Ben Witte wishes the government would move more swiftly to set regulations for CBD use in food and beverages.
Ever since the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the country’s list of controlled substances and put it under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, more and more companies are eager to infuse products with hemp-derived CBD, or cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cousin to THC, which produces marijuana’s “high.”
While the FDA appeared headed toward issuing guidance, it pulled back as the Biden Administration took office and asked all agencies to withdraw pending rules not yet published in the Federal Register.
Best estimates now are that FDA regs on CBD could see light by year’s end.
Witte is CEO of New York City-based Drink Recess Inc., which launched Recess, a sparkling water with CBD, soon after passage of the Farm Bill. He expects the FDA regulations will spur big drink companies to enter the space, increasing competition and bringing wider attention to CBD as an ingredient.
In addition to Recess, Witte’s company produces Recess Mood, also a sparkling water, but with magnesium instead of CBD. Both products contain other “functional” ingredients – adaptogens like American ginseng, lemon balm and L-theanine – with properties that support the drinks’ aim of helping to relieve stress and improve focus.
The drinks come in pastel-hued cans in flavors such as peach-ginger, blood orange and blackberry chai. (Mood is also available as a flavored or unflavored powder.) They’re available for retail sale locally at a half-dozen or so locations, several of which are wellness-oriented.
Witte, though, initially developed a following for Recess online.
“It was just so obvious to me that the old way you reached consumers … was going to shift to social media,” he explained in a webinar hosted last week by The Food Institute on CBD’s place in the food and beverage sector. Traditional beverage companies equated “digital” with Amazon and selling incrementally more online, but that “completely ignored the opportunity that digital presented, which is a new way to reach consumers.”
So Recess went “digital first,” he said, to build not just distribution but brand recognition, too.
And rather than giving attention to CBD, the ingredient, Witte sought to market the solution – relaxation – which turned out to be timely during anxiety-inducing Covid-19 and its accompanying stressors of sheltering and working from home.
“Covid was like a massive accelerant of all these trends,” he said. It “effectively accelerated the future.”
Growth projections by cannabis market researcher Brightfield Group see CBD products becoming a $16.8 billion business by 2025.
First, though, the FDA needs to settle on regulations, both in the interest of CBD purveyors and the consumers who want to use CBD-infused products.
While the wheels of government can turn slowly, “I’m optimistic we will see progress in the next 12 to 18 months,” Witte said.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]
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