Roughly 14 percent of American adults are already consuming CBD, mostly in tincture formats. But what most consumers don’t realize is that with CBD, a lot of manufacturers are breaking the traditional “one serving, one dose” paradigm in a rush to cram as much THC as possible in every serving.
As Caliper Foods CEO Justin Singer told TraceGains CEO Gary Nowacki on a recent episode of CtoC, “Think about a can of Diet Coke. That’s a serving of caffeine and a serving of Diet Coke. It’d be very strange if you put 100 Diet Cokes’ worth of servings into a single can. You would lose the ability to understand what you were getting into.”
Caliper Foods is a CBD solutions company for both consumers and manufacturers based in Commerce City, Colorado, and is exploring ways to address servings and managing ingredients in a new CBD world.
“My grandmother asked me for a pot brownie, and she was 92 at that point, and diabetic,” Singer explained. “She wasn’t interested in getting stoned. She just wanted to feel better and the 100 milligrams [of THC] was going to make her feel better, but [the brownie] was going to make her feel tremendously worse. And she was terrified of this anyway as a woman who’d never consumed drugs in her life.”
As a result, Singer, and the researchers at Caliper Foods, started thinking about how they could better position THC—especially in micro doses—as a functional ingredient for people like her. In working through that, the research kept leading them back to teas.
“We felt it was a great value proposition for her: something she felt comfortable consuming already,” Singer reasoned. “It was something safe, with similar brand characteristics to cannabis in the first place. It was natural, it was ritualistic, and it was organic, but it didn’t require someone to self-identify as a drug user, and it was healthy.”
In pursuing tea, Singer originally wanted to get in a two-and-a-half milligram dose, which was an attempt to mimic the idea “the feeling you get after taking three deep breaths and then have that last for two to three hours.”
However, they soon discovered there’s a good reason why everything was butter-based. Because THC is a lipid, it’s fat soluble, not water soluble.
“So, if you dissolve it in butter—just like everybody is doing in college dorm rooms across the country for the last 50 years—you can create your own pot brownie and it doesn’t require a large food infrastructure,” Singer said. “But if you’re going to get it into a healthy format, you really have to start thinking about how you get this into a water-soluble matrix so it can go into water-based foods with much lower caloric content.”
Singer’s solidly in the camp that believes CBD is going to be the next big thing, and he wants Caliper to be a part of that.
“We try to remind people all the time this is a decent industry that’s lacking the infrastructure they’re used to in food,” he said. “And it’s really important to pay attention to how it’s being built and to get it built up carefully and in a way that can scale as people start getting into it.”
CBD as an Ingredient
The B2B side of Caliper’s business is CBD solutions for CPG experts.
“This industry is rife with people who are just trying to throw CBD at everything like its pixie dust,” Singer lamented. “We fundamentally believe CBD is a raw material. It has to be further refined to be put into soluble formats. It has to be controlled for flavor and it has to be standardized, tested, and shelf stability substantiated to ensure it’s as safe as it can possibly be. All the things the food industry is great with, but they sort of forget when it comes to CBD.”
CBD, Singer argues, is like caffeine in the sense that it doesn’t work with everything. It would be weird to have caffeine in your yogurt, but it’s not weird having it in Diet Coke.
“CBD is extremely bitter,” he explained. “It’s the most bitter compound we’ve ever worked with and that includes caffeine, which is the standard for bitterness. You can multiply that problem when you start focusing on particle size.”
The Caliper researchers have attacked it in a few ways, most notably through particle size and process control. It works well because it features fewer variables. You also can attack it through blocking and masking, which has its own issues. You can mask the bitterness with a sweetener, including sugar.
“You see a lot of people just dumping sugar on it. You just have to think about your end-use application and what’s the right product for it,” Singer explained. “We have a very good sense of how to actually integrate this and what the drawbacks and benefits are of different tweaks you can make. But at the end of the day, it’s providing a suite of the correct products that match the application.”
If someone approached Caliper and said, “Hey, I’ve got a juice I want to infuse with CBD,” Singer said that he’d tell them Caliper’s got a few different RTD liquid concentrates designed for their tea and offer one with an underlying sweetness profile that can be labeled as natural flavors. That’s a good base product for someone to work with because the underlying sweetness is in the product already.
“Now if someone approached us with a mineral water or something that doesn’t have that underlying sweetness profile,” Singer explained, “we’d have to set them up with a different product that doesn’t fully mask the bitterness but tries to massage it into more of a minerally taste. There are a lot of different options on handling it. I don’t think there’s one easy solution.”
In a largely unregulated industry, the biggest thing Singer struggles with is contending with competitors who say anything. Caliper’s set up specifically for people who care about things like quality assurance and control. That’s why Caliper has a lab run by someone who spent 25 years at major companies as a lab director.
“A lot of people either don’t care or they don’t want to do the work,” Caliper points out. “They just feel like they have to move too fast and they’re getting pressure to deliver sales. I don’t know if it’s fear of missing out or if it’s just people forgetting themselves or if it’s just a crush, but it doesn’t work out well.”
If you call up the top five CBD companies in the country and say, “Hey, I’d like to send a team of my scientists and specialists out to look at your facility, because we’re considering suppliers,” they’ll say, “Please come.”
If they don’t, Singer says, you can safely scratch them off your list.
“If you’re talking about a $20 million launch, invest $50,000 in sending your team around to actually learn this stuff in the field to see what’s going on at the ground level,” he adds. “You can’t get smart on this topic just from reading blogs or listening to podcasts.”
Singer also counts himself among the growing chorus of players pushing for greater regulations when it comes to CBD and resolving the ongoing discussion of full spectrum vs. broad spectrum vs. isolates.
Full spectrum is like fruit salad, Singer suggests. But what’s a fruit salad? That’s not a standard of identity.
“That’s something a restaurant puts on their menu and every week it’s a different composition of what actually goes in there,” he says. “That’s full spectrum. Now in this analogy, CBD is like a blueberry. For example, one blueberry is the same as any other blueberry. That’s a standard of identity. Every fruit salad is different. Anyone who’s had a fruit salad full of cantaloupe knows that one full of strawberries is totally different. That’s a real risk. You’re getting a product that mirrors the whole plant’s composition. And let’s be clear: hemp plants are fascinating, and CBD is not the only cannabinoid by a long shot. There are more than 100 right now.”
When Singer considers CBD, he sees both a trend and a fad.
“The fad is angsty millennials on the coasts,” he explains. “There’s the idea that this is going to reduce your anxiety and just give you the overall wellness thing. But frankly I don’t think we have enough research to fully say that with 100 percent confidence, but we have a lot of indications and I think it probably is true but that’s still not the trend.
The trend, Singer insists, “is really making aging suck less. The center of gravity for CBD three to five years from now is going to be Boca Raton, Florida. It’s going to be middle America, people who’ve spent their lives on their feet or who’ve spent their lives working and now have generalized aches and pains.”
The strongest use case in terms of scientific data for CBD efficacy is built around it being an effective anti-inflammatory.
“It’ll be fascinating to see what happens when CPG manufacturers with real food scientists, real packaging expertise, real care for substantiation, and real marketing engines get into this space and start bringing their product development expertise to bear,” Singer says. “We’re just scratching the surface.”
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