Clean Up in Aisle 10: Risks & Complications of Hemp Infused Edibles in Grocery Stores
By: Miguel Taylor Winsor - July 2021
Ideally “Food is Medicine, and Medicine is Food” but there are important considerations when grocery store buyers of Consumer Packaged Goods (also known as “CPG”). We’re all accustomed to buying groceries and over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals that feed and heal us at our local grocery stores, but what happens when something NEW is introduced? In this instance I’m referring to Hemp & Cannabis Infused Products because: 1.) Traditional CPG buyers often do not have an educated understanding of Hemp Infused Products, 2.) they could be to the Cannabis/Hemp industry due to this lack of knowledge, education and experience, and 3.) they could compromise new consumers’ trust in the Cannabis industry and its products because of this.
How we build trust:
Traditional products in grocery stores have a built-in trust factor in regard to safety and efficacy. “Grocery stores” here include any outlet that retails food and OTCs, or in other words “traditional products”. By carrying recognizable, trusted brands and consumer packaged goods, trust in Grocery Stores develops, and that trust is strengthened by how we perceive what they offer to us individually. Arguably we “know” the brands we buy, we “know” the products we use, and therefore we feel like we “know” the stores we visit when they carry what we like and know.
We as consumers, in turn, trust because we know something. Our trust in products is built through 1) exposure, 2) experience, and/or 3) background knowledge. I would suggest that of the grocery buyer about products and what makes them safe and effective is what helps build trust in products and stores most reliably. This is where CPG Buyers and their knowledge are crucially important.
Currently CPG Buyers don’t know much, if anything, about Cannabis
Cannabis & Hemp, newly out of the Illicit Market, are something very few consumers, buyers, and manufacturers really.
Simply put, in 2021 we are placing a legal packaged weed edible on a traditional CPG buyer’s desk, expecting them to know about Cannabis CPGs, and then expecting them to decide what is worth buying or not. There needs to be education and guidance for these buyers about how to determine what is safe and effective.
Challenges in Deciphering
Despite seeing Hemp & Cannabis CPGs & Food CPGs coming together in Aisle 10 at your local grocery store, the unfortunate truth is that education, knowledge, and trust are still limited in the mainstream about what makes one Hemp & Cannabis CPG better than another. Safety and efficacy awareness about Cannabis CPGs are unique elements of this new market, and given that the market is young and not yet established, universal standards to decipher quality are missing. This leaves A LOT of room for mistakes and bad actors to play. Additionally, because there is no central federal governing board overseeing Hemp Derived Foods, the industry is an arena for profiteering and hooliganism.
So we are ultimately left with an untrustworthy marketplace as a whole. Manufacturers, Buyers, & Consumers new to this standard-less marketplace are unfortunate weak points in getting Cannabis & Hemp out to the public in ways that build reliably trust unless (and until) they’re educated in Cannabis & Hemp. Education is the key here to empowering these weak points to become strong nodes of trust for consumers and communities.
Let us start with Grocery Buyers and explore how buyers can shift to be strong, educated links between consumers and manufacturers. Below are some helpful shifts buyers can easily make to be ahead of the game:
• Know that not all Cannabis Packaged Goods are the same – do your research before buying. Growing, Extracting, and Manufacturing techniques can drastically alter the quality of a final cannabis product.
• Clearly understand all local & state Regulatory & Insurance Requirements for Selling Hemp Products - do not rely on manufacturers or distributors to properly inform you.
• Know how to accurately assess a Cannabis specific Certificate of Analysis to identify inconsistencies or forged results.
• Take into consideration the social climate -locally and nationally- around Cannabis/Hemp and set a clear intention as to how you want to be a part of this growing industry.
• Consider hiring a Cannabis Expert to train staff and offer suggestions regarding purchasing.
Similarities between Food CPGs and Cannabis CPGs are abundant: logistics, QA checks, stocking, etc - they’re both relatively the same. The most pertinent similarity to this conversation is that both the Food and Cannabis/Hemp industries work on thin margins which can subtly promote low quality ingredients and inputs as substitutes for high quality and ethically sourced ones.
While obviously similar in many ways, differences start to creep in quickly because Hemp/Cannabis products are psychoactive and thus treated differently legally and socially. The way that the government and people approach Hemp/Cannabis differently than food needs to be taken into consideration when buying Hemp Infused Foods.
Licensing & Insurance
• Certain states require a license to manufacture and sell Hemp/Cannabis Products
• Purchasing Hemp Infused foods produced in states where CBD Food/Drinks is not yet permitted can jeopardize your business legally because these unregulated products are not covered under insurance nor allowed for interstate commerce. Always check local & state laws in the manufacturing state to ensure legal product manufacturing and purchases.
• Certain states & jurisdictions require retailers to acquire a license to sell ANY Hemp Infused product. Check with local requirements and, if necessary, ensure your license is current.
• Food Liability Insurance that covers “high risk products” like CBD is essential to ensure that the most legal coverage is available in case of litigation. Ensure all parties involved are properly insured. Hemp foods are not covered by standard insurance carriers.
• Certificates of Analysis (COAs) are suggested, and often required, to be available and presented upon sale or distribution.
• Always ask for a FULL PANEL test! If a company can’t “afford” to get one, then how can you ensure that they can “afford” other QAs in their process?
• Full Panel COAs list A LOT of information that is very challenging to decipher if the one reading it is not trained to understand what they are communicating.
• Know the standard allowances for potency and contaminants per prospective product type for your city & state’s standards.
• Check the Limits of Quantifiability (LOQ) on tests and knowing which standards are necessary for an accurate test is important.
• Not all testing facilities are trustworthy or reliable – it’s always worth researching into any lab.
• State/Federal Laws do not always specify how a Hemp COA must be done, so sometimes certain compounds can intentionally be left out if a manufacturer knows their product will not pass.
• “Percentage Hunting” is the act of searching and choosing a Hemp/Cannabis product based on percentage/quantity of Cannabinoids in an item without consideration for method of ingestion, genetics of the strain, extraction method, or personal experience.
• Percentage Hunting Culture is strong in the Hemp/Cannabis industry because consumers are led to believe that “More Potent is Better” - this is not the case with Cannabis/Hemp. Often less, more frequently, is best! Educating consumers that high doses of CBD does not automatically equate to more effective results is critical. Starting at a low dose and consuming more often will promote wakefulness more effectively while reducing any negative side effects.
• Consumers will exacerbate Percentage Hunting by shopping based on Price per mg or percentage point. Consumers are often looking at how much THC or CBD they can get per dollar. This does not always lead to the best product choice for that individual’s physiology.
Consumer Expectations: Live It vs. Feel It
• CBD is a compound best used in a LIVED mindset - here, now, and present - in the body with a daily, wakeful routine. If someone wants to “feel” something, they need to explore different compounds like high Delta-8 THC or Delta-9 THC products for a desired mental and physical shift.
• The Illicit Market has unfortunately misinformed consumers about Cannabis/Hemp and established habits of buying that are based in mistrust, excessive dosages, and chasing highs.
The Green Rush = Low Quality Products
• The “Green Rush”is the quick influx of new businesses to the hemp/cannabis space seeking fast profits. Legalization of hemp & CBD has encouraged many who have never been in the Cannabis industry to blindly enter the space in order to make quick money. Bringing “0” cannabis knowledge to their venture, many new manufacturers are not poised to produce a quality product due to a lack of education, exposure, and experience.
Food Manufacturers Must Learn About Cannabis/Hemp First
• Food Manufacturers interested in Cannabis & Hemp must learn about Cannabis deeply before infusing food with cannabinoids. Most barely skim the surface.
• Misinformation or bad manufacturing (i.e. improper dosing) can lead to negative experiences for consumers and, therefore, diminished trust.
Cannabis Businesses Need to Learn About Food
• Cannabis businesses venturing into food are not always aware of the intricacies of food manufacturing, storing, and distribution. Cannabis/Hemp is not a food - it is stored and processed very differently than carrots, for example. Cannabis/Hemp is not always held to the same sanitization standards that food faces, and this can be abused by Hemp Infused Food Manufacturers, especially those producing in states with no permitted CBD food manufacturing. Ensure prospective products are produced by licensed growers, accredited labs, and in licensed food facilities.
• Like Food, the Hemp/CBD market is flooded with low quality ingredients. Low quality extracts are readily available at very cheap prices. Thanks to refining processes, it is nearly impossible to distinguish a high quality extract from a low quality one until the bottom line and efficacy are taken into account.
• A lot of extracts are produced using warehoused hemp biomass, or -basically- ground up hemp. Warehoused hemp biomass can age and lose potency quickly, if not properly stored. Warehoused hemp has a high potential to produce low efficacy extracts.
• Low efficacy extracts can be refined to appear of a higher quality and can be sold right next to Quality Extracts with very little awareness of the differences for retailer or consumer.
Full Spectrum Extracts:
• Full Spectrum Extracts are not the same as Isolate Extracts. You need far less Full Spectrum Extract than an isolate extract to have a desired effect. 10mg of Isolate Powder is significantly less effective than 10mg of Full Spectrum Oil.
• Not all Full Spectrum Oils are the same! Full Spectrum indicates that there are other major and minor cannabinoids in the oil. Not all oils have very high concentrations of these cannabinoids, which in turn makes them a more inferior product than products that do. CoAs will somewhat reveal the difference, but the truest way to determine quality is to investigate the source diligently.
Know Who You’re Sourcing From
• Given the lack of regulation on CBD & Hemp products, “Brand Image” is not the most reliable way to source your purchases. Big Hemp companies with large marketing budgets do not automatically make quality products. If you can’t call the company directly and speak to someone who knows what they are talking about, this is probably not the right company or product to carry.
• Personal Connection and Education are the two best ways to source Hemp Infused Products. Speak to people directly, ask questions, point out suspicions, and challenge the manufacturer on why they are producing what they produce.
When hemp infused products are ready to reach the shelves, a CPG buyer must be ready to police both Manufacturers and Consumers for safety. CPG buyers MUST educate themselves to know how to ensure the safety of not only their consumers but of their own place of business ultimately.
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