Roughly 14% 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 his CtoC podcast series, “Think about a can of Diet Coke. That’s a serving of caffeine and a serving of Diet Coke. It’d be bizarre 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. The company 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 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 sick. And she was also terrified 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 microdoses —as a functional ingredient for people like his grandmother. In working through that, the research kept leading them back to tea.
“We felt it was a great value proposition for her: something she felt comfortable consuming already,” Singer reasoned. “It also had similar characteristics to cannabis, it was natural, it was ritualistic, and it was organic, and 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 a pot brownie, and it doesn’t require a large food infrastructure,” Singer “But if you’re going to get it into a healthy format, you have to start thinking about how you get it into a water-soluble matrix so it can go into water-based foods with much lower caloric content.”
Singer is 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 essential to pay attention to how we built it to scale.”
CBD as an Ingredient
The B2B side of Caliper’s business is CBD solutions for CPG experts.
“This industry is full of people who are just trying to throw CBD at everything like it’s pixie dust,” Singer lamented. “We fundamentally believe CBD is a raw material. It needs further refinement and turned into soluble formats. We have to control the flavor and standardize it, test it, and prove shelf stability to ensure it’s as safe as possible. All the things the food industry is great at, but they forget about 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 strange 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 issues. You can hide the bitterness with a sweetener, including sugar.
“You see a lot of people just dumping sugar on it. You have to think about your end-use application and what’s the right product for it,” Singer explained. “We have a perfect sense of how to integrate this and the drawbacks and benefits of different approaches. But, 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. He’d tell them, “Caliper’s got a few different RTD liquid concentrates designed for their tea on offer, one with an underlying sweetness profile and a natural flavors label. That’s a good base product for someone to work with because the underlying sweetness is already in the product.”
“Now if someone approached us with 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 mineral taste. There are a lot of different options for handling it. I don’t think there’s one easy solution.”
In a largely unregulated industry, Singer struggles with contending with competitors who say whatever they want to attract customers. Caliper is 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 don’t want to do the work,” Caliper points out. “They 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, but it doesn’t work out well in the end.”
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 product launch, invest $50,000 in sending your team around to learn in the field and see what’s going on at the ground level,” he adds.
Singer also counts himself among the growing chorus of players pushing for higher regulations regarding 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,” 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 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 it as both a trend and a fad.
“The fad is angsty millennials on the coasts,” he explains. “There’s the idea that this will reduce your anxiety and give you the overall wellness thing. But frankly, I don’t think we have enough research to say that with 100% confidence wholeheartedly, but we have a lot of indications, and I think it probably is true, but we need more research.”
The trend, Singer insists, “is making aging suck less. The center of gravity for CBD three to five years 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 most persuasive use case in terms of scientific data for CBD efficacy is built around it being an effective anti-inflammatory.
“It will be fascinating when CPG manufacturers with food scientists, packaging expertise, substantiation methods, and marketing engines get into the CBD space. and start bringing the industry’s product development expertise to bear," Singer says. "We’re just scratching the surface.”
We’ve put together a comprehensive Hemp Legalization FAQ to help companies navigate these uncharted waters.