In the year since hemp became legal in the U.S. under the 2018 Farm Bill, the hemp industry has quite literally taken off. Retail sales of CBD products in the U.S. alone are expected to surpass $1 billion in 2019, a 133% increase over 2018 sales, and Hemp Industry Daily projects retail CBD sales will increase to $10.3 billion by 2024, representing a five-year compound annual growth rate of 54%. Indeed, “2019 will forever be remembered as the year that launched America’s CBD craze,” observed Patrick McCarthy, CEO of ValidCare, a market intelligence and research platform for the hemp products industry.
While legalization has spawned a burgeoning industry, challenges for hemp operators proliferated in 2019. Retailers, vendors and other entrepreneurial businesses had difficulty finding banking and credit card companies that would work with them. FDA in November issued a consumer advisory questioning the safety of CBD along with warning letters to 15 companies, setting off late-year uncertainty among businesses that sell CBD in food, beverages and dietary supplements. For farmers, USDA’s interim hemp regulations, published in October, have generated controversy around proposed testing procedures and potential for farmers to bear an undue burden of costs if crops need to be destroyed.
They say hindsight is 2020. If so, what better year for the hemp industry to remain proactive on all fronts. On the wish list for a new decade is the opportunity to co-create an industry built on authenticity, transparency, entrepreneurship, innovation, diversity, equal opportunity and cooperation, as well as one committed to promoting local economies, social responsibility and environmental stewardship.
Here’s a sampler of some of the hemp industry’s top issues, predictions and business opportunities to consider as we enter 2020 and a new decade.
Product Safety, Transparency and Reliability
“Today’s consumer cares about where the products they put in, and on, their bodies come from. This trend will hit the hemp industry next, as consumers demand information on plant origin, farming practices, product composition and sustainability,” says Patrick McCarthy of ValidCare. In addition, “broad categorical approval of CBD by the FDA won’t move forward until [industry] leaders band together to provide the safety data FDA is requesting. Until this happens, expect more FDA and FTC letters and class actions to chip away at consumer confidence and add risk and cost to branded operations,” he cautions in his new report, Ten Predictions for the Hemp-Derived CBD Industry in 2020. McCarthy also advises that as consumer sophistication grows in 2020, “they will demand easy and reliable ways to measure amounts when consuming or applying CBD and other cannabinoids. This will be driven by consumers and regulators alike, requiring ‘metered’ calibration of applicators like droppers or pumps, and standardization of serving sizes for consumables. Milligrams matter,” he adds.
Ditching the Pharmaceuticals
As consumers adopt CBD products, they are increasingly ditching the pharmaceuticals used for anxiety, depression and other mental health and physical issues. “Today, one in five Americans report they use hemp-derived CBD for “mental health reasons” such as anxiety, says McCarthy. “In 2020, we’ll see even more people ditch Prozac prescriptions for non-impairing hemp-derived CBD to support their mental health goals. Expect brands targeting this audience to commission research on hemp-derived CBD’s functional benefits for mental health.” In addition, McCarthy notes that the “AARP crowd is one of the largest demographics using hemp-derived CBD for chronic joint pain and sleep. Expect this trend to increase as Boomers seek to replace prescription and OTC pharmaceuticals with hemp-derived products – and to lobby for coverage and/or reimbursement through FSAs, HSAs and supplemental Medicare policies,” he predicts.
Discerning consumers seeking CBD supplements produced without the use of toxic, synthetic pesticides, or synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, much of which is derived from fracking, will be looking for the USDA Certified Organic seal on products. Also, in March 2019, the U.S. Hemp Authority announced 13 companies had achieved the U.S. Hemp Authority Certified Seal, established to elevate consumer confidence in product quality and safety. Expect more demand for Kosher certification and other certification programs in the future.
Using the Whole Plant
The coming decade will see the focus move beyond CBD to the whole hemp plant, many experts predict. “I think a lot of…farmers are going to realize that the cannabis plant is not a CBD plant, Marysia Morawska, Horticulture Educator at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, predicts in Hemp Industry Daily. “What we’re going to see is a movement toward a trifecta or even quad-usage plant – so, something that’s utilized for the hurd, for the fiber, for the flower, for the grain. And once we realize what those genetics are, we’ll end up realizing that each region specifically has growing styles that will be differentiated by the genetics of that region. And we will move into a place where processing will include not just CBD.”
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem may be no big fan of hemp, but Native American tribes in the state and throughout the country are embracing hemp. In South Dakota, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe have filed applications with the USDA to grow hemp, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe plans to hold a vote on hemp before applying, reports U.S. News & World Report. Muriel YoungBear, a member of the Meskwaki Nation in Tama, Iowa, and a University of Kansas graduate student studying business, has been networking with industry leaders, visiting Colorado growing operations and working within tribal economic development circles to become an educational resource for native nations in producing hemp and added value hemp products. Oglala Lakota tribal elder Alex White Plume has become a leading hemp producer and an inspiration to others. Meanwhile, Winona LaDuke, a Water Protector, former candidate for Vice President of the United States, and founder of the Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute, is leading a hemp fiber renaissance in northern Minnesota, advocating for developing hemp textile mills and helping to drive economic opportunities in hemp production for Native Americans throughout the U.S.
Licensed hemp acreage quadrupled in 2019, but the industry’s infrastructure wasn’t equipped to handle rapid growth. “While there is certainly expansive demand for hemp and hemp-derived products, there is a critical lack of processors capable of keeping up with such, due primarily to a lack both of hemp processing equipment or a mature supply chain,” writes Chris Hudock in New Frontier Data. “In the coming year, the introduction of new processors and established markets will remain vital to the pace and overall health of the industry” he says.
FDA Guidance Could Take Time
With growing popularity and marketing hype surrounding CBD products, federal regulators are challenged to conduct research and establish policy, and this could take not months but years. Questions of health and public safety abound, especially as less scrupulous manufacturers and marketers make unsubstantiated health claims about the effectiveness of CBD products. Add to that the mysterious vaping crisis in 2019. “You can’t go from zero to one hundred without the government needing to feel like it’s doing its job. There are checkboxes that bureaucrats and agencies need to see, and by statutory mandate, it’s the FDA’s core job to protect consumers,” says Bob Hoban, President and Founder of the Hoban Law Group. However, with regard to FDA’s warning letters, “Stop making claims,” Hoban urges marketers of CBD products. “The FDA’s perspective in [its] consumer update assumes there are no studies. This is inaccurate. And the legality of hemp derivatives is clear. If the FDA has studies that challenge the World Health Organization’s, and indicate toxicity, those should be released immediately. But every time the FDA says the words hemp or CBD the industry shakes and the media runs wild. Unless the FDA has some steak, all this sizzle is just adding to the noise. Do we really need more of that?” he asks.
Consolidation on the Horizon
With Canadian companies acquiring U.S. hemp food, beverage and CBD businesses, along with competitor consolidation, as witnessed by the 2019 merger of RE: Botanicals and Palmetto Harmony, expect more mergers, acquisitions and consolidation as businesses and investors seek to gain efficiencies and improve the top and bottom line in a young, but highly competitive market.
Continued Growth, But Better Planning Required
“The hemp industry will surely experience explosive growth in 2020 as the USDA and FDA begin to release rules, take comments and eventually implement said regulations,” predicts Ray Mazzie, Director of Hemp Industries Association Florida, in Hemp Industry Daily. “Compliance and learning from others’ mistakes will prove to be invaluable to 2020 hemp operators, regardless of where they sit in the supply chain,” he advises. Adds Mark Case, Founder and CEO of Knoxville, TN-based International Hemp Auction and Market, “2018 was a gamble but a good year for most. 2019 was a gamble but a thin year for most. 2020 is not a year for gamblers. Rather, it will be successful only for those who are wise and prudent, fully integrated and who work with a good business plan to go the long haul.”
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.
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Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.