Natural Products Expo West

Hemp Market Takes Off at Expo West

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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.

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