No longer just for hippies: Is hemp the next coconut oil?

  • News
  • March 25, 2019
  • Sarah Dunn
No longer just for hippies: Is hemp the next coconut oil?

The Naturally Good Expo, held over June 2 – 3 in Sydney, will bring retailers, brands and practitioners together to learn about all things healthy, organic and natural. Among the topics discussed by industry leaders at the expo is the recent legalisation of hemp – it’s popping up everywhere. We asked John Leith of supplier Hemp Oz and speaker Susan Tapper of Holistic Marketing Healthy Sales for more information about this exciting new product category.

Can you help our readers get their heads around the scale of the opportunity offered by hemp’s legalisation by comparing it to a previous food trend? (E.g. chia seeds).

Susan Tapper: Hemp has huge potential as the next ‘health-maximising-opportunity’. [Information from the US-based] Natural Products Expo West’s latest trends indicate plant-based products continue to grow, with ready-to-eat nutrition particularly [appealing] for Millennial mums, body-builders (weary of whey protein) and consumers shying away from animal-based ingredients. CBD or cannabidiol (hemp’s botanical extract) was the new product hot topic! 

Years ago, we saw high-omega flax and chia seeds hit mainstream and now considered million-dollar commodities in breads, desserts, smoothies and cereals. Last year probiotics were the rage and the year before, it was turmeric’s time in the spotlight. Hidden under layers of legislation since the late 1930s and the 70s ‘war on drugs’, hemp’s prohibition is nearly over!  

Hemp foods contain optimally balanced omega fatty acids, a high amount of plant-based protein and considered a complete protein. Hemp foods are now available on mainstream grocery shelves, in health and skincare retail and cafés/restaurants in burgers, biscuits, plant-based milk, snacks, bread, protein bars, smoothies, honey and all types of beverages. 

Hemp is sustainably grown and offers a plethora of uses as well as the perfect superfood. We can use hemp to make paper, textiles, building materials, paint, detergent, ink and fuel to name just a few. Hemp can grow in most climates with moderate water and fertilizer requirements, no pesticides nor herbicides and has enormous potential to become a major natural resource that benefits the economy and the environment. Hemp has many layers of economic benefit. 

I’m aware Australia and New Zealand will have differing regulatory environments, but can you share a little about the regulatory environment that’s recently delivered both countries the legalisation of hemp?

Susan Tapper: Hemp foods (seeds and protein) were made available in New Zealand from late 2018 and legally sold for human consumption, just a year after Australia legalised hemp foods in November 2017. The change in legislation followed by the Trans-Tasman food ministers changes to the ANZ Food Standards Code. NZ Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor acknowledged the 10-year campaign for this change and also, the potential for industrial hemp to benefit rural economies in NZ.  

The 2018 US Farm Bill helped propel hemp – not only in hemp agriculture, hemp foods, but also the potential with medical cannabis and CBD (the botanical extract of industrial hemp). Despite hemp food availability, the hemp flower, leaves, botanical extracts and medical cannabis are available only on prescription in NZ.  

What are some popular hemp product categories retailers should consider?

Susan Tapper:

  • Hemp snacks – energy or protein bars / biscuits 
  • Hemp beverages – tea / water /milk / shots
  • Body-builders/Athletes - protein powder /bars /drinks
  • Vegan/Vegetarian foods – staples – protein /flour / seeds / oil 
  • Skincare – for all skin types– clears oily pores, wonderful for dry skin issues such as dermatitis and is great for ageing skin

Do customers still get confused about the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Susan Tapper: Yes. Unfortunately over a century of misunderstanding between hemp, cannabis and marijuana has created legislative and consumer confusion. Actually, they are very different in function, cultivation and application.

  • Industrial hemp is grown for hemp seeds and fibre and grows tall with skinny leaves concentrated towards the top of the plant, with few branches and is taller than cannabis or marijuana.  Hemp contains a very low concentration of THC (0.3 percent or less).
  • Marijuana or medical cannabis plants feature broad leaves, dense buds and has a short bushy appearance. Cannabis or marijuana is abundant in THC with concentrations between 15 percent to 40 percent.  

Hemp is grown legally in just about every industrialised country except the USA. In New Zealand we can legally grow 12 varieties of industrial hemp. Hemp is known to have over 25,000 possible uses. Customers must be reassured there is no THC, no marijuana high, no medical cannabis in any hemp foods, oils or skincare.  

How should that distinction inform the way retailers market hemp products?

John Leith: Positive messages that educate the consumer about Hemp being perfectly legal, it’s superfood status and how it will benefit the consumer’s health is important to overcome any stigma. Hemp is a sustainable crop, grown organically without pesticides and with low water use, so it appeals to the environmentally-conscious consumer too.

CBD seems to be really taking off in the US, but it’s currently still prohibited in New Zealand. Do you think the consumer enthusiasm for this ingredient is coming from the same place as that for hemp?

Susan Tapper: CBD as an ingredient (not dietary supplement) is increasingly popular in many countries and US states that have legalised cannabis. Global awareness for CBD is growing and health claims entice new consumers.  

CBD contains cannabidiol and is a botanical extract from the hemp plant with no or very low THC (less than 0.3 percent) and is no longer a controlled drug in NZ.  The change to the control of CBD products is in response to advice the NZ Government received from the expert advisory committee on drugs.  Medical practitioners and pharmacies are allowed to import CBD products, as are persons or companies holding a licence to sell medicines by wholesale.   

Is CBD the next hemp?

John Leith: The worldwide focus on this is very encouraging, especially for the thousands of people who would benefit from CBD becoming widely available for medicinal use.  The change we have all been waiting for is to see CBD dropped as a scheduled drug by WHO (World Health Organisation) which is looking at this now for rescheduling. Whilst there is still much research to be carried out into this complex plant, one thing is for sure, the cannabis train has come into the station and it’s set to have a big impact.

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