trade show floor, you wouldn’t know the regulatory waters around the use of the term “CBD” are murky. For many exhibitors at Expo West, “CBD” was the go-to phrase on product packaging, literature and exhibit signage, while others more conservatively stuck to the phrase “full-spectrum hemp extract.” 

Despite FDA’s lack of a decision to date in this regard, manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike are responding positively to the use of CBD on the product label, and are not waiting for FDA to decide. This could be an issue down the road for many manufacturers, should the FDA decide to crack down on use of CBD on labels. The key, advised a number of speakers at the show, is avoid the use of CBD isolate in products and stick with full-spectrum hemp extract to avoid unwanted attention from the FDA. 

While "it’s still unclear how different federal agencies will interpret the new [Farm Bill] rules...it doesn’t matter — people in the CBD industry are calling the new legislation a game changer," observed Chafin in Rolling Stone.

Transparency and Testing Are Crucial
A major theme at Expo West’s Hemp & CBD Summit focused on manufacturers operating with safety and integrity, noted CBD Insider in a March 9, 2019, report. “To preserve integrity, businesses must always test their products, especially in these six areas: cannabinoid potency, residual solvents, heavy metals, pesticides, microbes, and terpenes. After this testing is complete and the products are verifiably ready for consumption, companies should be transparent with their testing and provide documentation of third-party lab results. Companies — and consumers — must do their homework and ask questions. If a laboratory, farmer, brand, or any other entity in the supply chain is not willing to be transparent, it’s a sign that you should do business elsewhere. Many of the speakers discussed how they personally vet businesses before working with them, such as requiring documentation or personally visiting the company’s facility,” reported CBD Insider.

In addition, and importantly, retailers and consumers should seek out hemp products that are grown in accordance with certified organic and preferably climate friendly regenerative practices, emphasized John Roulac, founder of Nutiva and RE: Botanicals, a new hemp “apothecary,” which debuted at Expo West. Beware of low-cost hemp extract products that may have been produced with industrial agriculture practices including toxic, synthetic pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers derived from natural gas and fracking – contributors to global warming – and extracted with toxic organic solvents, he cautioned.

U.S. Hemp Acreage – 80,000 Acres and Growing
Although hemp is now legal across the U.S., the message seems to be getting out slowly, and state and local authorities are still seizing hemp crops and truckers are being arrested for crossing state lines with container loads of harvested industrial hemp for processing, tying up individuals in jail and leaving valuable inventory in limbo.

Currently, nine states – Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, South Dakota, Iowa, Texas, and Connecticut – still prohibit hemp production under any circumstances. And four states – Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas – still prohibit hemp-derived CBD. “For now, transporting hemp across these state lines may still be as dangerous as it’s ever been,” reported science writer Leo Bear-McGuiness in Analytical Cannabis.  

Yet, “damn the torpedoes,” U.S. farmers are saying, as they respond to soaring demand by dedicating farmland to hemp cultivation, seeing it as a potential cash crop and an alternative to growing GMO corn, soy, tobacco and other commodity crops. 

According to hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp, the U.S. hemp crop tripled in 2018 to 78,176 acres, up from 25,713 acres in hemp cultivation in 2017. That figure is expected to grow now that the Farm Bill has opened the door nationwide to hemp production, says Vote Hemp. Montana emerged as the top hemp growing state in 2018, followed by Colorado, Oregon, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and North Dakota, respectively, according to Vote Hemp.

Learn More

David Bronner, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Other Leaders in Natural Products and Industrial Hemp to Speak at 6th Annual NoCo Hemp Expo, March 28-30, in Denver

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, March 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Photo: Dr. Bronner’s

Photo: Dr. Bronner’s

Hemp industry and natural products pioneer David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of the 5th generation soap company Dr. Bronner’s, will be a featured keynote speaker at the upcoming NoCo Hemp Expo (NoCo6), March 28-30, 2019, at the Crowne Plaza DIA Convention Center in Denver.

In addition, Colorado’s newly elected Governor Jared Polis, who in his first State of the State speech in January 2019 announced his plan to “make good on the promise of industrial hemp,” will be a featured speaker at NoCo6.

Now in its 6th year, NoCo Hemp Expo is the largest gathering of hemp industry professionals under one roof. Approximately 8,000-10,000 attendees, including investors, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, farmers, producers, retailers and other leaders in hemp are expected to attend the 2019 event to participate a newly added pre-conference Hemp Industry Daily Investor's Forum on March 28, plus a full-day Business Conference, Farm Symposium and expanded Exhibition Hall open to professionals on March 29-30. Additionally, tickets are available to the public to visit the Expo Hall on Saturday, March 30.

A tireless advocate for cannabis legalization and numerous other social justice and environmental causes, David Bronner will address the opportunities and challenges facing the hemp industry and how to navigate business growth in an exploding market, as industrial hemp is now legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. David’s talk, scheduled for Saturday, March 30, also will address hemp’s key role in regenerative organic agriculture to help rebuild soils, sequester carbon and mitigate climate change.

Photo: State of Colorado

Photo: State of Colorado

Governor Polis, an Internet entrepreneur, educational leader, former U.S. Congressman and Colorado native, is a longtime supporter of the hemp and cannabis industries. He advocated for expungement of non-violent cannabis-related criminal records, expansion of Colorado’s medical marijuana program and non-cooperation with enforcement of federal prohibition during his campaign. Governor Polis even had the programs for his inauguration on January 8 printed on hemp paper.

“Hemp is an amazingly versatile crop, and I’m proud to see Colorado’s rural communities leading the way to unleash its untapped economic potential,” he said during the campaign. “As Governor, I’ll support our farmers and innovators who want to develop industrial hemp—and I’ll tell the federal government to stay out of their way.”

The hemp industry is poised for exponential growth now that this incredibly useful plant is legal to grow and sell in the U.S. for the first time in over 80 years, and is expected to reach $4 billion in sales by 2022. Visit www.nocohempexpo.com.

FDA Announces Plans to Tighten Oversight of Dietary Supplements; Issues Warnings to 17 Companies

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, March 2019
By Steven Hoffman

In what Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called “one of the most significant modernizations of dietary supplement regulation and oversight in more than 25 years,” FDA on February 11 announces plans to strengthen its oversight of the dietary supplements market.  

“In the 25 years since Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), the law that transformed the FDA’s authority to regulate dietary supplements, the dietary supplement market has grown significantly. What was once a $4 billion industry comprised of about 4,000 unique products, is now an industry worth more than $40 billion, with more than 50,000 – and possibly as many as 80,000 or even more – different products available to consumers,” Gottlieb said in a statement.

According to FDA, the use of dietary supplements, such as vitamins, minerals or herbs, “has become a routine part of the American lifestyle.” Three out of every four American consumers take a dietary supplement on a regular basis. For older Americans, the rate rises to four in five. And one in three children take supplements, either given to them by their parents or, commonly as teenagers, taking them on their own, the agency said. 

Commissioner Gottlieb’s statement acknowledged the widespread use of supplements and also that “most players in this industry act responsibly” under the regulatory framework that exists under current law. He also said, however, that “bad actors” have been able to “exploit the halo” created by good companies, and so have been able to distribute and sell potentially dangerous products that put consumers at risk.

“As the popularity of supplements has grown, so have the number of entities marketing potentially dangerous products or making unproven or misleading claims about the health benefits they may deliver,” Gottlieb said. 

Under the new policy, FDA is developing a “rapid-response tool” to alert the public to avoid buying products that may contain unlawful or potentially dangerous ingredients. The agency also is looking to update its compliance policies with new dietary ingredient notifications (NDIs), which requires manufacturers to alert the FDA of any ingredients that weren’t sold in the U.S. before 1994.

“An effective NDI notification process represents the FDA’s only opportunity to evaluate the safety of a new ingredient before it becomes available to consumers and helps promote transparency and risk-based allocation of resources,” Gottlieb said.

FDA also is creating the Botanical Safety Consortium, a partnership between the public and private sectors, to evaluate the safety of botanical ingredients and mixtures in supplements.

“As we celebrate in 2019 the 25th anniversary of the passage of DSHEA, AHPA shares Commissioner Gottlieb’s vision…of finding the right balance between preserving consumers’ access to lawful supplements, while also protecting the public from unsafe and unlawful products and holding accountable companies that are not in compliance with the law,” Michael McGuffin, President of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), said in a statement. “AHPA has previously communicated specific suggestions for regulatory improvements to FDA and we look forward to a robust and transparent discussion on how best to serve Americans who include supplement products in their families’ health care choices,” he said.

Regarding NDIs, McGuffin added, “AHPA has invested significant resources to assist industry in submitting NDI notifications that meet the statutory requirements to bring a new ingredient to market. We have also submitted thoughtful comments to FDA’s prior draft NDI guidance documents and will continue to provide input so that any eventual guidance is both useful to the trade and does not stray from FDA’s statutory authority.” 

Under its tightened regulations, FDA also is hoping to make enforcement processes easier, which allows employees to issue warnings to companies and consumers. The agency on February 11 rolled out part of its plan when it sent warning letters to 17 companies for “illegally selling” products that it said claim to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’ve personally benefited from the use of dietary supplements and, as a physician, recognize the benefits of certain supplements as a part of a comprehensive care plan,” Commissioner Gottlieb said. “It’s clear to me that dietary supplements play an important role in our lives as we strive to stay healthy. It’s also clear that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plays an important role in helping consumers make use of safe, high-quality dietary supplements while also protecting Americans from the potential dangers of products that don’t meet the agency’s standards for marketing.”

Can The Natural Products Industry Help Reduce Medication Addiction?

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, February 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Originally appeared in the Feb. 2019 edition of Presence Marketing News and New Hope's IdeaXchange

Benzodiazepines can be as dangerous as opioids. The natural products industry offers alternative, non-addictive pain treatments such as CBD and herbs.

A new study, Patterns in Outpatient Benzodiazepine Prescribing in the United States, published in JAMA Network Open revealed that prescriptions for benzodiazepines—an addictive class of pharmaceutical drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia—doubled from 2003 to 2015. About half of those prescriptions came from primary care physicians. The report also found the largest increase in drug prescriptions during this time period was for back pain and other types of chronic pain.

This troubling trend indicates that a growing number of Americans are seeking medication and relief from stress, insomnia and chronic pain—conditions that are common to many of us in everyday life. Unfortunately, too many people are turning to addictive prescription drugs to get them through the day…and night.

Crisis, what crisis?
While many physicians consider the drugs comprising the focus of the study—benzodiazepines, better known by the brand names Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin and others—are best recommended for short-term use, the same study found that long-term use of these pharmaceuticals also is on the rise: Continuing prescriptions for such medications increased by 50 percent from 2005 to 2015. Healthcare providers have expressed concern that long-term use of such drugs can cause physical dependence, addiction and death from overdose.

Similarly, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the opioid crisis in America is thought to have started in the late 1990s when pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates.

“I don't think people realize that benzodiazepines share many of the same characteristics of opioids,” said Dr. Sumit Agarwal, an internist, primary care physician and researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He was a lead author of Patterns, which was conducted with Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “They are addictive. They cause you to have slower breathing; they cause you to be altered in terms of mental status. And then, eventually, [they] can cause overdose and deaths,” he told NPR this month.

“Side effects…are effects”
The opioid epidemic is not new. But now, another class of addictive pharmaceuticals containing benzodiazepine is being increasingly used—and abused—by a growing number of Americans seeking relief from chronic pain, stress, insomnia and other conditions.

So, how can the natural products industry and integrative healthcare providers help consumers find alternatives to addictive pharmaceuticals such as opioids and benzodiazepines, which often come with potentially damaging side effects? As my friend and colleague, Chris Kilham, the “Medicine Hunter” who travels the world in search of botanical remedies, has said, “The side effects often listed with pharmaceutical drugs are not just side effects…they’re effects!”

Since the opioid epidemic has come to light in recent years, several healthcare and government officials have highlighted holistic and integrative medicine therapies such as chiropractic medicine, acupuncture and massage therapy as powerful and effective treatments for chronic pain, according to the National University of Health Sciences (NUHS).

“These modalities have been part of National University's focus on conservative, evidence-based care for many years,” NUHS President Joseph Stiefel, a former chiropractor who holds a doctor of education degree, said in February 2018. “As more Americans discover the risks involved with opioid medication, natural medicine is quickly becoming a first line of treatment.”

Other major organizations that have advocated for complementary and alternative medicine as a potential solution to the addictive pharmaceuticals crisis include the American College of Physicians; the Journal of the American Medical Association; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; the National Institutes of Health; and others, reported NUHS.

CBD for consumers, athletes, veterans and opioid addicts
With the legalization of industrial hemp in the U.S. and the emergence of full-spectrum hemp extract and cannabidiol products, the market is estimated to grow to $22 billion in sales by 2022, according to a cannabis-industry consultancy, Brightfield Group. Combined with turmeric (curcumin) and other herbal and natural remedies, dietary supplements and functional foods, the natural products industry has a unique opportunity to provide consumers with much-needed, non-addictive alternatives for helping with anxiety and stress, sleeplessness, inflammation and pain.

In addition, researchers at the University of Missouri and the Washington University School of Medicine concluded in a September study that cannabis, including cannabidiol or CBD, may play a role in ameliorating the impact of opioid use disorder. “Because CBD is neither intoxicating nor rewarding and has an extremely large therapeutic window and impressive safety profile, the use of CBD to inhibit opioid craving has great therapeutic potential,” the researchers said.

For amateur and professional athletes, CBD may provide a healthier alternative to the opioids often prescribed for pain management. “As a former college basketball player, I know well that many college athletes and former pro athletes rely on heavy, often daily dosing of anti-inflammatories and even opioids,” Nick Kovacevich wrote in Forbes in August. “CBD appears to provide natural pain relief and possibly even some anti-inflammatory benefits without getting anyone ‘high,’ he added.

Sports leagues, including the National Football League and National Basketball Association, frown upon the use of CBD. However, the BIG3—a professional 3-on-3 basketball league founded by rapper, writer and actor Ice Cube that features former NBA players—announced in June that it had become the first U.S. pro sports league to permit the use of CBD for pain management and recovery. “More than a dozen countries, including Canada and Israel, have approved CBD-based medications for both professional athletes and consumers,’’ the BIG3 said in a statement. “In the U.S., the shift is beginning to happen as the medication is not only used for pain management but preferred over the powerfully addictive opioids and pain-relief drugs that are often the only other option.’’

For veterans “tired of the standard VA cocktail of opiates and psychotropic medications,” a group advocating for natural treatments for PTSD and led by the founders of Colorado-based retailer Warfighter Hemp, is seeking to introduce a new bill “calling on the [Veterans Administration] to conduct scientific and medical research into the safety and efficacy of CBD derived from industrial hemp on veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and other illnesses and injuries.

“The VA Medicinal Hemp Research Act of 2019 is a pragmatic and bipartisan piece of legislation that would improve and, in many cases, save the lives of veterans across the country,” wrote Steve Danyluk and Boone Cutler, both veterans and founders of Warfighter Hemp, in The Hill earlier this month.

Addiction issues in older adults
While anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed as a temporary means of easing depression, improving sleep and reducing anxiety, research published in November in the JAMA Network found that prescribing benzodiazepines may lead to long-term use in older adults. At greatest risk of long-term use were white patients and those who received prescriptions for larger amounts of the medication, the study, Factors Associated With Long-term Benzodiazepine Use Among Older Adults, showed.

“Use of benzodiazepines by older adults [has] been associated with a host of potential risks including falls, fractures, motor vehicle accidents, and potentially, an increased risk of dementia. Additionally, when these types of medications are combined with other prescribed medications, such as opioids, they can increase the risk of unintentional overdoses and death,” Dr. Lauren Gerlach, lead author of Factors, told Healthline. Gerlach is an osteopathic doctor and geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Michigan.

Grace Cheng, who has a doctor of pharmacy and is a practicing pharmacist at the University of California Los Angeles, told Healthline in the same article, “Benzodiazepines can be a rapid solution for debilitating symptoms, such as the inability to fall asleep and resolution of an acute panic attack, which leads to patients’ satisfaction and perceived benefits of therapy. This may result in dependence and longer duration of use. However, they do not address the chronic management of insomnia, anxiety, and depression,” Cheng was not associated with Gerlach’s research.

There’s seemingly no end to the sources of stress and anxiety in today’s fast-paced society, but by no means are they strictly a modern-day problem. Independent natural products retailers can continue to serve health-conscious consumers and capitalize on long-term health issues such as aging, inflammation, stress, insomnia and pain with such products as turmeric, capsaicin, valerian, kava, passionflower and more…and now CBD to help provide natural alternatives to potentially addictive pharmaceuticals for anxiety and pain.

Farm Bill Legalizes Hemp Production in U.S.; Plus, Wins and Losses for Organic Farming, Nutritional Supplements and Animal Welfare

Photo: Agriculture.house.gov

Photo: Agriculture.house.gov

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, January 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Originally appeared in the Jan. 2019 edition of Presence Marketing News and New Hope's IdeaXchange.

President Donald Trump on December 20 signed the 2018 “Agriculture Improvement Act,” known to most Americans as the Farm Bill. There was strong bipartisan support for the $867-billion Farm Bill, the twice-a-decade omnibus legislation that funds projects under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from nutrition and food stamps to soil conservation and agricultural trade. Trump’s signing of the bill into law just before Christmas was spurred in part by pressure from farmers battered by an ongoing trade war with China that has disproportionately affected U.S. producers of soy and other agricultural goods.

The Farm Bill scored some wins and losses for organic food and farming, nutritional supplements and animal welfare, while also for the first time in more than 80 years legalizing the commercial cultivation and sale of industrial hemp in the U.S., as summarized below.

Photo: Whitehouse.gov

Photo: Whitehouse.gov

Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!
For hemp producers across the U.S., the Farm Bill is nothing but historic. “The Farm Bill…both legalizes hemp as an agricultural commodity and removes it from the controlled substances list. It gives states the opportunity to be the primary overseers of hemp production. It also allows hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and makes hemp eligible for federal crop insurance. Together these features will encourage new opportunities for struggling farmers and their families, new products for use in construction, health care, and manufacturing, and new jobs in a broad range of fields," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), sponsor of the hemp provision.

In an interview with Fox Business News, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue welcomed the new hemp legalization. “This is an industrial-use product, medicinally as well as other products, and we look forward to developing markets for it if it’s a profitable crop. Agriculture needs new products,” he said. 

While the previous Farm Bill, passed in 2014, eased some federal regulations on CBD production, the new bill goes much further, reported Chris Chafin in Rolling Stone. “Most importantly, it removes hemp and any hemp derivative from the Controlled Substances Act, legally separating it from marijuana and putting its supervision under the Department of Agriculture. In the most basic sense, these plants serve three primary uses: fiber (paper and cloth), seeds (for hemp oil and food), and cannabinoid oils. It’s this last category that’s the most profitable and has the biggest potential for growth. The bill defines hemp as any part or derivative of cannabis with a THC level below 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis,” Chafin reported.

U.S. hemp-based product sales grew 16% to reach $820 million in 2017 and is expected to surpass $1 billion in sales in 2018, led primarily by hemp-derived CBD, food, personal care and industrial products, according to the publication Hemp Business Journal. While "it’s still unclear how different federal agencies will interpret the new rules...it doesn’t matter — people in the CBD industry are calling the new [Farm Bill] legislation a game changer," Chafin added.

More Research Funding for Organic
While more money was dedicated to organic farming research – from $20 million annually to $50 million annually by 2023 – changes to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) may make it harder for small organic farmers to be fairly represented and to remove synthetic ingredients in organic production, says one organic industry observer.

Other organic industry wins in the Farm Bill included preserving the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program to help organic farmers pay for the costs of organic certification. According to Max Goldberg, editor and publisher of Organic Insider, between funds that were not used in the last Farm Bill and new funds in this Farm Bill, $40.5 million is available to help offset the costs of organic farmers obtaining organic certification. In addition, $5 million was earmarked for technology upgrades and data tracking for fraudulent organic imports, along with increased enforcement authority to crack down on fraudulent organic products from abroad. Also, $5 million was allocated for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative, an important program for policymakers, researchers and industry participants to understand organic production and market data, track trends and create risk management tools, reported Goldberg.

According to Organic Insider, as a result of the Farm Bill executives of farm companies are now allowed to sit in farmer-designated seats on the 15-member NOSB. “This has the potential to dilute the voice of independent organic farmers while favoring the interests of large organic production companies. For example, an executive at a large farm company with zero first-hand knowledge of farming could now be holding a farmer-designated seat on the board,” cautioned Goldberg.

Also included in the Farm Bill is a new provision about NOSB voting procedures that govern decisions about which synthetic materials are allowed in organic production and processing, which could “make it easier for synthetic materials to stay on the National List for decades,” Goldberg observed.

SNAP Excludes Multivitamins
While some food assistance measures sought by retailers under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were secured in the 2018 Farm Bill, the SNAP Vitamin and Mineral Improvement Act was dropped from the bill. “An important step toward improving the nutrition status of low-income Americans, this provision would have allowed SNAP recipients to purchase a multivitamin-mineral dietary supplement with their program benefits, said Steve Mister, President and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition. “We are saddened that low-income Americans will not be given access to this option to help improve nutrient gaps in their diet. CRN remains committed to expanding consumer access to multivitamins and will continue to support policies that ensure all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, have equal opportunity for good nutrition,” he added.

Also, while President Trump signed the Farm Bill without any proposed changes to SNAP work requirements, on the same day USDA announced in a proposal that it seeks to have all Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) ages 18-49 on SNAP placed into work programs. Currently, ABAWDs must work or participate in an employment program for 20 hours a week to continue benefits for more than three months. State waivers, currently available in seven states, and partial waivers, currently available in 29 states, can allow them to receive benefits without working in times of bad economic conditions. The USDA proposal would limit the duration of such waivers. With unemployment currently at 3.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s no reason able people shouldn’t be working or seeking work, USDA argues. In 2017, SNAP was used by 42 million Americans, or about 1 in 8, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"This blanket solution might work — if institutionalized racism did not exist in the U.S.,” writes Beth Kaiserman in Forbes. “In 2017, 21.2% of Black Americans and 18.3% of Hispanics fell below the poverty line, compared with 8.7% of whites, according to Talk Poverty. In 14 states and Washington, D.C., black unemployment is twice as high as white unemployment, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Black and Hispanic workers also earn less than their white and Asian counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Trump Administration ignores the true struggles of people of color in this country. These systematic changes create further inadequacies, making it harder for people in poverty to build better lives,” Kaiserman said.

Animal Welfare – Dogs and Cats in Food Finally Illegal
While none of the animal welfare provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill address the large-scale problems caused by factory farming and Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the U.S., a small handful of items in this year’s bill modestly address the inhumane treatment of animals. One such provision prohibits the import, export, and slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption. Eating dogs and cats is uncommon in the U.S., but until now, it had been legal in 44 states.

In addition, included in the Farm Bill is the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which strives to address a problem for both humans and companion animals: Victims of domestic violence are often afraid to leave because of concern their abusive partner may abuse or kill their pets in retribution. The PAWS Act commits more resources to housing domestic violence survivors with pets and changes law enforcement policy so these situations are more addressable in our current legal framework, which imposes only mild penalties for killing someone’s pet, reports Kelsey Piper in Vox.

Finally, the Farm Bill closes a loophole on animal fighting, such as cockfighting or dogfighting, currently illegal in all 50 states. The bill extends that prohibition to all U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, as well.

Of note is that an amendment sought by U.S. Representative Steve King (R-IA) to prohibit states from setting their own animal welfare standards was removed by Congress from the final Farm Bill. After important animal welfare measures for humane treatment of farm animals and race dogs passed in California and Florida, respectively, King’s amendment was designed to nullify states’ rights regarding animal welfare. The amendment could have interfered with “state restrictions on gestation crates for pigs, tail-docking of cattle, and horse slaughter, along with state bans on the sale of foie gras, eggs from hens kept in extremely small battery cages, and pets from puppy mills,” according to an analysis conducted by the Animal Welfare Institute.

Blockchain for Romaine?

Originally Appeared in New Hope Network’s Idea Xchange, December 2018

How an Emerging Technology Can Be Used in Food Safety, Supply Chain Transparency and More in the Natural, Organic and Nutritional Products Industry

By Steven Hoffman and Sam Kressler

If you were following the news over Thanksgiving, you’d have heard about romaine lettuce being pulled from grocery shelves nationwide due to an E. coli contamination warning issued on Nov. 21 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control. For those paying closer attention, you also would have heard about how the use of blockchain technology could be a food safety solution for the leafy greens and fresh food industry. Blockchain also has the potential to provide traceability and transparency and prevent fraud in the supply chain for food, beverage and nutritional products makers – and ensure consumers that a product is exactly what it claims to be. Originally invented for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, blockchain is still an emerging technology. This primer takes a brief look at blockchain – what it is, and what it offers as a tool for the natural products industry.

What Is Blockchain Technology?
In order to explain blockchain’s potential applications, it is helpful to understand how the technology works. Despite foundations built on some pretty complex math, the concept of blockchain is surprisingly straightforward. Every blockchain implementation is at its core a giant, decentralized database that acts much like an accounting ledger. Transactions are debited or credited among users on the platform but unlike traditional ledgers, the transaction record doesn’t reside in a single location. Rather, as a “shared ledger,” there are copies of the ledger -- and each transaction -- simultaneously residing on potentially millions of computers, or “nodes,” around the network that are continuously updated in real time. Since the blockchain is a database, entries can never be erased, only updated, which means that even if someone attempted to falsify information, the previous records would always be available, residing on every machine across the network and therefore publicly accessible to everyone on the platform. As a result, data is immutable and inherently trustworthy, unable to be falsified or manipulated once it is in the system.

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Food Safety
Because of the inherent immutability of any blockchain platform, the implications for improving response time to and transparency during recalls is substantial. Currently, Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) teams within the food industry work off of a “one-step up, one-step back” model; in every step of the supply chain, each link is responsible for knowing where they procured an item (one-step back) and where it goes after it leaves their hands (one-step up). Currently, while digital records often (but not always) exist, they are isolated from each other at each link in the chain, slowing down response time and obfuscating transparency. 

In a recent experiment, Walmart collapsed the time it took to determine the identity of the farm and farmer of a fresh, sliced mango sold in its stores from nearly seven days with existing technology down to 2.2 seconds using a blockchain implementation built by the IBM Food Trust. In light of the recent recall of romaine lettuce, let’s think about the implications; the tainted lettuce could be identified, recalled, and traced to its source almost instantaneously instead of what will most likely be a multi-day or multi-week search for the source of contamination. Instead of a national warning against eating any and all romaine, the affected pockets could be isolated and controlled discreetly, minimizing public health implications, as well as avoiding consumer fear, confusion, and lost revenue for growers, distributors, and retailers.

The fact that Walmart and IBM are working together is quite significant. In order for a FSQA blockchain implementation to be effective, every link in the supply chain needs to be involved. A system-wide rollout "will be led by the big guys because the infrastructure is so complicated," according to Bryan Armentrout, CEO of The Food Leadership Group, an FSQA consultancy based in Loveland, CO. The smaller players that dominate the natural products industry would be hard-pressed to gain the necessary traction with their production and distribution partners, or to corral the necessary level of funds required for implementation, for that matter. To that point, the IBM Food Trust has brought on the likes of Walmart, Kroger Co., Driscoll’s, Dole, Golden State Foods, McCormick and Co., Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever, Carrefour, and Wakefern Food Corp. as partners. Beyond the sheer authority of their collective market-share, these producers and retailers control some of the planet’s most complex – and least transparent -- supply chains. 

On Sept. 24, 2018, Walmart released a letter to its leafy green suppliers mandating adoption of its new blockchain platform. This is all ultimately a boon to the natural products industry. With the potential for overlap at the procurement, co-packing, manufacturing and distribution levels, as well as a robust platform that already exists with the IBM system, future hurdles to adoption for smaller businesses will be lowered significantly.

Challenges remain, however. For example, how does the platform ensure that producers at the beginning of the supply chain (think: mango farmers in Ecuador or cacao growers in Madagascar) have access to the technology required to upload necessary data to the blockchain? Likewise, just because certificates and other FSQA data can’t be modified once inputted to the blockchain doesn’t mean that falsified information can’t be uploaded by unscrupulous actors from the get-go. “You can keep a trail of where goods are created," said Carlo Las Marias, COO of CoinAlpha, a blockchain-based financial products company, "[but] the downside is that you have to trust how the data gets onto the blockchain in the first place." Fortunately, the pilot programs being rolled out by the likes of Walmart and Unilever are small enough that these and other potential issues will intentionally be identified and addressed before any global roll-outs are enacted.

Traceability: Organics and Dietary Supplements
Organic is the most transparent, the most consumer driven and the most heavily regulated food system in the world, according to Gwendolyn Wyard, VP of Regulatory and Technical Affairs for the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Because of that, blockchain as a traceability tool in organic production and trade makes sense, she said at a seminar at Natural Products Expo West in March 2018. “OTA has a task force dedicated to preventing fraud in organic and is putting together a best practices guide for industry to adopt to ensure authenticity. Currently, we are working on a project looking at supply chain from farm to shelf and part of that is putting together a mitigation plan and strategy that would incorporate the implementation and use of blockchain,” she said.

Logan Peterman, Agricultural Research and Analytics Manager for Organic Valley, agreed that the organic industry is in the early stages with blockchain. “We are aware of some organic certifiers considering blockchain technology for international imports, particularly in terms of grain and other commodity markets where we have substantial issues with co-mingled products. They are looking at biological markers that they might be able to use to ensure integrity, but again, it’s all very early stage,” he said.

For dietary supplements, blockchain could present some unique advantages, said Trinanjan Gupta, CEO of the technology solutions company Dreamweaver, in a panel at Natural Products Expo West. “Ensuring transparency in the supplements industry requires capturing data with each supply chain partner and sharing it with your suppliers on one side and your customers on the other,” he said. “The supplements industry is interesting because it’s global in nature. With each transfer of ownership, we need to be sure that the ingredient and quality information is shared. From there, the certificate of analysis or any other ID document needs to be attached to each transfer of ownership as you share information in the supply chain,” Gupta added.

Challenges to transparency, according to Gupta, include “change management,” where companies need to insist on supply chain transparency, often with reluctant partners; attaching ingredient information to each transaction (“Easier said than done,” he said); data standards are not defined yet in dietary supplements; and “The first mile is always very complex,” Gupta said. “It’s happening at the farm somewhere in the world and it’s always difficult to get that first mile information. However, with smart phone technology, farmers in India and Africa are able to share data, he said.

“Now, in real time, we can send information to a cloud-based infrastructure – a farmer in the field in Africa can enter data into his mobile phone, and information can be captured instantaneously across the world. Ten years ago, a farmer could store the data but how could he share it? The cloud changes that. Blockchain now ties it all together and makes sure that this data is captured and shared between the farmer, processor, importer, manufacturer, distributor and ultimately the consumer. The end goal is to enable the consumer when they buy a product to be able to scan a bar code and at the click of a button instantly get all the information related to the product. That can only happen if you are able to link all these hubs in the supply chain,” Gupta said.

From a blockchain point of view, all this data now being captured at each transaction level is being saved and shared in what is called a distributed ledger. “This is a fantastic platform for supplements: the data is stored, immutable…and it is something which adds multiple levels of security. Additionally, blockchain makes fraudulent behavior very difficult to do,” claimed Gupta. “If there is data that has been stored as part of the blockchain platform, you cannot go back and change it; if someone changes it, it creates a new record and tells you that someone made a change there. So, there is an audit trail you cannot escape,” he said.

The opportunity for blockchain, he concluded, is that accurate information can be shared all the way back to the origination and that “each element in the chain can contribute to this full volume of information that can be transparent and contribute to your brand.”

Of course, even without blockchain, which can be a large investment for small businesses, supplement manufacturers can ensure full traceability using best practices and tools at hand, said Elena Lécué, EVP of Sales and Marketing for Gaia Herbs in Brevard, NC. Speaking of the company’s Meet Your Herbs™ consumer traceability program, “Our innovation is a unique code associated with every product batch, allowing us to have full traceability including certificates of quality without the need for blockchain,” she said. “Because we are committed to radical transparency, Gaia Herbs is certainly watching developments in blockchain technology, yet, we are a GMP certified business and fully FDA compliant. That requires lots of certification and we make test results for purity and potency of our products publicly available. You can make proof of quality and information about the provenance of the product available using current practices without relying on blockchain, if you are testing every batch.”

Blockchain, Fair Trade and Sustainability
Other players, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Oxfam International, are exploring blockchain technology to ensure the protection of endangered seafood, and to ensure farmers in developing nations receive fair prices for their agricultural products.

Recently, WWF teamed up with blockchain technology and sustainable fisheries partners in the fresh and frozen tuna sectors of the Western and Central Pacific region to strengthen supply chain management and help stamp out illegal fishing and human rights abuses. In a report published in August 2018, WWF said, “More and more, experts view full supply chain traceability and transparency as the only way to ensure against the continued entry of illegally or unethically produced seafood products into the seafood supply chain. Blockchain can be a significant part of the solution. By providing this transparency and traceability, it can enable the market to both reward producers who engage in best practices, and exclude illegal and unethical producers.”

Oxfam, for its part, is working with small-scale organic rice farmers in Cambodia, and in November 2018 launched BlocRice, a project that “aims to test blockchain technology and its smart contracts, a digital three-way contract farming arrangement between primary producer, Cambodian rice exporter and retailer in Europe, to improve farmers’ livelihood and their supply conditions,” Oxfam said in a statement. The project will focus on introducing blockchain technology to the organic rice value chain by registering all chain actors with unique identification codes on blockchain; introduce smart (fair trade) contracts between farmers, agricultural cooperatives and exporters to ensure fair income and proper payments for farmers (women farmers, in particular); introduce cashless payment to farmers; and design a consumer communication component from Cambodian producers to consumers.

Learn More
What Can Block Chain Really Do for the Food Industry, Forbes, Sept. 30, 2018

IBM Food Trust

Video: Blockchain and Food Safety with IBM and Walmart

Provenance: Social Mission through Blockchain Technology

Note: This article was co-authored by Steven Hoffman and Sam Kressler, founder of Stir Consulting, an innovation strategy and product development firm serving the natural foods, culinary and food service industries. Visit www.stir-consulting.com.

Midterm Election Update: What’s Impacting the Natural Products Industry?

Photo:  Pexels

Photo: Pexels

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, November 2018
By Steven Hoffman

Originally appeared in the Nov. 2018 edition of Presence Marketing News and New Hope's IdeaXchange

As we approach the 2018 midterm elections, we asked a number of industry leaders, whose job it is in part to track and influence political, legislative and regulatory affairs that affect the natural, nutritional and organic products industry, to give us their views on the upcoming federal and state elections, as well as the issues we face in this election cycle. We were pleased to receive the comments and perspectives below from the following individuals:

  • Loren Israelsen, President, United Natural Products Alliance

  • Laura Batcha, CEO, Organic Trade Association

  • Corinne Shindelar, CEO, Independent Natural Products Association

  • Michael McGuffin, President, American Herbal Products Association

  • Todd Runestad, Senior Editor, Informa/New Hope Network

  • Michele Simon, Executive Director, Plant Based Foods Association

  • Morris Beegle, Producer, Let’s Talk Hemp

  • Bob Hoban, Hoban Law Group, a leading hemp-centric legal firm

Loren Israelsen, President, United Natural Products Alliance

Tariffs and Nutritional Products
Due to the trade imbalance with China, the current administration has decided to use tariffs as a primary tool in an attempt to balance the scales. The nutrition industry has largely escaped the first two rounds of tariffs imposed this year on Chinese goods entering the U.S. The next scheduled tariff round is Jan. 1, 2019, and as we are all hearing, they would essentially cover the rest of all Chinese goods coming into the U.S., suggesting that this time around we’ll be hit directly.

Virtually all dietary ingredients, as we would call them – they would also include food ingredients, food additives, cosmetic ingredients, pet food ingredients, etc. – this class of goods would likely be subject to 25% tariffs. That’s a big deal. We know that many nutrition and dietary supplements companies are trying to forecast if they should buy now to get ahead of the tariffs. However, forward buying skews the market. Also, if there is pushback of those January deadlines, then businesses could be holding on to a whole lot of inventory that won’t be moving as forecasted, so a lot of cash could get tied up in inventory.

Here are my concerns: If tariffs are imposed on dietary ingredients, it will be a price shock to the market, which potentially could lead to cheating and mislabeled, misbranded and possibly adulterated ingredients. Vigilance will be required at a whole new level. The brands that go into the health food retail market are already feeling stressed by Amazon and others; would they suffer more due to pricing pressures due to a possible tariff hike? They don’t have much room to spread the cost.

Yet, ultimately, we believe it is important to engage with China and we will keep the industry updated about our efforts. UNPA has been working with the China Chamber of Commerce for import/export of health products and the China Nutrition Health Food Association (CNHFA), plus the China International Import Expo, scheduled for November in Shanghai is a response to the feeling around the world that China is a closed market. This enormous, first-time international expo is a response to that criticism.

Hemp and CBD
The thing to consider is how important hemp/CBD has become to the independent health food retail channel, as the larger big box natural retailers have decided to stand off and not offer hemp and CBD products. They’re understandably concerned about risk and liability, but for smaller stores, this category has been a lifeline for them as they battle to maintain foot traffic in the stores as online sales continue to grow.

We’ve also been in active discussions with Greenwich Biosciences, the drug holder for Epidiolex, the approved CBD drug. The question is, because CBD hemp extracts currently are technically not lawfully sold ingredients – and that, of course, is subject to further discussion and debate – what position will Epidiolex take with regard to pushing or trying to force CBD hemp extract products off the market - or not?

We believe that Greenwich Biosciences doesn’t want to be the bad guy in all of this. There are an untold number of consumers who are currently using this class of product and many are satisfied with great benefits. This would certainly be an issue they would talk to Congress about, and Greenwich is not looking for a fight. The question is can they find a middle ground, and the same is true for FDA. The outcome of the farm bill will affect DEA’s position on hemp and CBD, but that does not resolve the FDA issue regarding CBD.

By the way, the approval of Epidiolex is significant in that it has full recognition as a drug by FDA – that’s a first. As far as DEA is concerned, CBD is Epidiolex and is now a schedule 5 drug. At the moment, that is how we should be thinking about it. Whether other products would be recognized as Schedule 5? I urge caution.

Depending on how the midterm elections go, the Farm Bill, which has provisions for legalizing hemp, could be passed as soon as December. However, depending on the election outcome, passage of the Farm Bill could be delayed and pushed into 2019, which affects the hemp market’s sense of risk.

Importance of the Independent Retailer
The midterm elections may lead to a change in control in government, and the tensions of this split in government could be more acute. How will that affect sales natural products, such as for sleep, anxiety and depression? Will people need community? We could see the health food retailer be a place of refuge, information exchange and gathering. Passage of the Farm Bill could open up the sales of hemp and CBD products, which are one of the fastest growing categories for independent natural food retailers. Another key Farm Bill provision important to independent health food retailers is the SNAP program, previously known as food stamps, which would allow recipients to purchase multivitamins. The program, added as an amendment to the House version of the Farm Bill, would make multivitamins available to millions of lower income Americans dependent on the SNAP program. Whether the multivitamin amendment will end up in a final bill passed by Congress remains to be seen, and UNPA will be tracking this important issue for its constituents.

Laura Batcha, CEO, Organic Trade Association

The midterm elections are hugely important. At OTA, we have a policy to provide time off for staff to vote. The House is likely to shift. When you look at divided government, some things it can do; some things it can’t. Overall, a lot of things won’t change quickly. What would change is the oversight mechanism. Divided government provides an opportunity for oversight. No matter what happens in terms of organic products trade, we see 2019 as the year of congressional oversight.

We are going to need a bipartisan coalition of champions to direct the USDA to follow the lead of the organic industry. The truth is that USDA’s view of its role in organic is very narrow right now. It is doing a decent job on oversight, but it is refusing to advance the standards for the organic industry, and that’s where we need the support of Congress in terms of oversight. The organic seal can’t be set in stone, which is what USDA feels. It needs to keep up with the consumer. USDA has been unwilling to hear from the industry on that, so we will be looking to Congress to support the organic industry.

Issues of concern to the organic industry include the Origin of Livestock rule in the National Organic Program, which allows conventional animals to be transitioned to organic, but is being taken advantage of. While the rule may have helped support transition in the early days, its time has passed.

Also, despite USDA’s objections, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently announced that it will hear OTA’s case against USDA’s failure to put into effect new organic animal welfare standards. We are also encouraged that the court will hear our challenge to the entire, year-long pattern of unlawful conduct by USDA. The Organic Trade Association believes that beginning with the first delay that was undertaken without an opportunity for public notice and comment shortly after the current administration took office, until the final withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Production rule in March 2018, that USDA has engaged in a pattern of misconduct that can only be corrected by a federal court.

The organic industry also wants USDA to put out better guidance on continuous improvement in soil health. Also, we want more clear requirements on testing for residues of pesticides, GMOs and heavy metals. Methods need to be improved and laboratories need better direction on how and when to prevent fraud. We need Congress to remind USDA of the continuous improvement language in the original law governing organic production standards and that the agency should be responsive to the industry wanting to move forward with these things. 

Regarding the Farm Bill, the Senate bill and the House bill are friendly to organic. However, can committee leaders reach an agreement to sign into law before year end or will it defer to the next Congress, which means the process would start all over again? Getting the Farm Bill done allows funding to support organic. As long as the Farm Bill is delayed, there is no funding for organic research, data collection, certification cost-share support for small farmers to help defray the cost of organic certification, and other key programs.

Lastly, OTA has a small Political Action Committee (PAC), and it is fully supporting Montana Senator Jon Tester in his hotly contested reelection bid. We are very proud to have an organic farmer in the U.S. Senate and we don’t want that to change.

OTA has worked hard to build bipartisan relations in Congress. We have emerging champions and we will continue to engage with both parties. We see younger members of Congress understand the value of organic. We will carry on regardless of the outcome of the midterms to make the case that organic is worth supporting for any member of Congress.

Corinne Shindelar, CEO, Independent Natural Products Association

Farm Bill
The Mid Term elections have an impact on all of us, including the business landscape. The Farm bill is significant, as access to product is becoming a real issue for independent natural food retailers. What is allocated for subsidies and support of organic farming and faster conversion to sustainable agriculture practices will impact the natural products industry. Demand is outpacing supply, and the Farm Bill sets the future of the country’s position in supporting what consumers are really saying they want. 

Climate Change
Climate change aligns with the Farm Bill. The recognition of our leaders to understand that agricultural practices are one of the biggest contributors to climate change is huge. How one votes in November will give a voice to our elected leaders that we are retailers willing to work with our consumers to understand their everyday life choices and how this impacts climate. Yet, if we are not holding our large agricultural production practices accountable for their actions, individual consumers may feel pretty hopeless in “voting with their dollar,” which ultimately impacts independent retailers.  

Economic Inequality
Economic inequality is also a concern. We need legislation support that aligns with our values of a rightful living for all. Independently owned businesses tend to be closer to the people that work for them and value being able to pay a livable wage. Yet the playing field needs to be equal as higher wages (livable) drive up cost at shelf, and yet if all are not held accountable to provide this to those who stock our shelves then the competitive advantage can be lost. 

Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality is also something that we don’t talk about much and yet, as we enter into a more competitive digital environment, the loss of net neutrality can affect the ability of independent retailers to have a strong enough presence on the internet to compete in that space, as well as in their brick and mortar locations. So, does the midterm election impact our business reality? You bet it does!

Michael McGuffin, President, American Herbal Products Association

As we approach the midterm elections, the tariffs are already affecting trade – large companies and small that buy herbs and other ingredients from China have informed me of the financial burdens on their companies. But I can’t see the election having any influence on this as the president has stated he’s acting on his own discretion under the law.

And I think the impact of the issue of “health care” as the term is used in the political arena – it mostly means “health insurance” and barely strays into health care choices – is more on companies as employers than as marketers. In other words, when federal law supports more affordable programmatic health insurance options (and of course there are heated arguments about which model is, when all the costs are considered, more affordable) it’s probably more likely that companies that pay all or a portion of their employees’ insurance costs will continue to do so. This is not, however, an issue that affects the natural products industry in any special way and is true for all American employers. But I’m not aware of any product launches or marketing campaigns in our industry that have keyed on this political discussion.

Regarding the Farm Bill, we all want this to pass and it must pass, and the Congress knows that it must pass. Of particular relevance of course are the supports for organic agriculture (already in and non-controversial as far as I know); the potential for allowing purchase of multivitamins with SNAP benefits (in the House bill but not in the Senate version, and complicated by the fact that the SNAP provisions are, by several reports, the most charged detail before the Conference Committee); and the inclusion of the Hemp Farming Act (in the Senate but not the House version; we think this is largely non-controversial and strongly supported by the leadership). Will the election have any effect on this, though? I don’t see how it can, unless it becomes clear that one side just gained the advantage to break the SNAP work requirement logjam – but I don’t see the conference revisiting any of “our” issues whether or not this occurs. 

The most significant modifications to my attention (and I think to the other trade associations and the industry) will come about if the Democrats gain control of the House. The historical fact is that industry – not just our industry but many regulated industries – often face a greater challenge when the Democrats are in charge that legislation will be offered, and possibly passed, to create new regulations. For the first time since DSHEA amended the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA), our champions (Senators Hatch and Harkin) are gone, and our critics – notably CSPI – have already announced their intention to work to further amend the law to place greater restrictions on dietary supplements. So, we will need to be attentive and vigilant, and try to lead that conversation, or at least make sure we are part of it. We were able to do that in 2006 when AHPA initiated the discussion, and then gathered broad industry buy-in, to support a reasonable amendment to the FDCA to require submission to FDA of all serious adverse event reports associated with supplements. If anything, the industry is more united now than a decade ago, so I’m optimistic that we’ll work cooperatively for the good of the industry, which is ultimately to the good of consumers.

Todd Runestad, Senior Editor, Ingredients & Supplements, New Hope Network/Informa

Democrats seem to be pitching the most part of their political advertising on healthcare issues, specifically the Medicare-for-all concept. That does not seem to really have anything to do with the supplements market or better nutrition.

Part of the Farm Bill has the proviso to include specific multivitamin formulations as eligible for food stamps under the SNAP program. Another part of the Farm Bill will legislate the Hemp Farming Act. I don’t see how the election will change those two either way, frankly. Multis: no. Hemp: yes. Signed, the House Cynic.

For more on the subject:

Michele Simon, Executive Director, Plant Based Foods Association

Going into the midterm elections, the Plant Based Foods Association is concerned with FDA’s potential regulation of the term “milk” with regard to plant-based alternatives.

While grocery sales are generally flat, sales of plant-based foods have grown at double digits over the past year. American consumers are sophisticated and well informed. Consumers who purchase plant-based foods are keenly aware of why they are making these choices and do so for many reasons, including sustainability, health, allergies, variety and taste.

There is much discussion about the use of the word “milk” to identify plant-based alternatives. For our members, and as the data shows, for many consumers, the word describes the functionality of the product. Our research shows that 78% of cow’s-milk drinkers agree that the word “milk” is the most appropriate term for products such as soymilk and almondmilk.

Our use of the term is not meant to diminish the value of cow’s milk produced by dairy farmers, but rather to use terms that have been understood and accepted in the marketplace as the common and usual name for more than 30 years.

To help ensure a consistent approach among our members, last year, PBFA convened a Standards Committee to establish voluntary standards for the labeling of plant-based milks. We recently shared that finished document, along with the results of a consumer survey, with the FDA. The voluntary standard recommends that labels clearly identify the main ingredient as part of the word “milk” or be labeled as a “plant-based milk,” along with clear disclosure of the main ingredient. We also recommend that the principal display panel contain the words “dairy-free” or “non-dairy.”

Ultimately, the question is whether current regulatory definitions can keep up with innovation. We are living in a time of rapid innovation in food and America is leading the way. Consumers are entitled to the benefits of this innovative American spirit and the delicious new plant-based offerings in the marketplace, from both startups and established brands. We urge the FDA to adopt policies that encourage this innovation, not stifle it, and that will allow consumers to make informed choices. Plant-based food producers offer options that consumers want and recognize. If those foods are forced to be identified by obscure, contrived names that consumers are unfamiliar with, innovation will be stifled, and consumers will be deprived of the choices they deserve. The FDA has the unique opportunity to support this growing industry and the millions of American consumers who are voting with their dollars. 

(Adapted from Oral Remarks by PBFA at an FDA hearing in July 2018) 

Morris Beegle, Producer and Host, Let’s Talk Hemp

On the Colorado ballot in the midterm elections is Amendment X, meant to align Colorado’s definition of hemp to federal government definitions as the feds relax their own rules for growing hemp. The ballot question reads: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning changing the industrial hemp definition from a constitutional definition to a statutory definition?”

Regardless of whether Amendment X passes, in the end, this particular bill isn’t going to mean anything to where hemp stands federally or across the board in all states. It gives the state legislature the ability to update and modify the definition of industrial hemp to match the federal definition in terms of allowed percentages of THC. Currently, in Colorado, hemp is a cannabis plant with a THC level of no more than 0.3 percent. However, the U.S. Congress could take hemp off the Controlled Substances Act in this year’s pending Farm Bill and change its federal definition. If they do that and raise the allowed THC level higher than Colorado’s, it could put other states at a better advantage if Colorado’s definition remains the same because they could grow more without worrying about trying to keep the THC level as low.

Hence, the ballot measure asks voters to kick the current definition out of the state Constitution and give it to state lawmakers who could more quickly adjust it to react to federal changes. In Colorado, the only way to change the state Constitution is by asking voters to do so at the ballot box every four years. Amendment X gives us a tool to keep up with the federal definition, immediately allowing us to change our state definition to align with the feds. Otherwise, being stuck in the state constitution like it is, we couldn’t do anything until 2020.

A number of hemp industry leaders are saying they are voting yes on Amendment X. The upside is it would give us a tool to help strengthen the definition of hemp and not weaken it. However, there are others making valid arguments that it could risk constitutional protections for hemp. I see both sides, but in the end, it’s not going to matter because hemp products and hemp derived cannabinoid supplements are going to line the shelves of natural product stores across the country. 

Bob Hoban, CEO, Hoban Law Group, a Hemp-centric Legal Firm

The intention when we wrote the language for Amendment X for Colorado state Senator Vicky Marble was if we want to change the level of THC allowed in industrial hemp, for example, from the currently allowed 0.3 percent to 1 percent, we would now be able to do it in the statute and not in the constitution. If the federal government and/or Kentucky changes the allowed level of THC to 1%, Colorado farmers would be hamstrung.

The industry spoke and it wanted to consider higher THC percentages allowance for hemp. We heard that and responded and this is the first step toward that. Amendment X is good policy because it enables the state of Colorado to remain competitive in an ever-changing industrial hemp industry that has quickly established a global presence. It allows Colorado to remain competitive as the hemp industry evolves.


Twenty-five Years Later, Consumers Are “Grossed Out” by GMO Foods

Photo:  Pexels

Photo: Pexels

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, October 2018
By Steven Hoffman

After nearly 25 years since the introduction of genetically engineered foods into the American diet – and despite the fact that nearly half of all U.S. cropland is dedicated to GMO agriculture – consumers have largely remained skeptical, even to the point of being “grossed out” by the idea, says Sidney Scott, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Scott is lead author of a research paper titled “An Overview of Attitudes Toward Genetically Engineered Foods,” published in the August 2018 Annual Review of Nutrition.  

“In some contexts, people view nature and naturalness as sacred and genetically engineered food as a violation of naturalness,” the authors wrote. What the research overview doesn’t address, however, is why some consumers seem to be fine with heavily processed foods — Hamburger Helper, frozen microwave dinners, or maple-flavored “pancake syrup” — but cannot abide genetically engineered foods such as weed-resistant soybeans, vitamin A-enriched rice, or fast-growing salmon, reports the University of Washington’s The Source. “Consumers seem to be saying it’s not OK to poke into the DNA. That’s yucky,” Scott said. “People are grossed out by that.”

According to the study’s authors, the U.S. tends to have a permissive approach to regulating genetically modified crops and “generally recognizes them as safe.” The European Union, on the other hand, is more restrictive, allowing only two genetically engineered crops to be grown commercially: potatoes and maize. A key aim of the research team’s work was to expose the gap between advocates of genetically engineered foods and opponents, writes Food Dive. “What we’re trying to figure out now is what will allow people to reach a better consensus," said Scott. "I don’t think it’s insurmountable.”