Hemp D9 Brands Breaking New Ground in Mainstream Retail

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Written by | January 24th, 2024

The cannabis beverage industry is currently experiencing a transformative wave, with hemp-derived THC (or hemp D9) beverages emerging as a pathway for mainstream accessibility and growth – With even the Chief of New Revenue Streams at Coca-Cola recognizing THC beverages as a category during the esteemed BevNET Live Winter event, ending 2023 on a HIGH note.

total wine thc drinks
Total Wine & Spirits, image cred: @cantripguy on X

Current Landscape and Growth Expectations

The recent introduction of hemp D9 beverages by Total Wine & More in Minnesota and Connecticut marks a pivotal moment in the industry. This move not only highlights the growing acceptance of these products, but also paves the way for other brands aiming to enter mainstream markets. As hemp D9 gains traction across more states, the landscape buzzes with new opportunities for brands.

At the forefront of these developments are events like The Wine & Spirits Wholesaler Association Access Live event (Jan 29 – Feb 1 in Las Vegas), where brands have the opportunity to engage with key buyers and distributors, strengthening their market presence and navigating the retail sector’s complexities. It’s an invaluable opportunity to showcase products, understand market dynamics, and forge industry relationships within the alcohol and mainstream beverage industries.

Amidst this growing interest, the strategic approach to distributors and retailers becomes a defining step for emerging brands. Successfully navigating this phase is crucial for the category to solidify their role within the dynamic and expanding adult beverage market.

Engaging with Distributors and Retailers: Strategy and Preparation

For effective engagement with distributors and retailers, preparation is key. As experienced by CBD brands with distributors like Southern Glazers, one-sheets and completing comprehensive applications play an instrumental role, but instilling confidence by reducing regulatory gray areas for these mainstream beverage partners at the state and federal levels is often the largest hurdle to overcome, particularly because distributors and retailers don’t want to put their primary revenue streams at risk for a market still in its infancy.

It’s also important to note that larger retailers, such as a Total Wine & More, are not likely to work with a new distributor or hemp-only distributor with this new category.  They will expect that these THC beverages to meet the standards of their existing distribution partners, which means a corresponding level of professionalism and quality is also expected.  When entering mainstream beverage and CPG, it’s expected that brands respect and abide by their rules.  As Jake Bullock, the Co-Founder & CEO of Cann, a pioneer in the low dose THC beverage and top-selling brand, states “This is the Big Leagues — if large retail chains or distributors tell you to do or not to do something, you listen. We are small potatoes to them today and will be for a while!”

Regulatory Navigation for Hemp D9 Beverages

The USDA website has legal analysis of the 2018 Farm Bill that confirms that THC from hemp is legal at a federal level* and has been a “smoking gun” for many brands looking to establish strategic partners. Including official tools in educational one-sheets that can educate buyers has been proven helpful for many brands that have secured placement with retailers like Total Wine & More, Shoprite, and Binny’s, but if you can get it straight from a regulatory body’s mouth – even better! 

“Regulatory clarity is the key to mass distribution and presence in retail. “What we are seeing is that in the states where there has been clear guidance issued, the retailers are much less hesitant.” – Joe Grabowski of Sarene Craft Beer Distributors

“Having a letter from the liquor control board in each state goes a long way with store owners and ensures that the product is legal to sell with their other alcoholic products. This is honestly the biggest hurdle because more store owners do not want to jeopardize their liquor licenses.” – Jack Sherrie of Delta Beverages.

In 2024, the Cannabis Beverage Association, led by our VP of Marketing & Business Development Diana Eberlein, will be going to the Hill with a program to introduce THC beverages to regulators and policymakers. The goal is for regulatory clarity to be achieved at a federal level and for the Tax and Trade Bureau that overseas alcohol to also oversee THC beverages. Aligning with the alcohol industry is imperative in the effort to coexist on the same shelves.

“I think it’s definitely a viable path and one that makes a lot of sense seeing that these THC beverages are much more akin to beer, wine, and spirits rather than marijuana flower or THC gummies. It’s an issue I think that needs to be prioritized in order to gain the mainstream adoption that all of us involved in this industry are hoping we can achieve.” – Joe Grabowski of Serene

The Evolution of Hemp D9: Natural vs. Synthetic Perspectives

As the hemp D9 market evolves, a distinct dichotomy is emerging between natural and converted hemp D9, shaping consumer preferences, distributor preferences, and regulatory dynamics. On one side, consumers are increasingly gravitating towards natural solutions, aligning with broader wellness and authenticity trends. This shift is not yet uniformly reflected among distributors, with some showing indifference towards the source of hemp D9, focusing instead on market demand and product viability.

Looking ahead, industry predictions, particularly from Adam Terry, CEO of Cantrip, suggest a significant shift as the Farm Bill approaches. Adam Terry anticipates that as the narrative unfolds, “the natural will become preferred as conversations over the Farm Bill get more complicated… D8-THC beverage products will be only a memory within a few years. Supply chain will get tighter,” signifying a substantial transformation in market dynamics and distributor preferences.

However, a critical component in this evolving landscape is the need for standardized and transparent Certificate of Analysis (COA) documentation. As noted by Terry, the current state of COAs in the hemp beverage sector is often marred by confusion and a lack of clarity or consistency, with many failing to provide easily navigable or batch-specific information. As the category grows and matures, the level of scrutiny and expectations when it comes to documentation and transparency will increase, driven by regulatory enforcement and distributor awareness. Adam underscores this shift, stating, “I expect by the end of 2024, most distributors will require COAs before accepting the product,” highlighting an imminent demand for standardization.

Furthermore, Oscar Hackett President at Open Book Extracts emphasizes the broader spectrum of documentation that brands should secure from ingredient suppliers, including “chain of custody documentation, manufacturer certifications, and COAs.” He advises that additional records such as recall history, adverse event reporting, and insurance documentation are crucial to ensure that liability is appropriately managed and that only safe, well-manufactured products reach consumers.

In summary, the hemp D9 market is at a potential crossroads, with natural hemp D9 poised to gain prominence as the category gains more traction and the mainstream alcohol and CPG industries learn more about the products in market. This shift, driven by consumer sentiment, evolving regulatory dialogues, and the pressing need for transparency and standardization in product documentation, is shaping a new established era for hemp D9 beverages.

Safety First: Setting the Standard in Hemp D9 Beverage Production

The paramount importance of safety in the burgeoning hemp D9 beverage sector cannot be overstated. Building trust with consumers and establishing a robust category hinges on an unwavering commitment to product and consumer safety, mirroring the standards seen across established consumer-packaged goods (CPG) categories. 

In this context, the significance of template regulations, such as those in development with the Cannabis Beverage Association (CBA), become evident. These guidelines, coupled with collaborative efforts with organizations like the Hemp Beverage Association (HBA) and the American Council of Independent Laboratories (ACIL), are instrumental in shaping hemp D9 standards. 

This concerted approach ensures that safety is not just a compliance checkbox but a foundational pillar that underpins the entire category, thereby fostering consumer confidence and industry credibility.

Synergy in Shelves: The Collective Rise of Hemp D9 Beverages

Parallel to the emphasis on safety is the strategic importance of collaboration among brands within the hemp D9 beverage space. The inherent nature of retail indicates that beverages generally sell better when positioned alongside other beverages, leveraging the power of assortment and choice.

This is especially true in the context of emerging categories like THC-infused drinks. Jake Bullock, the Co-Founder & CEO of Cann astutely notes, “We are building a category and it helps Cann when there are other THC drinks on the shelf because consumers view the THC drink category as more legitimate.” 

This collective presence not only validates the category but also fosters a competitive yet collaborative environment where consumers are encouraged to explore. Over time, as consumers navigate through the variety, they tend to gravitate towards their preferred brands, fostering brand loyalty and category stability.

In essence, the dual focus on ensuring safety through stringent regulations and fostering collaboration among brands sets the stage for a thriving Hemp D9 beverage market.

Five Essential Elements for Hemp D9 Brands to Succeed in Mainstream Retail

Sarene Craft Brew Distribution, who is responsible for placing some of the industry’s leading brands on shelves at top retailers like Total Wine & More, shared the top 5 necessary components a brand must have prepared to be considered by a major retailer: 

  1. State Laws Compliance: Each state has unique regulations governing Hemp D9 products. Brands need to be well-versed in these laws and demonstrate compliance to assure retailers of their legal standing. This includes having documentation ready for all states they operate in.
  2. High-Resolution Label Images: Clear images of product labels are crucial. They showcase the brand and provide retailers with a glimpse of the product’s appearance on the market shelf.
  3. Certificates of Analysis (COAs): COAs provide proof of product testing and ensure compliance with industry standards for quality and safety.
  4. Competitive Pricing and Discounts: Brands should outline their pricing structure, including any discounts for bulk purchases or promotions, to help retailers understand the product’s market position and potential profitability.
  5. Universal Product Codes (UPCs): UPCs are essential for inventory management and sales tracking in retail. Brands need to have their UPCs ready for smooth integration into retailer systems.

By preparing these elements, brands can confidently approach retailers, showcasing their product’s quality and professional readiness for the retail market. This preparation demonstrates a brand’s commitment to excellence and reliability, key factors in establishing successful retail partnerships.

As hemp D9 beverage brands navigate the challenges of gaining acceptance in mainstream retail stores, the focus often shifts to product quality and consumer trust. This is where the role of a trusted ingredient partner like SōRSE Technology becomes pivotal. By aligning with SōRSE, brands can elevate their product offerings, ensuring that they not only meet retailer safety and quality standards but also appeal strongly to consumers looking for a great-tasting, enjoyable, and consistent experience.

Ingredient Excellence

Quality ingredients are vital for consumer trust and retail success, especially in the health-focused beverage market. SōRSE Technology is a critical ally for hemp D9 beverage brands aiming to break into the competitive mainstream market. We go beyond meeting regulatory standards, providing safe, clean ingredients that exceed expectations and set a new quality benchmark.

Transparency and safety are paramount in this market. Partnering with SōRSE ensures that your hemp D9 beverage products align with the highest standards of ingredient integrity, enhancing credibility, and appeal, and fostering consumer trust and loyalty.

Embrace the opportunity to lead the Hemp D9 beverage industry with SōRSE’s clean-label approach. This partnership drives innovation and sets your brand up for long-term success in the evolving market.

2024 and Beyond

In 2024, SōRSE is taking a multi-pronged approach to growing the THC beverage market through education:

  • Education of distribution, retail, and hospitality partners so they know how they can better incorporate THC beverages into their infrastructure 
  • Education of brands so they can secure better strategic partners, like distribution and retail partners
  • Education of policymakers so we can regulate this category appropriately, in a way where brands can thrive and product quality and consumer safety are maintained

“At SōRSE, our motto has always been ‘we win when our partners win’, so in 2024 we’re dedicating more time and resources to helping our partners secure better distribution and retail opportunities. We believe this will create a rising tide that will eventually lead to infused beverage being the #1 consumption method for THC (regardless of the origin).” 

– Diana Eberlein, VP of Marketing & Business Development and Chair of the Cannabis Beverage Association

As we dive into an exciting 2024, the convergence of information and strategic partnerships become the cornerstone for success in the hemp beverage market. 

With the right approach and alliances, hemp D9 brands are well-positioned to leverage SōRSE Technology and make a lasting impact in mainstream retail. 

Get your hemp D9 brand into the mainstream and thrive – and let us know how we can help!





*Here are some Farm Bill/USDA resources that have been helpful for brands seeking investment, distribution, and retail partners.