Suggestion Box: The Continued Evolution of the CBD and Vegan Markets

Norman Weiss, Weavers Way Purchasing Manager

Greetings and thanks for writing. As usual, suggestions and responses may have been edited for brevity, clarity, and or comedy. In addition, no idea, concept, issue, remark, phrase, description of event, word, or word string should be taken seriously. This also applies to the previous sentence.

The “market.” Supply and demand. Innovation. Capitalization. Sourcing. Production. Packaging. Regulation. Branding. Advertising. Distribution. Competition. Consumption. Industry. What do all these words have in common? They are all part of how products we buy and consume come into existence and, for some, remain in existence.

These last few months, the two biggest product categories trending up in the natural food industry are products containing CBD and products that are vegan, especially vegan versions of meat, like burgers and bacon. They’ve both become so popular with producers I wouldn’t be surprised in the near future to see a vegan iPhone case that offers a transdermal CBD dose with every touch, with an app to regulate the dose.

With CBD and vegan meats, government regulation also seems to be looming large. CBD is too complicated to fully explain here, but suffice it to say there are conflicting legal issues. Some retailers, including Amazon and Whole Foods, won’t sell it, while other retailers, including CVS and Walgreens, are selling CBD products at many stores. We’ve heard of at least one co-op whose credit card processor won’t process transactions of CBD products. It’s a confusing time for CBD products. Hopefully, we’ll get some clarity from the Food and Drug Administration soon.

Regarding plant-based meats, the state of Mississippi just passed a law that declares “a plant-based or insect-based food product shall not be labeled as meat or a meat food product.” There are similar issues with the dairy industry lobbying the FDA to restrict the use of the word “milk” to the output of lactating mammals. Countering that are the plant-based product companies complaining this is a limit of free speech, plus they claim no reasonable person would confuse almond milk and cow’s milk or vegan bacon with animal bacon. Again, our besieged FDA will have to make the call.

Note that plant-based products and CBD have something major in common — both come from plants (hello, U.S. Department of Agriculture involvement in addition to FDA). I haven’t seen much analysis of what will happen if these two industries continue to get more popular, but you have to expect agricultural land use will change. Mass consumption of Beyond Burger-type products means someone will have to grow way more peas to create all that pea protein.

As CBD finds its way into Starbucks coffee, way more hemp will have to be grown.

Will concentrated animal feedlots diminish, with a corresponding reduction in demand for corn and soybeans grown for animal feed? Will China get involved in growing lots of hemp and peas if they can do it less expensively than in the U.S.?

The meat industry has a huge infrastructure, and not just the agricultural part. There are also processing plants, an entire packaging industry, specialized equipment, tons of labor, trucking, wholesale and retail facilities, waste processing, pharmaceuticals, value-added products, federal inspection services, etc. All will be diminished if meat consumption is reduced. Will the fake meat industry take up the slack?

It will be interesting to see what happens. CBD, on the other hand, is new consumption, not really replacing other existing products, so probably this is a new industry that won’t replace an older industry. Plus now that growing hemp is legal at the federal level, there will likely be an explosion in plantings, because hemp can also be used for textiles, oil, protein, bioplastics, and who knows what else.

Seems that one limitation in current hemp planting expansion is seed availability. For legal hemp, the plant has to produce material with less than 0.3% THC content, and apparently more of this type of seed has to be produced before hemp plantings reach their potential to meet demand. This probably also contributes to keeping CBD prices high.

suggestions and responses:

s: “It would be great to have a bread option like the Metropolitan white sandwich loaf stocked in Chestnut Hill that is not made in a factory but is also not seeded, oated, rye, raw, sprouted, sour, etc. Just a good solid white sandwich loaf baked locally.”

r: (Jenna MA) Thanks for the suggestion! I will look into bringing the bread in. In the meantime, if you want to pre-order a loaf, fill out a pre-order slip. Ask a staffer for assistance if needed.

s: “I like Rudi’s Gluten-Free Homestyle bread, glad you have it. My last loaf was compressed from side to side and from top to bottom. Somebody isn’t storing it right.”

r: (Jenna MA) Glad you like the bread, it’s a customer favorite! The bread comes in frozen so we will follow up with the distributor.

s: “The best gluten-free bread by far is Happy Camper, especially the ‘Stompy Seedy.’ It’s a true whole-meal bread and has a very long unrefrigerated shelf life. Can we stock this?”

r: (Matt MA) It doesn’t seem to be available from our primary vendors, and the company’s minimums for direct purchase are a little high for us.

s: “Can we bring back my favorite Talenti ice cream flavor? The Coffee Chocolate Chip is the best, and it has been missing for several weeks. Thanks.”

r: (Matt MA) Unfortunately the Coffee Chocolate Chip was discontinued by our supplier.

s: “How can ice cream be a ‘natural’ food since it doesn’t exist in nature, especially in hot weather?”

r: (Norman) For most foods, to create a “natural” food, all you have to do is print the word “natural” on the packaging. There is no FDA definition (there is a USDA definition that applies mainly to meat, poultry and eggs — no artificial or synthetic ingredients and minimally processed). The FDA started looking into this a few years ago but there’s been no progress that I’ve seen.

However, you could look at “natural” another way. Virtually all manufactured food is natural food, since humans are natural, so everything they make is also natural. Humans’ main resource to make food (or anything) is their own ideas and effort, plus resources we find in nature. So ice cream is natural, as is the technology to freeze things and keep them frozen. Freon is as natural as rock formations; it’s just Freon has been manipulated more by humans to serve their purpose, one of which is having ice cream available to millions of people year round. Heart transplants, going to Mars, and nuclear submarines are all perfectly natural, as is artificial color and flavor. They’re all products of the earth and human ingenuity and effort. Good luck to the FDA with this one.

s: “Why is the Organic Edensoy unsweetened soy milk 20 cents more expensive than the sweetened/flavored varieties? Any chance you could lower the price to match (or just lower the price because it has fewer ingredients)? Or maybe Weavers Way can make/sell its own soy milk?”

r: (Norman) Looks like a mistake. We’ll correct it; thanks for pointing it out. Making our own soy milk is an interesting idea, but not likely in the cards anytime soon.

s: “When you write a suggestion/request in the book and it disappears, while other, more recent comments are answered, what does that mean? Is it on someone’s desk somewhere? Has it been burned and erased from history as part of a massive conspiracy to preserve the status quo (in this case, the status quo on sandwich bread)? Those are the only two possibilities I can think of.”

r: (Norman) When a suggestion disappears, yes, most likely it is on or in someone’s desk. Not a conspiracy, just garden variety neglect. With your suggestion in hand, we can shame our staff out of their neglectful behavior, so thanks! We don’t always go with the status quo — look at all the fake meat and CBD products we have!

s: “Could we please get back the La Colombe Latte (not labeled “Draft”) that we had before? Better tasting to me than the one with sugar. Thanks!”

r: (Matt MA) Unfortunately La Colombe changed their recipe and packaging and now all of their canned lattes contain cane sugar. I agree it was plenty sweet before they added sugar.

s: “Why don’t we sell whale meat? We have lots of other seafood.”

r: (Norman) Good suggestion. Look for Captain Ahab brand spear-caught whale meat in the near future.