"Is your edible credible?" That's the question TraceTrust says is top of mind.
As CBD increasingly becomes one of the trendiest ingredients in food and beverage products, this new company wants consumers and retailers to trust products containing cannabis as an ingredient are accurate and consistent.
Similar to labels and certifications for organic and non-GMO products, TraceTrust is working to create the first global, third-party certification program for cannabis consumables. Several companies are currently beta testing the company's certification process, which it plans to launch by the end of the year.
"The retailer relies on these independent certifications to identify safe and reliable products, no matter what they're bringing into their space," Merril Gilbert, co-founder and CEO of TraceTrust, told Food Dive. "We really started out three years ago to write that standard to set a universal process for supply chain tracking for validation of label claims, and going beyond regulatory requirements around concentrations of THC and CBD."
Certified products will feature "A True Dose" seal, which will allow consumers to know that the dose stated on the label is accurate. The certification process will include reviewing the brand's manufacturing plan and employee training records, examining the label claims and instructions for use, and laboratory testing to ensure advertised doses of CBD and THC are labeled correctly. The company also created a secondary seal for hemp-derived products called HGMP, which stands for hemp good manufacturing practices.
Both Gilbert and co-founder Rhiannon Woo, who serves as the company's chief science officer, come from food and beverage backgrounds. Woo had experience in food manufacturing and agriculture, while Gilbert comes from food manufacturing at the intersection of food and technology for companies like consulting firm The Culinary Edge and Kite Hill.
"We came together because we saw the next big expansion in so many disciplines being legal cannabis and hemp," Gilbert said. "We're really actually at that tipping point of really being able to dig into this and really see the benefit of what these products can be, and really leading by example for the consumer to have experiences that they can trust."
This month, the company also announced a partnership with SCS Global Services to provide trainings in food safety and hazard analysis and critical control points for the legal cannabis and hemp industries. The programs will ensure that existing cannabis and hemp companies, and those looking to enter these growing markets, will have the tools and training to succeed, according to a release.
From jelly beans and ice cream to coffee and beer, CBD as an ingredient has been entering food and drink at a rapid pace. And consumers increasingly want the substance, with a recent survey finding 40% would try CBD.
But as demand increases, Gilbert said there is too much variation between products and dosage, and not enough verification. When consumers purchase something containing cannabis, they want to know the product is what it says it is.
She said TraceTrust's label will appeal to everyone looking for accurately dosed products, but it will mostly be targeted at the socially cautious type of consumer.
"This is really the same consumer that is buying organic milk, that looks for fair trade chocolate, that looks for a B Corporation because they care about social justice for a corporate philosophy," Gilbert said. "On the retailer-buyer side, they're already used to new products coming in that need a certain criteria that can be validated by these other third-party processes."
But regulations are still complicated when it comes to cannabis. Although some states have adopted their own rules about cannabis, it is still technically illegal for CBD to be added to food and beverage.
Hemp and its derivatives are no longer classified as controlled substances since the 2018 Farm Bill, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's position has so far been that cannabis can't be sold in conventional foods or dietary supplements.
The FDA recently held its first public hearing on cannabis and CBD, but experts and analysts still say it could still be a yearslong process to establish a legal path to market for food and beverage products with the cannabis compound. Gilbert said industry should self-create a high-quality standard before that regulation is written.
"As industry leaders, we need to set the standard and then let the FDA work off of that. Especially because they're coming at this from a very new place," she said. "You're not going to have that expertise in these agencies unless it comes from us that are already living and working in it."
The global cannabis market stands at $150 billion today and legal sales are expected to grow to represent 77% of the total global market by 2025, according to a recent white paper from Euromonitor. Problems with reliability could stunt that growth. Gilbert said if the industry and her company can work together to promote safe and reliable use of cannabis and hemp with certification, then growth of the space will be exponential in years to come.
She sees her company's label and certification not just used in the U.S., but expanding into other countries like Canada and Israel, becoming an internationally recognized mark by the end of 2020. She said international growth in this segment is imminent, given the enthusiasm from consumers and companies to market these products.
"I don't think we've seen anything like this since the excitement around technology and all of us having personal computers and now handheld devices, where we can go anywhere and do anything," she said. "This is the next frontier."