The market is being flooded with brands during this "green rush." That creates a few groups of companies: 1) those interested in making as much money as possible, 2) those jumping in without really knowing what they are doing and 3) those who have done their research and are working to create the best quality products available.
Brands are making many claims (which they shouldn't make). Many brands are unfortunately marketing mis-information. As a result, consumers are confused on which brands to trust and which products are truly superior. Here is our take and perspective.
As a refresher, please read our BE WELL blog posts on Full Spectrum Oils, CBD Isolates and Terpenes. These posts will give you additional information and background on important differences in the marketplace. Also, we have a CBD101 post as well.
As a daily supplement, CBD oils can be expensive. The average bottle of oil, 500 to 600mg is around $60-90 for a 30 - 45 day supply. However, this is not the time nor the industry to focus on low cost as the decision-making element for purchasing. While good quality CBD is worth investing in, the high cost makes it tempting to buy cheap, inferior products, these products can be dangerous, as they are often mislabeled and are filled with toxins and other unsafe ingredients.
Low cost in this industry, at this time, typically aligns with low quality and potentially safety issues. Unfortunately, this is the truth.
All of these key areas are required to produce a premium, safe CBD product. As mentioned above, those interested only in chasing the money or those getting into the industry just to enter, are typically cutting corners or "trusting" that these are being done by someone else. Brands focused on quality and safety are intimately involved in each step of the supply chain process. At Vitalibis, our supply chain team is extremely experienced and we've created strong relationships with each company we use throughout this process.
Farming Practices - with the increase in demand, farmers can be tempted to cut corners. Upon a recent visit to several hemp farms, we saw lots of plant disease, mold, poorly managed, poorly cleaned facilities. Finding and working with the highest quality farms is a top priority for premium, safe brands. Farms which use organic farming practices are essential. Read more about why this matters in our Phytoremediation blog post.
Quality of the Hemp Biomass - hemp farming is critical and so is the strain being purchased. Just like wine, hemp has many varietals which contain different profiles of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc. The quality and type of the strain has a direct impact on the smell and taste. Purchasing the best hemp biomass is essential.
Testing Process #1 - testing is always done with third party, independent testing labs. CofA's (Certificates of Analysis) are essential for building trust and compliance. Testing at this stage is to ensure cannabinoid, terpene, heavy metal, pesticide and microbial requirements are met. If testing fails here, we don't purchase the biomass and we definitely do not move the process along to extraction.
Extraction - this is a critical step and where much of the market is becoming a commodity. Solvent extraction using butane, ethanol, etc. is one major category...a non-starter for Vitalibis. CO2 is also a solvent and the most widely used process currently. You'll read that this is the safest and purest extraction. That is depending on experience, understanding, etc. Not all CO2 is the same - meaning, the machines being used and the people operating those machines really, really matter. At Vitalibis, we are not fans of CO2 extraction due to how it damages the plant, causing it to have a bitter taste. We use a proprietary extraction method. Think about mass market beer vs craft beer. We focus on the quality of the hemp biomass AND the craft extraction so that our oil has a superior taste, safety and efficacy. We never purchase our oil from brokers and we never purchase mass produced oil. A MAJOR differentiator for us in our quality.
Testign Process #2 - testing at this stage is to ensure the cannabinoid profile is accurate for bottle labeling. It's also great to test for heavy metals, pesticides, terpenes and microbial elements. A full test should be posted on the brand's website to show the quality of oil customers will be purchasing and consuming.
Filling - using a cGMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) contract filler is a major differentiator by high quality brands. We use top tier, audited cGMP facilities vs filling bottles in a warehouse somewhere with no oversight. cGMP contract fillers inspect and require certain testing documentation before they will even schedule the bottles to be filled - they have strict quality guidelines for compliance. Wholesale brokers, white-label fillers, etc. are all over this industry. Few are at the level you should expect as a consumer.
Testing Process #3 - testing at this step is to ensure no microbial elements were introduced to the product during the filling process.
Transportation - there are three major areas of transportation before an order is shipped from the warehouse. From the farm to the extractor. From the extractor to the filler. From the filler to the warehouse. Each transportation step requires finding the right transportation partners to work with (and trust). And each shipment is insured due to the high cost of the oil.
Warehousing - not every warehouse will touch CBD products and those that do may charge a bit more or require additional insurance. Some brands cut this cost by shipping product out of their garage. That's a non-starter for us.
Cost of Doing Business - being in the CBD industry requires a lot more overhead costs than other companies (if you're doing things right). Credit card processing is a challenge and can be about 7% of the sale per transaction (that's at least 2 times what it typically costs). Insurance coverage (both liability and Directors & Officers insurance) can be hard to find and expensive. Legal fees pile up and typically you need cannabis legal expertise as well as business legal expertise. And as a public company, add a bunch more money to ensure all of the independent oversight, compliance and auditing is done correctly.
Again, there are some great brands in the industry doing amazing things. However, there are also thousands of brands who are not. The market continues to push prices down as thousands of brands enter the CBD space. The mass production of oil comes from 5-7 major extractors across the US. There are smaller extractors of course. So many interested brands want to get into the CBD business, but they don't have the education, connections or money to purchase large inventory positions. This has exploded the wholesale broker / white label market.
The white label market consists of entities purchasing commodity oil from a variety of places (so consistency and transparency is questionable). Then, they fill 250 bottles or so for hundreds of brands, merely swapping out the labels for each brand. No differentiation. Just the same oil with different brand labels. As a result, these brands have never been to a farm, have not asked the tough questions, have not tested the products themselves, etc. They are taking the word that the supply chain is of high quality and can be trusted.
If these brands are cutting supply chain corners, what else are they doing? Are they processing credit cards legitimately? Do they even have product liability insurance? Things to think about - you're putting this product into your body.
To wrap up...not all CBD is the same. There are some great companies on the market, along with some bad ones. Do your homework as a consumer. Buying on price alone right now may not be in your best interest if you are looking for a premium, safe product focused on improving your wellness.
Be informed. Be well.