Hemp: from alternative product to functional ingredient

Legalisation efforts around hemp and cannabis have led to a boom in CBD products. Chris Lee, managing director, Global Health and Nutrition Network, Europe, at Informa Exhibitions, discusses how these changes are making CBD-infused foods and beverages a trend to watch.

The end of 2018 marked a turning point for the global cannabidiol (CBD) market. Canada recently passed its Cannabis Act, which makes the purchase, possession and use of cannabis lawful for anyone of legal age, and its pending legalisation of cannabis foods and beverages is expected to pass in October 2019. Furthermore, the New Zealand Government announced in November 2018 that hemp seeds are now treated as “as any other edible seed”.

Meanwhile in Europe, CBD, with a maximum of 0.2% THC, has been legal for public consumption in France, the world leader in hemp seed production, since November 2017. Crossing the channel to the UK, it is lawful to sell hemp extracts as food supplements, and the trend has rapidly spread across the country, with numbers of cannabis oil users increasing from 125,000 in 2017 to 250,000 in 2018, according to the Cannabis Trade Association.

The result is the CBD revolution shifting into a higher gear as food and beverage manufacturers around the globe begin to explore the full potential of the hemp-derived product.

Product launches accelerate but legal confusion could stem growth

Inevitably, the changes in law have led to a wave of new product launches, driven at this stage perhaps by novelty value. From 2013 to 2017, there was a 34% average annual increase in the number of new food and drinks launches with hemp ingredients globally, according to Innova Market Insights.

Despite this, however, businesses must remain cautious as there has been some confusion around the legality of hemp products among both companies and the public. Incorrect information about the lawfulness of hemp extracts in Europe has spread far and wide online and firms must make sure their sources are trustworthy. On top of that, the CBD movement is still met with suspicion, ruled by its link to cannabis. In France, for example, the French Minister for Health, Agnès Buzyn, has pledged to close the loophole in France’s stringent anti-drug legislation and put establishments selling CBD products out of business within weeks.

Relaxed labelling protocols and a lack of transparency are two factors posing a risk to human life

A growing market: sustainability and health functionality draw industry interest

Despite this, it is unlikely that the interest in CBD will wane anytime soon, especially as information on CBD’s health and wellness benefits becomes increasingly available and consumer demand continues to rise. For example, CBD gummies ranked third in the 2018 Google Trends Year in Search ‘food’ category results, and according to cannabis research firm New Frontier Data, products containing cannabidiol and other types of hemp will rise nearly ten-fold to $2.6bn by 2022.

Also driving this growth is the sustainability of CBD. An annual plant, hemp is cultivated in over 30 countries globally and has the capability to replenish soil with more nutrients than it takes to grow – proving itself a lucrative cash crop for farmers, as well as a quality choice for the increasingly health and environmentally conscious consumer. The result is an industry that is sitting up and taking note of what was once an alternative ingredient, and even big players around the globe are watching.

CocaCola, for example, is “closely following the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world”, according to a statement released in September 2018, while PepsiCo’s founder, Hugh Johnston, told CNBC in October 2018 that the company will look critically at investigating cannabidiol.

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Examining the functional future of CBD

With the world keeping a close eye on the developments of CBD as a functional ingredient, a host of new launches during the past few years, and increasing consumer awareness and demand, the hemp market is anticipated to experience a significant breakthrough in 2019.

Considering this, Vitafoods Europe 2019 and the Vitafoods Education Programme will be exploring what the future holds for CBD products and how the industry is set to develop over the next 12 months. This will include a look at the collaboration required to shape a more sustainable future for the nutraceutical industry, and the role that naturally derived and sustainably sourced ingredients, such as hemp products, can play in achieving this.

Joerg Gruenwald from the Committee for Botanical Dietary Supplements and Herbal Medicines in Germany will chair the panel on ‘CBD and hemp extracts: exploring the potential’. As part of this discussion, Dr Heike Stier, Senior Consultant at Analyze & Realize in Germany, will examine the law regarding the use of hemp extracts in foods in the EU, as well as CBD’s future prospective as a functional ingredient.

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