CBD 2.0: Why 2021 is the Dawn of a Promising New Era in the Hemp

CBD 2.0: Why 2021 is the Dawn of a Promising New Era in the Hemp

NOTE: ABRIDGED VERSION ABOVE PUBLISHED BY NASDAQ 2-18-21

In 2004, Tim O’Reilly popularized the term “Web 2.0.” According to Tim O’Reilly, “Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.[3] He went on to say, “Web 2.0″refers to the historical context of web businesses “coming back” after the 2001 collapse of the dot-com bubble, in addition to the distinguishing characteristics of the projects that survived the bust or thrived thereafter.[4]As we enter year three of federally legal hemp CBD, I am calling CBD 2.0.

 I lived through the dot-com bubble having founded eSkye.com in 1999 as a B2B exchange for the alcohol industry. I then led through the transition from dot-com to Web 2.0 morphing eSkye.com into eSkye Solutions and shifting to become a SaaS software provider to the industry, at one point establishing it as the largest provider of dedicated software services to the wine industry. We also handled all the vendor managed pricing with Walmart, Walgreens, and other chains for many of the largest wine, spirits and beer companies in the world. I was also Chairman of Wine 2.0, which was a riff of the Web 2.0 movement to bringing technology and wine experiences together.

O’Reilly and Gary Vaynerchuk (winelibrary.tv and Vaynerchuk Media) joined us at the New York Wine 2.0 event that featured cutting edge wine start-ups and wineries, plus over 1,000 wine and tech lovers coinciding with O’Reilly Media’s Web 2.0 Expo.

This week, on Yahoo Finance, I characterized 2021 as “CBD 2.0.” as the beginning of a fundamental shift from the early “Wild West” days of the hemp CBD industry to a year that will lay foundation for national brands. Let me explain and see if you agree.  

Pablo Zuanic, the well-regarded research analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, put out several reports this week on the Cannabis and CBD markets and companies. As he points out:

“Macro view: our projections remain bullish for the next five years. Despite lackluster trends in 2020, partly COVID-related, and a slowdown pre-COVID in 2H19 – as lack of regulatory guidelines from the FDA prevented the FDM channel from adapting CBD a widely as had been expected, across formats and by all major retailers – projections remain quite constructive. Most estimates by the industry’s trade shops continue to forecast US CBD $ sales of $15-20Bn by 2024. The Brightfield Group projects sales of $15Bn by 2024, up from $4.2Bn in 2019. BDS Analytics projects sales of $20Bn by 2024, more than 10x the $1.9Bn in sales generated by the industry in 2018 (~50% CAGR), as per their estimates. BDSA estimates 63% of the $20Bn 2024 figures would be hemp-derived CBD and 37% marijuana-derived CBD. The current market split is as follows, according to BDS Analytics: ingestibles 47%, topicals 26%, inhalables 21%, pet products 3%, and 4% other (including pharmaceuticals). But as discussed below, without clear FDA guidelines and formal classification of CDB as a dietary supplement, the bulk of the FDM channel will stay reluctant to stock CBD products, and this will limit growth, in our view.”

He goes on to point out that without a major FDA/regulatory catalyst, it’s hard to see things improving rapidly from 2020. While I agree with his general assessment of the handful of public CBD companies he covers – cbdMD (YCBD/Neutral), Charlotte’s Web (CWBHF/Neutral) and CV Sciences (CVSI/Neutral)— I think those companies’ biggest issues are more related to the rising tide of other serious brands from mostly private companies but also new entrants. This new onslaught is much more sophisticated and include larger scale CPG brands than what the early CBD companies are used to competing against. Two such examples are Martha Stewart’s CBD Gummies launched by Canopy Growth and Molson Coors announced launch of their CBD beverage, TRUSS CBD in Colorado. This new crop of brand focused companies is leading the way and initiating the dawn of CBD 2.0.

Hemp CBD Early Days

In 2014, after years of grassroots efforts, Congress included an experimental program that allowed hemp to be legally grown in the US for the first time since 1937, provided it was attached to a University. 14 states ended up participating in the program. It was quite restrictive but a huge step forward for the industry. This was pre-CBD 1.0, a period of primitive CBD industry and initial consumer trials of the cannabinoid. During this time, there was a volatile) gray/illegal market for CBD with shady operators popping up all over brokering CBD from China and putting it into products with no testing, no truth in labeling and zero reliability. It was truly the “Wild West” and was common to have “brokers” claiming to have for sale or want to buy millions of dollars or liters of CBD, only to have them disappear when one actually tried to make a deal. It was a close cousin to the illegal cannabis industry with many of the same players participating in both.

I went to Washington DC to meet with congressional leadership in March 2018 to gauge the likelihood of expanding the hemp program nationally and of cannabis prohibition repeal overall. My impression was that full-on cannabis prohibition repeal still had meaningful opposition, but that hemp legalization could move quickly with bipartisan support.

My team jumped into it in 2018 growing 115 acres with partner farmers in Kentucky and establishing a hemp processing facility there as well. Just about everything that could go wrong did. The seeds were not great, the weather was terrible (wet when we needed dry and dry when we needed wet – “Welcome to farming,” they told me), our equipment kept breaking as most was not designed for the hemp plant, etc. Despite these challenges, we learned quickly and were able to lay the groundwork for what was to come.

Hemp CBD 1.0

Enter the Farm bill, which passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed into law in December 2018. This laid the foundation for a truly national, legal hemp industry, provided that each state set up a system and apply with the USDA. The excitement was palpable. It was a bit like a mini dot-com in terms numbers of start-ups, money flowing into the space, and news coverage. We bet heavily that the market would expand dramatically with legalization and committed to growing more than 1,800 acres of hemp with partner farms in KY and TN. We plowed millions of dollars into the production side of the business while at the same time putting a portfolio of brands together. We successfully launched our first brands into nearly 1,000 convenience stores in late 2018. It was a CBD “Gold Rush” with 100s of new “brands” appearing out of nowhere. Farmers switched to hemp production in mass, and $100s of millions of investments pumped into hemp processing operations. Big retailers began taking meetings with the anticipation of rolling out CBD products in 2019.

Between the Fall harvest of 2018 and 2019, the hemp growing, processing, and CBD ingredient side of the industry collapsed. In retrospect, perhaps it seems obvious that a frenzy of new investment and market participants in a brand-new industry would cause over-supply. Also, the proliferation of start-ups, populated with inexperienced business operators, caused plenty of issues. However, in a twist unforeseen by anyone but perhaps big pharma, the regulatory headwinds led by the US FDA threw a wrench in the momentum towards retail adoption. Their position was that CBD ingestibles are unsafe until proven otherwise, and therefore not permitted. This declaration caused most of the major retail outlets to cancel plans to bring CBD onto their shelves. (See my article in the Denver Post on this here)

The resulting destruction of value in the industry was swift and massive. Seven of the largest hemp processors who had raised over $400 million failed by February 2020 (pre-COVID lockdown). The largest, GenCanna, had a reported $2 billion deal to go public in the Fall of 2019, only to collapse into bankruptcy months later. I was 36 hours from a $700 million+ merger into a SPAC on NASDAQ when it unraveled in October 2019. We faced a collapsing market and a flight of investment capital. My team at Vertical Wellness took immediate action by cutting our costs and pivoting to a services business to help recover investor/creditor dollars from all these failed companies. In the end, we landed contracts to dry or process over 18 million pounds of hemp, making us profitable in 2020 during the pandemic. Given the retail environment, our brand launches were pushed into 2021, but we used the time and cash flow to prepare and make strategic acquisitions to be ready for what was to come. I share our rare success during a dismal time in the industry not to boast, but simply to inspire other entrepreneurs and demonstrate that being resilient and never giving up are essential qualities.

Entering CBD 2.0

In five years, we can look back and see if I called this too early, but something feels different to me. To be clear, I’m not suggesting good times are here immediately, but rather, we will soon be able to clearly see the path forward for a thriving cannabinoid industry. Here is my case that 2021 is the turning point for CBD.

1.    Survivors: Only the strong survived the great destruction of CBD 1.0 – those of us remaining either pivoted, figured out how to make money, or emerged with new focus on execution.

2.    Execution and Funding: The extreme loss of value has scared away many investors. This makes it a lot harder for new entrants to attain funding and for existing folks who are not executing to stay in the business.

3.    State Permitted Ingestibles: In spite of the FDA inaccurate proclamation against the safety of CBD, consumer demand for health and wellness products has only grown. Fundamentally, consumers want natural alternative solutions (from Big Pharma drugs) to solve sleeplessness, anxiety, pain, and other ailments. Cannabinoids increasingly demonstrate their proper role in solving for this consumer demand. Just as in the overall THC-based Cannabis market, the States are leading the way in permitting ingestibles of CBD. This will accelerate in 2021. The states are driving permitted CBD consumption and consumer demand (it’s 47% of consumption nationally in spite of the FDA). Additionally, there are more studies coming out regularly, adding further lack of evidence of any harm caused by CBD. These factors and continued support from a growing bi-partisan group of lawmakers will eventually overcome big-Pharma’s grip over the FDA on this issue. I’m hopeful this can happen in 2021 but is not essential for my case for CBD 2.0.

4.    Retailers Need for Growth: Retailers who are coming out of a crazy year of focusing on essential supplies or in other cases being shut down are looking for new ways to grow. CBD is back on top of their list of growth categories in which many are not yet participating.

5.    Efficacy Matters: More and more companies and brands today are focused on the real impact CBD and other cannabinoids can have on people’s lives. Faster acting products with clear uses will lead the growth.

6.    Real Brands: More legitimate, credible brands, not named “CBD this” or “CBD that,” are emerging. That would be like naming my new beer brand “Beer.” CBD is simply one of about 150 cannabinoids in the Cannabis plant that, when combined with the right balance of other ingredients (e.g. melatonin), can have tremendous efficacy in solving or alleviating real health and wellness ailments. Consumers want it, but they don’t know who or what to trust because of the lack of workable regulations and proliferation of unknown, unproven, generic brands. That is starting to change as premium brands are being backed by credible companies and honest leaders with proven track records. Our kathy ireland Health & Wellness® CBD solutions is a great example of this. Kathy is a recognized leader and advocate for women’s health. Our acquisition of The Organic Candy Factory is another. We are very excited to bring these to market.

As Tim O’Reilly once said, “Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried.” I believe “CBD 2.0” is a worthy endeavor and indeed will make the world better off. I recently had my whole team read the late Tony Hsieh’s (former Zappos CEO) book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. In it, Tony shares a plethora of stories where Zappos was at the brink of going out of business but found a way to persevere despite the odds.  Had a small group of impassioned leaders not fought through those times, there never would have been a $1 billion exit. Many in the industry are in a similar moment. Those who show resilience and conviction will prevail. 2021 will prove to be the turning point in building a thriving, healthy industry that contributes to the societal good.

Amazon Prime Now – Disruptive Same Day Delivery Arrives In Indy

Amazon Prime Now – Disruptive Same Day Delivery Arrives In Indy

Various Blog Post Banners 2015

I have to admit, when I first read about the same day delivery service I was a bit skeptical.   How would it work?  Why would I really want it?  Could anyone really do it at scale on a sustained basis?

Experience:

Well, early this morning I was reading the news on my iPhone and received a message from Amazon that all Prime members now had access to same day delivery (1-2 hours from order) through its new service called Prime Now.   #PRIMENOW   It piqued my interest.  Is this real?  Can they really pull it off?  So I downloaded the Amazon Prime Now app and started browsing.  I was amazed at the breadth of offerings from grocery to sports to electronics and more.  I’ve been in the market for a luggage rack for my truck and found exactly the type I wanted. I knew we were out of eggs and browsing the groceries made me think about breakfast so I added some free range organic eggs and all natural sausages.  Click click click and my order was in process.

They gave me a delivery window of 8-10am (my order was placed around 5:45am).  I received my order exactly as expected at 9am and was able to make breakfast before the rest of my day unfolded.  The driver told me I was among the first 10 orders in Indy.  This was a profoundly positive experience.

IMG_6058

Amazon Prime Now is currently available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Manhattan and Miami. The service will continue rolling out to additional cities in 2015

What does this mean?

It is a game changer.  Not immediately, but with a sustained effort, I believe this could drastically change how consumers (and businesses) think about behave with their purchasing.   Home delivery is great and has been around for a long time (think the milkman of old, bottle water delivery etc).  We get deliveries from Amazon and tons of other companies all the time.  Some of these are next day or 2nd day which is super convenient.   We get a weekly grocery delivery of organic and locally grown produce from Green Bean Delivery which is FANTASTIC!  We have to plan our order by Monday at noon and receive our delivery of groceries on Wednesday of each week.

All that said, the idea that one can simply run out of something or decide one “needs” (wants) something, almost anything, and make it so two hours later is different.  This is what 90% of running errands ends up being.  Going to the store for this and that and picking up a few things in between larger shopping trips happens to all of us (or our families) every day. What if we could cut most of that out?  What if you need something you simply think it (a couple of swipes is not much work) and it arrives in about the same time it would take you to go out and shop, pick your items, load your car, drive home, unload your car. This requires a different kind of thinking around what is possible, but I don’t think its a that big of a leap for most of us.

Implications:

For Consumers

  • Time – For no extra cost (driver tip cancels out gas you would have used perhaps), it frees up time.  How much time in a week do we spend running to the store, shopping and returning? 4 hours? 8 hours? More?  What more productive things or fun things can one do with that time.  It is big.
  • Convenience – No need to plan very far ahead, need something, make it appear with no effort.  Wow.

For Small Business

  • Time – Same as above, many small businesses buy things by shopping.  Eliminate that need and do you eliminate a need for headcount manning the store while someone is out buying supplies?
  • Service – out of something? – now you can replenish immediately and provide your customers whatever you were missing in a short time.
  • Investment savings – reduce safety stock/inventory on certain items and replenish each day as needed.  For many small businesses (and large) space to store inventory is a real issue.  What if you could simply replenish as needed?  Though this service is focused on consumers, for many small businesses, it could be a better alternative to traditional distribution or running to Costco or Sam’s Club for stuff.  I’d expect Amazon to build out this aspect over time.

For Retailers & Distributors

  • Increased retail competition – just when you thought it could not get worse for retailers, it is getting worse.  Things that one swings in to just grab could be diverted to this.  Think of convenience, pharmacies (e.g. Walgreens and CVS), grocery (Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, Publix), electronics (Best Buy, Costco, Walmart, Target), sports equipment (e.g. Dick’s, Sports Authority).
  • Increased distributor competition – the businesses that source from traditional distributors could shift some of their purchases to this kind of model.  It will create the need for distributors to up their service level to stay competitive which can also drive up their costs.

Overall, I think I just experienced the future today.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Channel Conflict II: Grocery Alcohol Fights Across the Land

Channel Conflict II: Grocery Alcohol Fights Across the Land

Last week I wrote about Channel Conflict in the 3 tier system of alcohol distribution between wholesalers and Anheuser-Busch Inbev and the craft community. I received quite a few interesting comments from my friends on both sides of the issue.   One highly respected industry member commented to me “Very nice job trying to ride the third rail of these issues and explain a complex issue in simple terms.”

Well here goes again with an issue that I get asked about frequently. Another interesting channel conflict is between and among the members of the retail tier. This channel conflict involves questions regarding who (what types of retailers) can sell which types of beverage alcohol and when alcohol can be sold (e.g. Grocery Sales of beer spirits and wine and Sunday Sales). These questions are raging across the country in different states. The conflict pits independent liquor stores (and specialty chain liquor stores depending on the state) against the corporate chains (Costco, Kroger, Publix, Target, Walmart etc). An example of this is the Sunday sales of alcohol at retail in Indiana. After passing out of committee with a “poison pill change” Sunday sales was killed in the Indiana legislature. Sunday Alcohol Sales Meet Familiar Fate.

liquor store sign liquor sales sunday closed

In a closely related question pertaining to which type of retailer can sell which products, in 2014 Tennessee passed a law allowing grocery stores to sell not only beer, which they already could sell, but also wine. Wine in grocery stores passes; what’s next?

In Florida, Walmart and others are pushing legislation for the right to sell spirits within the same store as groceries and not be required to have a separate stand-alone entrance. Publix, another grocer, does not support the change since they already have stand-alone entrances throughout the state. Beer and wine are treated differently in Florida and groceries are able to sell inside a grocery store. Publix opposes, Walmart backs Florida bill to let grocers sell liquor.  Update – More Here: Florida: Spirited Battle Ahead over Florida’s Liquor Separation Law

3/23 Update: Beer bill on tap in Florida House on Tuesday

 

kroger store outside kroger wine shop walmart store shot outside

In some cases, these fights are spilling over into the courts and not just the legislatures. Walmart lawsuit highlights Texas’ surprising alcohol laws. In the case of Texas and Walmart’s litigation, it is about their right to sell products that the specialty retailers currently have a lock on and have created work-arounds for ownership of large-scale chains.  UPDATE:

Costco joins coalition to broaden liquor sales laws in Texas

The reality is there are so many new brands, it is hard to keep up with them all, for people in the industry, let alone consumers. This proliferation of new brands is driven by today’s consumer thirst for new things, literally. Generally speaking, I believe more open markets are better for consumers, but taken to extreme can cause massive consolidation and the independent specialty liquor shops and specialty chains find themselves at a significant disadvantage to the corporate chains. Markets like California and Arizona are examples of wide-open sales of beer, spirits and wine. This has been the case for a long time. In these markets the corporate chains dominate the retail landscape. The independent sector is a much smaller portion of the total business. The large specialty chains have also been very successful in these markets (Bevmo! and Total Wine & More).

Bevmo store shot Bevmo logo

 

The relative advantage of full line retailers (grocery) is what is driving the fights over Sunday  sales. Liquor stores are not open on Sundays, but the grocery chains are. The groceries of course want to be able to sell alcohol, as they are open, fully staffed and have consumers in their stores who would like to purchase it. The liquor stores would have to man their stores with staff and the thinking among many is the incremental sales on Sunday will simply come out of sales during the week they would get anyway. Their worse fear is that the groceries will end up with a greater share of the incremental business with so many consumers already shopping in their stores on Sunday.  The package stores won the recent Indiana fight by taking a quite reasonable position – that all retailers should be under the same sets of laws.  In the end, the groceries could not support losing the significant freedoms they currently have just to get Sunday sales.

Sunday-alcohol-sales-prohibitdotcom

To people (consumers) who live in both more “open” or “closed” states, these fights seem strange indeed.   There has been a long-term trend to more liberalization of alcohol laws on a state-by-state basis. But this liberalization has been gradual and certainly not continuous. As the large grocery/mass retailers have shifted their attention to gaining share of the increasingly important beverage alcohol market and Total Wine continuing their massive expansion around the country, the independent sector will continue to be under pressure and where organized, able to continue to slow the pace of change through state legislatures and regulations. That said, the most strategic of the independents and specialty chains are innovating and investing

in their ability to serve their customers and compete effectively with the other retail sectors. Walmart and most other full service retailers will never have the specialized staff that a focused specialty retailer of alcohol can have (There are exceptions on a store level, but this is true overall). This high level of knowledge and service with customers is what will keep consumers coming back. I think the bigger fear is a large specialty retailer (Total Wine) that has it all – scale ($1.5 million in alcohol sales) and low pricing, product depth (10,000 skus typically) and highly knowledgeable employees. They are very strong.

Total wine logo total wine store shot

The wholesalers and most of the suppliers all try to stay out of these arguments, since both sets of retailers are their customers. DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council Of The United States) though has a long-standing policy to fight against anything that disadvantages spirits to other types of alcohol. They have been quite effective on this front in many markets. The craft (beer, spirits and wine) producers definitely benefit from a thriving independent market as they get more opportunities for their smaller or new brands than in the corporate chains, but they also benefit by having a more open market with multiple channels for consumers to buy alcohol. It’s a tough balance to maintain with many competing interests, but in the end the market will drive it, albeit more slowly than many consumers want with the local legislation and regulations market by market.

I’d love to hear you thoughts on these issues and other examples in your state.

Cheers,
Smoke

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