The slow and steady rise of hemp food and beverages

By Natalie Moubarak. Published at Sep 6, 2019, in The 420 Report

This November, it will be two years since hemp was legalised as a food in Australia, but the scepticism of its benefits and effects still runs deep.

In 2016, I began tracking the legislative journey for hemp-based foods following a positive experience I encountered using a hemp and moisturiser concoction to help with my psoriasis. After thorough research, I personally banked on my belief that hemp would soon be legalised as a food and came up with an idea to create the first-to-market hemp water in Australia, called +hemp to make it more accessible for Australians to consume. +hemp is an all-natural hemp beverage made using high-quality, Australian-grown hemp seed oil, which has been filtered into the water using a reverse-osmosis process.

Initially, I embarked on an 18-month journey to develop the product and I’ve invested more than $260,000 of my own funds into creating Australia’s first hemp water. The business is performing strongly – now 11 months on since the launch of +hemp – considering that we’re a small business in the hemp space. The success can be seen given that we’ve sold more than 100,000 units to date, and are stocked in more than 427 retailers in Australia and internationally.

So, why are people still hesitant into consuming a perfectly legal and healthy food source?

Having interacted with various people in the hemp market, there is still a long way to go in educating Aussies on the benefits of hemp products, particularly hemp food.

Although it hasn’t impacted our sales greatly, it would do better if the stigma and presumptions around hemp were no longer there, as people are still wary of trying the product. This is seen across the whole hemp industry – not just hemp foods or beverages.

The misconception and lack of public awareness that hemp differs greatly from its illegal counterpart are the biggest challenges facing the sector. The key differentiation factor between hemp and marijuana is the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive ingredient. As long as the food product contains less than 0.5 per cent of THC, it is legal to distribute and consume. +hemp water contains neglible traces of THC, making it safe for people all ages to drink.

However, the legislation in Australia around hemp in general is still evolving compared with international markets such as the US and Canada, where legislative reforms have occurred to overturn the illegality of growing and using hemp. Several political campaigns, along with big pharmaceutical companies have an anti-hemp stance, which does not help invoke confidence in consumers. After years of total prohibition of hemp as a food source in Australia, it would take some time for Australians to fully adjust to this ingredient as a normal food source.

The strict advertising policies on social media platforms are also a hindrance to the growth and development of hemp products in Australia. Given the reach that social media has on its users, there is potential to educate through this way. Instead, +hemp has been doing mini campaigns, promotional giveaways and partaking in sampling opportunities to combat this hurdle.

If people see that advertising policies are not accommodating hemp products, while pharmaceutical brands and political parties frown upon them, Aussies will be even more reluctant to open up to the possibility of incorporating hemp products in their day-to-day lives.

Given our current position, I believe it will take around another five years for hemp to pick up in the Australian market. Following the decision to overturn the consumption of low THC hemp, it is no surprise that the Australian hemp production is forecasted to be valued at $3 million by 2023. The growth of hemp products is undeniable and is coming up slowly, yet steady.

Unlike the UK and the US markets, Australia has only been introduced to it in recent years. Although it is pleasing to see the international markets’ receptiveness towards +hemp, we have more work to do for Australian consumers to be less hesitant towards the unconventional.

Once the nutritional benefits of hemp become widespread knowledge – such as the antioxidants, amino acids and high levels of omega-3, omega-6 and Gamma Linolenic Acid found in hemp seeds – people’s perception will change and will see that it is just like any other natural ingredient, resulting in them being more open to consuming hemp products.

It is challenging for a small beverage start-up to compete with large, established brands, especially when the benefits of the unique selling point are still unbeknownst to most. +hemp will continue to increase awareness for hemp through the expansion of our range and being stocked in more and more retailers.

About Natalie Moubarak

Natalie Moubarak is the founder and director of +hemp. She began tracking the legislative journey for hemp-based foods in 2016. She personally banked on her belief that hemp will be legalised as a food and when it was, she spotted an opportunity to launch Australia’s first true hemp water – which has since been a huge success. +hemp now has two products in its line: Hydrate, a lemon and lime flavour, and Restore, a natural raspberry and coconut flavour. Natalie aims to make health and nutritional benefits of hemp accessible for more Aussies through +hemp.

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