Webinar: 5 Things to Know When Creating a CBD Beverage

SoRSE webinar

Co-hosted by SōRSE Technology and Prepared Foods

Presented by Michelle Sundquist, Director of Product Development

CBD has been the hottest beverage trend of the past decade, and the demand for CBD and other cannabinoids has continued to soar in 2020. CBD has also proven to be a tricky functional ingredient when added to a beverage. Before you rush a beverage to market, learn 5 pro-tips from SōRSE!

SōRSE on Bon Appétit: How To Find a CBD Product That Works

SōRSE on Bon Appétit: How To Find a CBD Product That Works

Imagine this scenario—you’re scanning the beverage aisle at your local grocery store. Between the cold brew coffee and sparkling waters, a new drink catches your eye with “CBD” emblazoned on the front. You remember hearing a lot about it and the purported health benefits. You’re curious, but you don’t really know where to start when it comes to understanding why or how you should be using CBD.

If you need some guidance, take a look at our feature in Bon Appétit on “How to Find a CBD Product That Works.”

SōRSE on Bon Appétit: How To Find a CBD Product That Works

 

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

Jacob Schweppe. Dr. John Pemberton. Caleb Bradham. Perhaps only one of these names sounds familiar to you — Jacob Schweppe — because you can find his last name in every grocery store on bottles and cans of ginger ale, club soda, and tonic water. Schweppe first began selling seltzer in Geneva 237 years ago in 1783, 30 years after carbonation techniques were developed. The other men created two of the most famous beverages in the world: Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, and Bradham developed Pepsi-Cola in 1898.  

 

Beyond being the founders of three iconic beverage brands, these gentlemen had something else in common, something they share with people who are creating beverages today — their drinks started with an idea and inspiration. Perhaps you, like them, want to make an infused beverage, perhaps inspired by a drink you loved as a kid, a drink that you had on vacation, or a drink that you concocted in your kitchen for fun. How do you take that idea and turn it into a viable product that you might find on a store shelf?  Here are the Top 5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage from three SōRSE producers themselves. 

 

1. IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET CONSUMER —  GET TO KNOW THEM INSIDE AND OUT 

The first thing you need to know is that a product is more successful when you are passionate about an idea. There are a lot of really good ideas out there, but good ideas are only successful when they happen at the right time and the right place. Ask  yourself why you want to do it and what you can bring to the table. What is your niche, and how are you going to differentiate yourself and excel? 

 

In the idea generation phase, you need to identify your audience — who is going to buy your beverage and where that person would buy it. The profile of your target consumer should be as specific as possible. You should be able to picture what that person looks like in your head; you should know what kind of clothes they shop for, what kind of cereal they would buy, and where they would buy it. You have to get in their head and see the world through their eyes. You need to know what is important to them.  

 

When you do market and consumer research, do a deep dive on all the different things your consumer is attracted to, all the while focusing on how your product is going to appeal to them AND be different. When you market to a consumer, you can talk about all the positives of your product, but you have to talk about what makes yours unique. One of those positives has to be something that no other producer can talk about.  

 

Product development is like any other sort of idea generation — you need to do tons of research to really know your audience.  When you are creating an infused beverage with CBD or another cannabinoid, the narrower you can make your consumer, the more successful you will be. You want to create a beverage that someone will stop to buy in the middle of the day somewhere; you want that repeat customer. Your drink being delicious isn’t enough — you need to create a need in your customer so that they will keep coming back.  

 

It’s also important to visualize what your consumer is doing when they are drinking your beverage. This will help you create a marketing focus which will then tie into the format you choose, your packaging, the color palette for your branding, and the words you use to draw attention to your product. When someone sees your product in a store, you want them to wonder what it is. Once you hook them in with the look of your product, your flavor will keep them there.  

 

2. DETERMINE WHAT FORMAT YOU WANT YOUR PRODUCT TO COME IN — GLASS, CAN, POWDER, RIP AND SIP, CONCENTRATE OR DROPS  

When looking for where your product will fit in in the marketplace, it’s best to examine other products your consumer might purchase and what the packaging looks like. Packaging and labeling are the first visual and tactile interactions a customer has with your product, so that first level of engagement is important. Is your consumer drawn to natural products? Do they buy glass over plastic because they are concerned about their environmental footprint? Do they buy products with fruits and vegetables on their labels? Your label and packaging should reflect your company ethos and what makes your product different.  You should also consider how your consumer takes in information about products and how they digest it. Where the products they are buying are being advertised — on social media? In print? Is the product being handed out at events?  

 

3. CREATING A FLAVOR PROFILE AND DETERMINING DOSING  

Adding CBD to a beverage formula that already exists is relatively easy, but if you are starting the process from scratch and creating something new, you can begin by looking at food trends. Those tend to start at boutique, culinary restaurants. Eventually they can trickle down and show up in other places and then be transferred into color palettes, clothing, ice cream flavors, all the way down to the fast food level — the highly accessible level.  Microtrends are ones that are just emerging, mainstream trends are ones that appeal to a lot of people, and then there are trends that are on their way out.  

 

Today, national and global travel is relatively easy — so people are exposed to new flavors and are generally open to trying other cultures’ flavors. That said, it helps to use a base flavor that is transferable and versatile in almost any recipe. The secondary flavors are the ones that might be more out there — one that you wouldn’t expect to see paired with the base flavor. For example, citrus is a common base flavor, and it pairs well with other secondary flavors like mint or berry.  

 

When it comes to choosing the type of CBD you want to infuse in your drink, you have a few options. If you want a beverage with a clean, specific flavor profile, use an isolate. If you know that your customer will prefer the flavor of cannabis and will appreciate the nuances of the botanical flavors, then you would choose a broad spectrum. Broad spectrum adds another layer of complexity which some see as a perk and premium.  

You will also need to determine how many milligrams per serving of your cannabinoid will be in your beverage. If you are making a recovery drink, then you might offer 25 mg to the consumer; if you are creating an herbal tea for the evening, then you might choose 10-15 mg per serving.  

 

4. FIND A TRUSTED CBD SUPPLIER  

When making an infused beverage, consumer safety should be your #1 concern. That means that your label claims need to be accurate, that your beverage is shelf stable, that the product quality has been tested, and that the consumer experience is a positive one. Take the time to find a CBD supplier who has extremely high standards, who are offering the best product on the market.  

 

The company supplying your CBD should be following regulatory protocols, supplying documents that verify product quality, offering the appropriate solution for your beverage, and offering implementation support. Look carefully at the types of CBD the supplier offers — water-soluble solutions, oil-based solutions, and emulsions — and work with them to find the best solution for your product. You will also want to work with a lab that can independently test your product and that is open to communication with your CBD supplier.  

 

If you are working with a company that offers an emulsion, make sure that the emulsion is their priority and not simply an add-on offering. Look for an emulsion that is stable in its raw form and in the letdown, as well as one that has been tested for shelf life.  If the company cannot supply documentation on their product like a Certificate of Analysis, Product Data Sheets and Safety Data Sheets, it’s time to find a different supplier! 

 

5. BASED ON YOUR TARGET CONSUMER, IDENTIFY WHERE YOU ARE GOING TO PRODUCE YOUR BEVERAGE AND WHO IS GOING TO PRODUCE IT FOR YOU 

Figuring out who your consumer is is also tied to where you are going to produce your product. If you want to sell to an audience in a specific state and there is a manufacturing center in that state, you’ll save a lot of money by producing it as close as possible to your market area. Also, if there is a facility producing a product similar to yours and it’s considered a turnkey process for them, you will be more successful commercializing your product because they already have experience making something similar.  

 

When you are ready to produce your beverage, look for a co-manufacturer who has produced other infused beverages. A company that understands CBD as an ingredient and has produced other CBD beverages will understand how to work with it. Doing test batches is key because it will allow you to tweak your formula if you need to. 

 

Creating a product for consumer use is an exercise in creativity, analysis, problem-solving, flexibility and collaboration. You might hit bumps in the road along the way of getting your CBD beverage to a grocery store shelf, but if you work with a CBD supplier and co-manufacturer who has experience working with cannabinoids, they will be able to collaborate and work with you throughout the process. At SōRSE, our R&D team is well-versed in beverage production from concept to final product and welcomes the opportunity to help bring your dream to life and your product to market. Schedule an exploratory call today with SōRSE to get started on your infused CBD beverage journey! 

5 Common Mistakes People Make When Stepping Into the Cannabis Market

Professional struggling at work in office.

The appeal of the cannabis industry is powerful: Financial success while doing fundamental good in the world. Entrepreneurial opportunity for those traditionally excluded from the business world. Fame and prestige for industry leaders. The opportunity — and indeed the demand — to innovate.

It’s not a surprise that everyone wants to be a part of it. We are an industry growing in both scope and legitimacy, and there are a lot of new members. Veteran members have a responsibility to help them avoid the pitfalls. Here are the five most common mistakes companies make when entering into the cannabis market:

1. Thinking it will Operate like Other Markets

Over the years, I’ve spoken with a lot of entrepreneurs eager to jump into the cannabis space, and they all have made the reasonable assumption that the fundamental rules of other industries will be at play here. Unfortunately, the regulatory landscape, particularly as it pertains to THC, is like nothing else in the American economy. No other ingredient is federally labelled Schedule 1 — reserved for highly addictive drugs with no medical value — yet is legal medicinally, recreationally, or both on a state level. Not only is it regulated differently from state to state, the regulations are constantly changing and are inconsistently enforced. The cannabis industry gets called the Wild West for a reason. 

CBD companies are prohibited from making any medical claims, which can be frustrating since most customers interested in CBD are looking for therapeutic effects. Because of this, euphemisms come heavily into play in branding. Some companies employ a compliance officer to review all customer-facing verbiage.

If you are working with THC, you will not be able to write off any of your standard business expenses on your federal tax return. This leads companies to fractionate their businesses, with separate companies handling payroll, marketing, and retail, which adds complexity and more paperwork. Similarly, THC products can never be shipped across state lines, even from one legal state to another, since interstate commerce is federally governed. That means that every state in which you operate must have its own THC license, processing facility, and distribution network, even if the product being sold is identical. Not only is this unreasonable, it is also impractical and expensive. Depending on where you’re setting up shop, you will have different packaging limitations for text size, package size, even the colors you can use. Requirements for redundant and/or childproof packaging are wasteful and, again, expensive. 

The other thing that differentiates the cannabis market from other markets is its demographic diversity. People from all walks of life, all ages, races, genders and income levels enjoy cannabis. Previous categorizations can be a guide, but often customer profiles don’t match the real world. You may be surprised by who buys your product–and who doesn’t. 

2. Not Getting it in Writing

Because of the limited regulation of the cannabis industry, it’s tempting to seal deals on a handshake. That’s a mistake in any business, but the ramifications are amplified in this tumultuous landscape. When — not if — one of your partners fails to deliver on their commitments, it’s hard enough to enforce a contract to begin with, let alone in this transitional market. There’s not usually a lot of money to spare for legal battles, either. Take the time to write out the terms of your agreements, and spend the money to have them reviewed by a contract lawyer. 

3. Not Embracing Redundancy

Sourcing is one of the biggest hurdles facing CBD companies. In the face of limited or non-existant regulation, choosing a supplier to provide consistent, clean cannabinoids can make or break your business. Even partners that start out looking great (spoiler: they all do) may end up failing you though logistical insufficiency or a change in leadership integrity. Redundancy is your insurance policy. CBD companies must find not one reliable supplier, but several. Don’t accept an exclusive relationship at the outset; work up to it through years of consistent performance.

4. Disregarding Institutional Knowledge

In a bid for legitimacy, many startups are hiring from industries outside the legacy cannabis market. That can be very useful for expanding the scope of cannabis applications and form factors, but without a holistic understanding of the plant, innovation can be dangerous. Accrued generational knowledge from growers and pre-legalization formulators can help you avoid costly formulation mistakes and contraindications. As a successful cannabis industry friend of mine puts it, “Always make sure you’ve got at least a couple old hippies on staff.”

5. Relying on Hype

CBD is hot as can be right now, but it doesn’t take a prophet to know that at some point the bubble has to burst. Don’t worry, CBD will be around for a long time and likely become a health and wellness staple! That said, the buzz can’t sustain this volume; products cannot be successful long-term on the basis of the inclusion of CBD alone. Thoughtful formulations that look to ingredient synergy will still have something to pique consumer interest after the hype dies down. Look to the bleeding edge of the THC market to see what will trickle down to the CBD world in the next two years: terpenes, flavonoids, fresh frozen extractions, and herbal blends. Of course, this could all be nullified depending on the speed of the now all-but-certain rescheduling of THC. Cannabis is certainly not an industry for the faint of heart.

What Would Development Look Like Without a Water-Soluble Solution?

Water droplets falling from ceiling.

Cannabinoids are lipophilic, meaning they dissolve in oils. For this simple reason, oil-based cannabis products have dominated the cannabis industry until very recently. Prior to legalization, they have been the only option; in an illicit market, the massive amounts of money, expertise, and time it takes to create a water-soluble emulsion is prohibitive. Given the nascent state of the legal industry, it’s only natural that oil-based products would be the norm. However, that is changing. 

One way to look at the advantages of a water-based formula is to review the development hurdles that must be overcome without one. A water-based solution is not appropriate for any consumption method involving heat, such as vaping or smoking, so we are going to focus on edible, tincture, and topical formulations. One way to look at the advantages of a water-based formula is to review the development hurdles that must be overcome without one. A water-based solution is not appropriate for any consumption method involving heat, such as vaping or smoking, so we are going to focus on edible, tincture, and topical formulations. 

Several product subcategories are impossible right out of the gate. Beverages, in which water is always the largest ingredient, are commercially untenable with oil. When you mix oil and water together, they rapidly separate, with the oil rising to the top of the liquid. Because of this, many products on the market need to be shaken up before drinking, which is not ideal for the producer or the consumer. The only way to create a stable beverage with oil is to infuse it into a high-fat base that contains natural emulsifiers, such as dairy or coconut milk. 

From the start, direct infusion into any oil comes with its own suite of problems. If you are using dried, cured cannabis flowers for your infusion, many flavor and smell components in the plant material will come along as well, and the resulting oil will have a strong cannabis flavor. That may not be a problem if you are making brownies in your home kitchen, but it is not acceptable at scale. To make matters worse, this flavor will vary from batch to batch; even the most consistent grows are subject to the whims of nature. Trying to guess the flavor profile of any given batch of cannabis-infused oil is like trying to guess the amount of Vitamin A in any given carrot. There is a likely range, but each plant has its own unique composition. 

To create edibles without the characteristic herbaceous notes of the cannabis flower, it is necessary to remove as much of the chlorophyll, lipids, flavonoid, and terpene content as possible. This can be reasonably and inexpensively achieved with CO2-extracted cannabis concentrates, but ideally done with a more neutral (and pricier) distillate. However, when working with these extremely low viscosity extracts, dispersal becomes a challenge. The cannabis oil must first be heated gently with a carrier oil; that carrier oil must be completely evenly dispersed into the final product, otherwise dosing will be uneven. In baked goods, the amount of mixing involved can result in a tough, dense crumb structure. 

To insure that  the oil has dispersed evenly, producers must then test the final product. That said,  it is much harder to test a cookie, for example, than a batch of cannabis oil. The complexity of the ingredients and unreliability of results have led many producers to extrapolate from limited and/or non-randomized samples, and as a result, uneven dosing plagues the legal market.

There may also be consumer education considerations when choosing oil. My largest area of expertise is the development of cannabis topicals for sexual enhancement and relief. However, oil-based topicals are incompatible with safer sex barriers such as latex or polyisoprene condoms — a massive sexual health risk of which most buyers and customers are completely unaware — and they can cause irritation in some people. Moreover, the sensory profile of cannabis is, shall we say, less than sensual for many people. My primary impetus for developing Velvet Swing was to offer a neutral, gentle, barrier-compatible option, so that customers don’t have to rely on their budtenders for being informed and willing to dispense sexual health information.

Fortunately it’s no longer necessary to be bound by the limits of oil. It’s the first rung on the ladder, the easiest path to take, and still the wisest choice for some applications. However, if you are developing a beverage, tincture, or topical, consider what water-based formulation can help you do — and what it can help you avoid.

Benefits of SōRSE From a Product Development Standpoint

aluminum cans lined up

Here at SōRSE, we talk a lot about our seven pillars and what they mean for the consumer. However, many of the best aspects of our technology show up well before a product gets to the end user. Let’s look at the ways that SōRSE can help you through the classic stages of product development:

IDEA GENERATION

A fast and easy-to-use water-based preparation opens up entire new worlds of creative product ideation, and even new product categories. For example, beverages, which is an enormously diverse product type, are impractical or unpalatable (usually both!) with oil. What would you do if you weren’t limited to using oil? With SōRSE, beverages are easy — so your team can really let their imaginations run wild.

IDEA SCREENING

After you’ve brainstormed with your team, it’s time to sift out the winners from the duds. To know what is most likely to succeed in the market — or to create a new market — you need data, and we’ve got it. SōRSE is proven in market; you can look to our partners’ successes to help refine the viability of your ideas. We also have an experienced technical team to help you identify complex problems in advance of production. We can help you figure out and understand your unknowns.

The cannabis market is a dynamic, evolving place. Customer profiles and categories don’t fall along traditional lines; the appeal of CBD cuts across demographic lines like little else. Rather than predicting customer preferences based on age, gender, etc., we should look to their reasons for choosing CBD. Take potency, for example — one of the key market decisions you will need to make. For the medical user, cost per milligram (mg) is the primary value, whereas casual users are more likely to prioritize taste. Fortunately, SōRSE works with both low and high potencies, which you can optimize for the market you are trying to reach.

CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT

Paying for a pre-emulsified product may seem like a luxury, but it’s far less expensive than reinventing the wheel. Building an emulsion technology is not as simple as porting existing food science techniques to cannabis oils. Emulsion technology becomes far more complicated when working with 30 or more compounds that make up broad spectrum cannabis concentrates. Even distillates typically have impurity percentages in the low double digits, all with different weights and attributes. The amount of work perfecting a cannabis oil emulsion is staggering. Fortunately, at SōRSE, it’s all we do.

Another consideration is supply. Vetting reliable sources for materials can take months, and there’s still no guarantee that they will remain reliable. Why? Because the regulatory landscape changes fast, and turnover is high. The solution to this uncertainty is redundancy. SōRSE has a network of manufacturing locations and multiple well-established, high-quality suppliers. If something changes in the regulatory landscape, we can respond quickly and there will be no interruption in supply.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

The nuts and bolts of formulation are where SōRSE shines the brightest. Rather than having to spend thousands of dollars on equipment and months of employee time working up an emulsion only to have it fail stability testing, your team can hit the ground running and put your focus where it belongs: sensory, efficacy, and scalability. Because competition is ramping up every day in the CBD world, it’s more important than ever to stand out. SōRSE also blends effortlessly into most water-based preparations, so it’s a good choice if you’ve already done some product development work.

COMMERCIALIZATION

Once you know you’ve got a winning formulation on your hands, it’s time to put it into motion. In the run-up to launch, you’ll be able to generate buzz as a product #PoweredbySōRSE. You’ll again benefit from the institutional knowledge of our team, who have decades of experience in food and beverage science, emulsion, and cannabis as you strategize for your product’s big splash.

Water-based products appeal to the values of the emergent market. They can be accurately marketed as innovative, convenient, palatable, versatile, and adaptable — truly the next evolution of cannabis. And with SōRSE, you’ve got a powerful team behind you every step of the way.

The Versatility of SōRSE in CBD Products

plastic juice bottles in a row

It is increasingly true that if a product exists, there is a CBD-infused version of it — and we think that’s great! In fact, at SōRSE we are doing everything we can to make infusing products with cannabinoids easier, safer, and more reliable. Here are the categories in which SōRSE can be used to create exceptional, innovative products:

BEVERAGES

Drinks are our bread & butter here at SōRSE Tech, but it’s worthwhile to take a moment to review the incredible versatility within this one category: hot and cold beverages, carbonated sodas, juices, mixers. SōRSE, in liquid or powder form, can be used as a beverage amendment or integrated into the end product. It’s easy to work with whether you’re a product developer or a consumer.

Using SōRSE in beverages means greater bioavailability and faster onset, thanks to our small particle size and even dispersal. One of the biggest hurdles facing cannabis drink manufacturers is the delay of onset. With SōRSE, consumers can feel the effects in as little as 20 minutes. This makes beverages viable and versatile conduits for cannabinoid delivery in the real world: a way to engage in casual, socially acceptable relaxation without the drawbacks of alcohol.

TINCTURES

Tinctures are distinct from beverages because they allow sublingual as well as intestinal absorption (the longer the product is held in the mouth, the greater the proportion will be). They tend to be highly concentrated and usually combine cannabinoids with other bioactive herbs. Historically, tinctures were made using alcohol as a solvent (the process was as simple as grinding up cannabis flower and letting it sit in alcohol for two weeks), and most tinctures were strongly alcoholic as a result. In the modern landscape, however, this is undesirable – and sometimes illegal.

With the faster onset time and great palatability mentioned above, SōRSE is a fantastic choice for tincture development. It also offers seamless blending with terpenes to increase absorption and/or tilt the effects of the cannabinoids towards a classically “indica” or “sativa” experience. In any tincture, some proportion of the cannabinoids will be swallowed and absorbed intestinally, using SōRSE ensures that their onset time is as short as possible, so that consumers are still getting the immediate results they expect from tincture applications.

TOPICALS

Topicals and transdermals will always be nearest and dearest in my product developer heart. That’s because they have so many benefits and are so appreciated. The skin is loaded with CB2 and CB1 receptors, and the discomfort of many skin conditions is the result of inflammation. Cannabinoids are famously anti-inflammatory.

I have seen cannabis topicals make a huge difference in symptom management for a wide range of localized skin and muscle issues. The challenge when developing topicals and transdermals is penetration, and most products facilitate this with oil and intense chemicals like capsaicin, menthol, or DMSO. SōRSE offers a water-based alternative for those with sensitive skin, or for application to mucous membranes. Unlike oil, its consistency can be easily adjusted. And for those of us who are concerned about the use of nano products topically (more on that in an upcoming article), SōRSE offers safe, predictable results.

With this many application avenues it’s easy to see how SōRSE became a product developer’s dream. Maybe we should change the saying to “if it exists, you can add SōRSE to it!”

What New Consumers Want In a CBD Product

customer shopping on aisle

Recent projections estimate the CBD market will see $15-20 billion in sales in the next 5 years, with the expansion of CBD into mainstream retail driving most of the influx. Some of these sales are going to be existing customers increasing their consumption, but the bulk will come from novel consumers. First-time CBD users tend to be in their 30s and 40s, educated, and employed. This is the person whose tastes will drive the emergent market. What will they be looking for in CBD products?

EASE OF USE

There are many products on the market that, frankly, look and taste awful, but they succeed because their form factors make consumption convenient. The emergent CBD consumer isn’t looking for bongs and dabs; they want products they perceive as more sophisticated. Clean, tidy, portable.

DISCRETION & TASTEFULNESS

CBD doesn’t bear the stigma of THC but delivery methods can look the same, which lends practical support to the new consumer’s otherwise subjective preferences. For their most common applications, cannabinoids require periodic administration. Professionals may be interested in consuming CBD consistently throughout the day, which calls for a non-obvious delivery method. Beverages and beverage additives, elevated tincture formats, and transdermal patches seek to address this.

EFFICACY

Does the product deliver its promised effects? This can be a tricky one when structure-function and medical claims are verboten. Marketers have to approach from a glancing angle, using non-specific words like “calm,” and “relief” to code for CBD’s established medical effects. With customer expectations based on such inference, how will they assess whether a product “works?” As producers, our job is to overshoot the mark and make our products as effective as possible.

Unfortunately, many formulations include CBD as an afterthought rather than an active ingredient. Products need to be treated as delivery matrices for CBD; their job is to efficiently and pleasantly usher the active ingredient to the consumer. In order to be effective, CBD must be delivered in sufficient dosage, and it benefits tremendously from co-administration with native phytochemicals such as terpenes and flavonoids. While these can be a sensory challenge due to their bitterness and perceived “chemical” notes, they can also direct or integrate the flavor profile to make it feel more natural. Terpenes and terpene blends are a way to bend the subjective CBD experience and even offset the small number of potentially undesirable effects.

If customers find a product’s drawbacks outweigh its benefits, then they will most likely not purchase it again. If they do not find their product to be effective at all they will relegate CBD to the snake oil bin, with dire repercussions for the industry as a whole.

FLAVOR

In the pre-legalization market, taste was de-prioritized and the natural bitterness of cannabinoid extracts was the price you had to pay for the effects. (There are even some who currently argue that cannabis’ bitterness helps it be taken more seriously as medicine.) But for the casual, more recreational user, it’s hard to see why unpalatability is anything but a challenge to overcome.

Fortunately, relaxed stigma around cannabis has made higher-skill talent available from the food and beverage science industry, where bitterness is an old and oft-vanquished foe. By porting people and technology from there, we can avoid reinventing the wheel.

STABILITY

At SōRSE, stability is our claim to fame, but the truth is customers don’t give much thought to it — at least not consciously — until it fails. Rather it is an expectation they have of mainstream commercial products, only noticeable when it is absent. As the CBD market becomes more polished, products that separate or require shaking will be viewed as unprofessional. Stability work is an indispensable part of product formulation, especially for complex concentrates with diverse chemical profiles. We’ll see more and more customers asking for this as the market matures.

4 Steps to Entering the CBD Market

production line of bottled drinks

If you are considering developing a CBD product or adding CBD to one of your existing products, the time to pull the trigger is now. Everyone is excited about this ingredient. If you’ve come up with a great idea, know who your target customer is and you’ve got a funding plan — all the regular business stuff — and you’re ready to jump in, here’s how you should you prioritize your energy to optimize for this specific niche.

DEFINE YOUR VALUE IN THE MARKET

CBD is being added to everything under the sun. The market is still expanding, but saturation is on the horizon. What will your product offer besides just CBD? Will it outperform existing similar form factors, or be a new form factor altogether?

When articulating your value proposition remember that medical claims and structure-function claims are off limits. You are not allowed to market an anti-anxiety soda (not yet, anyway). Learning how to state your products unique benefits without using prohibited language is an invaluable marketing exercise.

HIRE A STRONG TEAM

…especially if you are new to product development. Everyone knows the right team can make or break any product, but it’s especially true in the CBD world. An emergent market with lax regulations is the perfect circumstance for unprofessional and/or incompetent entrepreneurs to thrive. Your goal is to weed through the charlatans without weeding out talented partners from the pre-legalization market.

Get ready to do a lot of interviewing. Think about unknown unknowns: the things you don’t even know that you don’t know — and hire people who can illuminate your dark spots. You’ll likely need to create new roles to deal with the unique challenges of formulating with CBD, such as a packaging specialist or an extraction consultant. Even with systems as easy to use as SōRSE, you will want to make sure your ingredients are optimized; contract with a cannabis expert who has worked with CBD before and have them review your formula.

FOCUS ON PROCESS — BUT STAY NIMBLE

Most companies in the CBD market are severely lacking in the process department. Thousands of worker hours are wasted reinventing the wheel whenever a problem crops up. Don’t get so caught up in iteration that you neglect process. It won’t be long before the federal government is forced to create a real, enforceable legal framework for CBD. Those who invest in strong systems now will survive the upcoming regulatory onslaught.

That said, the regulations are likely to remain volatile for some time, just like everything in this market. Consider paying a premium for smaller packaging runs rather than saving money by ordering in bulk, for example, because label overhauls are the rule rather than the exception. Don’t expect that customer demographics will break along the usual lines; CBD has tremendous crossover appeal. Always be ready to pivot and adapt.

DO YOUR TRADEMARK HOMEWORK

So many companies have had to rebrand as a result of insufficient competitor research, or worse, the hubris of believing that since CBD is quasi-legal it is immune to trademark infringement complaints from fully legal markets. You don’t want to go through the work of painstakingly building up a brand identity only to find out via cease-and-desist that you have to start all over. Think outside the box and find an unusual, attention grabbing name.

How To Educate First-Time CBD Consumers

smiling woman holding beauty products on market aisle

Many people are just now discovering CBD, and that’s a good thing! But it does mean that producers are facing a hefty educational burden. The key features of the cannabis prohibition era –which we are just barely exiting — have been fear, stigma, and misinformation. We must still contend with their echoes. On top of this hurdle, there are also countless new brands cropping up daily that want to sell CBD producers to consumers. How do consumers understand CBD well enough to make informed buying decisions? Fortunately, the antidote to all of these issues is education.

Here are some guidelines for educating your new potential customers:

BREAK IT DOWN

Break the info down into pithy, easy-to-understand bullet points. The New York Times is famously written at a 10th grade reading comprehension level. Explain it to your audience like they’re young teenagers – not because you don’t respect their maturity or intelligence, but because when humans are absorbing new information, it helps not to be distracted by industry-specific lingo and ten-dollar words. The goal should be to hold attention and convey information rather than to sound smart.

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT

Be prepared to repeat content. The average person needs to hear something three times to truly absorb it. It’s okay to publish 101-level info repeatedly in different formats (or even the same format!). I have been in this industry a decade and I still read 101s occasionally–and frequently learn something. That’s because our knowledge base is always expanding. There may be a new angle on an old fact, or a more useful way of explaining it. Hearing information multiple times in diverse ways makes us more likely to really grok it.

HEALTHY SKEPTICISM

…but be cautious about orthodoxy. The flipside to the above is that if you hear something repeated often enough, you come to believe it whether it’s true or not. This tendency is to blame for many of the myths our customers believe. It’s also to blame for our tendency to hold on to outdated beliefs such as “the Endocannabinoid System is made up of two receptors: CB1 and CB2.” We now know that the interactions between cannabinoids and our bodies are more complex than that, but most 101s have not yet been updated. The explosion of cannabis research happening right now means many of “the basics” will be challenged and expanded upon in the next few years.

MARKETING ISN’T EVERYTHING

Don’t make it all about marketing. It’s okay to mention your product in educational articles, but overdo it and your audience will tune out. Folks, especially younger folks, have been saturated with product placement, infomercials, and celebrity sponsorship for a long time–they are very good at spotting a pitch. Better to be authentic and straightforward about your positionality. Your customers know you’ve got an angle, that this information isn’t free. Acknowledge it. And include a nice, easy-to-use link.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THC

Talk about differences from and similarities to THC. A common consumer misconception about CBD is that it is the “medical” cannabinoid while THC is the “recreational” one. CBD is non-intoxicating, but it’s not more medical than THC – its effects are just different. They both are created by the cannabis plant, in addition to a huge number of other useful phytochemicals. It’s not helpful to stigmatize THC or imply that CBD can do everything THC can do. Just today I spoke with someone who said he wanted a CBD cartridge “but without the weed.” I had the privilege of explaining to him, gently, that CBD is in fact “weed,” and that that’s totally okay.

DON’T OVERPROMISE

I’m sorry to say that with the creation of the CBD hamburger, CBD has officially reached fad status. Marketers seeking to cash in on the hype are implying it can do almost everything. It’s true that CBD shows broad promise–it is what we might call a promiscuous cannabinoid, having shallow interactions with a wide range of receptors–but it is no panacea. Managing customer expectations is key to staying viable when the buzz dies down. There is so much we don’t know. The number of studies on CBD is accelerating exponentially and we still are barely scraping the surface. We are likely to have our notions turned inside out and upside down in the next decade — and I’m really looking forward to it.