Will hemp-infused iced tea create a buzz in the marketplace?
Phivida, a maker of hemp-infused products, is launching a line of iced-tea blends containing naturally occurring cannabidiol (CBD), according to a company statement.
The Vancouver, B.C.-based company said its new products, which are made with organic loose-leaf green tea and 25 vitamins and minerals, are created to treat the gastrointestinal tract. They also maximize the body's ability to absorb orally ingested cannabinoids and phytonutraceuticals.
In addition, the hemp-infused products may help consumers suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, the company stated. According to a report from the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, at least 1.6 million Americans have IBD.
Hemp ingredients — predominantly oils, powders and seeds — are available in a variety of foods, ranging from ice cream and salads to milk and even children’s cereal. Hemp is found in more than 25,000 products, including automobiles, furniture, paper, building materials and clothing.
Sales totaled $688 million in 2016, according to Vote Hemp and the Hemp Business Journal, which is up more than $100 million from the prior year. But it's food, where sales surged 44% to $129 million, that could hold some of the greatest promise despite these eye-popping gains. Hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) is projected to be a billion-dollar market by 2020, according to a report from the Brightfield Group.
Yet there are regulatory obstacles and other barriers to wider adoption of hemp-based food applications. The plant is often associated with marijuana even though it contains much lower levels of THC — the active ingredient responsible for causing physical changes in a person and altering the individual's perception of reality. It has also proven difficult to educate a large enough audience about its health benefits. Hemp is loaded with healthy fatty acids and protein and is naturally gluten-free — characteristics that are popular with Americans who are looking to improve their diets by ditching sugars, trans fats and artificial flavors and colors.
The key to greater acceptance of hemp-infused products is likely more consumer exposure to the category. If the ingredient proves to be effective at improving gut health, as Phivida has promised, this could also boost stronger consumer demand. Still, it's hard to tell at this stage whether bottled iced tea is the best vehicle for introducing people to CBD's purported health benefits. Phivida said the new products will be available both online and through distributors in the U.S. and Japan, but it may take some time to see how sales stack up.
The company noted its new beverage is vegan, non-GMO, soy-free, gluten-free, quality and safety tested and made in the U.S. using Good Manufacturing Practice standards. If all those on-trend aspects resonate with the market, and the health claims hold up, Phivida could be looking at a successful product launch. It could also grab the attention of big-name tea makers such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
General Mills, the maker of Yoplait yogurt, Nature Valley bars and Cheerios, has a product under its Larabar Organic brand that contains hemp seeds and other superfood ingredients. While anecdotal evidence has shown the response to the product to be “very positive” so far, according to Kris Patton, a spokeswoman with General Mills, she declined to say whether more foods with hemp are being developed or considered. “We don’t talk about future product innovation,” Patton told Food Dive.
Large food manufacturers haven't been rushing to add hemp to their products, so sales of hemp-related items have largely been relegated to smaller companies. But, as more players enter the industry — further drawing attention to the nascent market — and new products like hemp-infused iced tea make their way into retail, that could quickly change.