The cannabis extract known as CBD has skyrocketed in popularity. Said to ease everything from epilepsy and anxiety to muscle aches and arthritis, it’s no wonder FMCG heavyweights, like Coca Cola, are circling. As a senior executive inside the UK’s first listed medicinal cannabis company, George Thomas cuts through the confusion surrounding the product.
Rewind two or three years and CBD wasn’t even on the radar of the FMCG sector. Today, it’s a £300 million industry, bigger than the total UK Vitamin D and Vitamin C markets combined. To date over six million adults have put the product to the test and the industry shows no signs of slowing down. Given interest from companies like Coca Cola and Mondelez to develop CBD products, what do UK manufacturers need to know to take advantage of the rapid growth in this sector?
CBD – or Cannabidiol – is a naturally occurring extract derived from the Hemp plant, cultivated for industrial use, containing less than 0.2 per cent THC. Unlike THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis responsible for its recreational high, CBD has no psychoactive effect and can be legally sold in the UK as long as its THC content is below 0.01 per cent.
The human body contains a little-known network of cannabinoid (or CBD) receptors called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Our ECS is vital to our survival and is known to regulate sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction and fertility.
Your ECS system promotes internal harmony and balance – if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or fever throws off your body’s stability, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation. Taking CBD is a way to enhance our ECS function and support the body’s internal natural balance.
CBD as a standalone product is somewhat unregulated. Manufacturers operate within the guidelines of the Food Standards Agency and act with their best approach with regards to safety, compliance and efficacy. The Home Office also has guidelines regarding the controlled elements of the Cannabis plant (THC) which must not be present in products. However, reputable CBD brands put their products through a rigorous, specialist CBD testing facility like PhytoVista Laboratories.
The MHRA has put strict guidance in place to avoid CBD wellness manufacturers making medical claims. CBD is currently classified as a ‘food supplement’. The recent Novel Food reclassification has of course caused concern but the FSA are working with CBD companies to establish the path to compliance and regulation. Their focus is on food safety and given the nature of the product, the risk profile is not causing any knee-jerk reactions. More legislation is coming but we are still unclear on the pathway.
A YouGov survey commissioned by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis found that recent use rates of CBD were higher in the under 55 age groups, ranging from 15 per cent of 25-34 year olds, to 7 per cent of 55-64 year olds and 8 per cent of those aged 65+. Usage was higher on average among females (13 per cent) than males (9 per cent).
Taking the Confusion Out of CBD
Consumers tell us they are confused about many aspects of CBD, so a product range that is easy to understand, with clear labelling is incredibly important. Goodbody Botanicals conducted focus groups which established that clear, consumer-friendly labelling was vital for consumers to be able to identify the different strengths of product available and the best usage for every individual. Education is really important for the sector as there is still a lack of awareness and understanding amongst consumers.
How will the UK CBD category reach its full potential?
Awareness, education and trust will all allow significant growth of the CBD category. Adjustments to the product classification and the demise of poor quality brands will also make a considerable positive impact.
Products containing CBD will inevitably increase in demand so the initial key factor in driving their success is for retailers to stock the category. However, research from the CMC has shown a wide variance in the accuracy of product offering amongst many brands. It is therefore vital that retailers stock a trusted and fully laboratory tested brand so that both they, and their customers, understand exactly what is in each product.
Categories Driving Growth
Manufacturers have contacted us at Goodbody Botanicals about infusing everything from protein shakes and ciders to pet food and cosmetics. We believe sport/fitness will be a big growth category for CBD in 2020, because there is already a huge market for products which might aid recovery or improve performance. The US is seeing huge growth in CBD cosmetics, which will no doubt also translate to the UK market.
When formulating a CBD product it is important to work with experts to ensure quality of CBD, accuracy of testing, as well as benefitting from the experience of knowing what will and won’t work – CBD degrades when heated in excess of 82 degrees for example – so baking and cooking with CBD don’t mix. However a soft drink in a can makes sense as the portion size and quantity of CBD can be measured accurately. Mixing CBD with alcohol is possible, however appearance needs to be taken into consideration as adding CBD can make a liquid murky in appearance – this works fine for a cloudy cider, but not so well for a clear spirit.
Investing in medical research is a key way to pave the way for future growth whilst also providing a body of evidence. Sativa Group Plc is currently working with King’s College London on an exciting project to research the impact of cannabinoids on inflammation and respiratory diseases. Sativa will supply the university with specific strains of cannabis plants that contain various combinations of the spectrum of at least 113 known cannabinoids. With the UK catching up fast in terms of recognising the benefits of medicinal cannabis, in-country research from the globally-recognised King’s College will assist the medical profession, Government and Regulators in their deliberations.