How to Launch a CBD Product or Brand the Right Way

The better-for-you food category is littered with ingredients of the month, like sprouted grains, kale, chia seeds. These trends are driven by fad diets and whatever the cool kids are posting about on Instagram.

And right now — for the next 12 months, give or take — CBD is the natural category’s darling ingredient. At Natural Products Expo West in March, everything had CBD in it.

But just like kale, CBD is an ingredient, not a brand. It’s one of a litany of hot ingredients that have come and will go. A brand is more than that; it’s the promise you make to your consumer and the ways in which you keep it. Your brand stands for something bigger than your product offering.

So what do you do if you’re considering a) launching a brand that’s seeking to capitalize on the CBD craze, b) investing in a CBD-centric startup, or c) considering adding CBD products to your portfolio?

You have to anticipate what will happen to your brand when the CBD frenzy simmers a bit and consumers expect you to stand for something beyond CBD. You need to make a market play in the smartest way.

Why CBD is a Hot Food & Beverage Ingredient

Among the pantheon of trendy food and beverage ingredients, CBD is getting an oversized share of the spotlight, for a number of reasons:

It makes bold health claims. Adaptogens — nontoxic, plant-based substances believed to have a normalizing effect on the mind and the body — have been used in traditional holistic medical practices like Ayurveda for many thousands of years. These products are believed to support the immune, nervous, and glandular systems. Turmeric, ginseng, ginger, holy basil, and cannabidiol (CBD) are adaptogens. And, yes, turmeric, ginseng, and ginger have all had their moments in the sun. (We predict that ashwagandha, another adaptogen, will become a trendy ingredient in the not-too-distant future).

It’s slightly illicit. CBD gets so much hype because of its botanical connection to marijuana. (For the uninitiated, CBD is one of more than a hundred compounds in the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t cause the high.) More states are legalizing pot for recreational or more restricted medicinal use, but it’s illegal in many states and at the federal level. Because there’s still a whiff of illegality to CBD, it’s edgy and cool and intriguing and mysterious.

It’s in the news, everywhere. As states debate making pot legal, the federal government in 2018 removed the prohibition on growing hemp, another cannabis relative. Big Pharma companies are pushing to slow approval of CBD-based medicines, (mostly because of the uncertainty of an ROI that they can’t control). Cannabis and CBD are making headlines.

It’s new, yet somehow familiar. Many millions of people around the globe have been smoking/eating marijuana legally or illegally for years. CBD is more familiar to them than other adaptogens like ashwagandha.

It appeals to a wide range of age groups. The health claims associated with CBD talk to a young, stressed-out audience looking for a product that will take the edge off but still help them perform at their best (as opposed to alcohol, which takes the edge off but knocks you out like a three-martini lunch). CBD helps ease the anxiety and stress and struggle of modern life, so the user can feel strong and healthy. At the same time, CBD appeals to older customers because they came of age when the pot culture emerged in the 1960s. Even if they didn’t partake back in the day, 70-somethings feel an affinity to CBD. The retiree set is buzzing with conversation about using CBD oil to alleviate joint pain and inflammation.

Getting into the CBD Food, Beverage & Supplement Market

With all its purported health benefits, CBD is being touted as a sort of miracle cure: an all-in-one product (as opposed to having to ingest multiple adaptogenic substances). But there’s a lot of confusion among consumers about CBD: how to use it, how much to take, what to expect. Which is why food, beverages, and supplements are the ideal delivery mechanisms since they’re pre-dosed. Because consumers aren’t responsible for measuring the dose, they can just enjoy the product without worrying about taking too much.

Right now, in spring of 2019, manufacturers can simply label a package with CBD and the product will fly off shelves. But that won’t last. Huge players — sophisticated marketers with big promotional budgets — are poised to enter the market within the next 12 months. The category is so exciting to so many people, and there’s so much money flooding in, that the brand development landscape will change almost overnight.

In a crowded marketplace, it will quickly become difficult for consumers to differentiate one product from another. If you’re going to get in on the CBD game, your brand has to be about more than just CBD; you need a compelling brand story or there will be no reason for a consumer to choose your product over others.

This niche category is emerging on an accelerated timetable. It’s like a hyper-sped-up video of what the organic market looked like over a 25-year span; this is happening in the course of 12 to 24 months.

If you’re investing in or developing a brand with products that include CBD, beware the slippery slope of equating your brand with your ingredient. The big players are ready to eat the smaller, earlier entrants into the market for lunch. And you can mark our words: Just two years from now, CBD products will be so ubiquitous in the mass marketplace that brands that don’t stand for something bigger will fail.