Reflections on Expo West 2019

The 39th annual Natural Products Expo West, the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event, recently gathered an inspired community of more than 86,000 attendees from 136 countries in the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. And, naturally, Team KeyLeaf was there.

Kicking off Expo Week was our attendance at the day-long Natural Products Hemp and CBD Summit featuring multiple panels and presenters addressing the opportunities and challenges facing the hemp and CBD market. Topics covered everything from science to legal compliance to business issues to retailer issues.

The first thing to note about the Hemp/CBD summit was that it was packed to capacity –standing room only. We observed first-hand the tremendous momentum for CBD and full spectrum hemp products that exists not only nationally, but internationally among manufacturers, vendors and consumers.

Unfortunately, as we learned from the speakers and from conversations with attendees, the Hemp/CBD category is very much like the Wild West at the moment. We have a market that is ready to move forward with these ingredients, but no uniform laws exist to regulate their sale and use. States are following different procedures for the regulation of hemp and CBD within their borders. For example, Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska say hemp CBD is illegal under state law. California, Main, North Carolina and Texas have adopted the FDA’s position that hemp CBD cannot be a dietary supplement or food ingredient. Several states like Oklahoma and Tennessee only allow for the use of CBD under certain medical conditions, and South Carolina officials at their Department of Agriculture say CBD is legal, but when you put it in food it changes the definition — so a gummy bear containing CBD isn’t allowed. And in New York, cookies with CBD drizzle can only be marketed as a dietary supplement.

To add still more uncertainty, during the summit we had the sudden resignation of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who had recently stated he was deeply focused on the CBD issue and was contemplating a ruling that would allow CBD to be sold in food or as a dietary supplement. With Gottlieb’s sudden departure, will CBD now take a back seat at the FDA? One thing is certain; some type of uniform regulation is needed to oversee the industry as we’re about to have a flood of entrepreneurs trying to capitalize on the booming CBD marketplace, but not necessarily making certain that product quality is there.

As legal issues become clarified, KeyLeaf, with its decades of experience in dealing with governments, regulatory agencies, and meeting strict quality controls in the manufacturing process, is standing by, ready to continue innovating within the hemp-derived ingredients space.

While walking the Expo the following day, we noted that nearly a third of the products on display featured hemp or hemp-derived ingredients. In particular abundance were CBD soft

gels, tinctures, lotions, and other CBD product. During our walk-around, we were able to spot several potential opportunities from a product development standpoint involving adding hemp-derived ingredients into certain natural foods, snacks and beverages. Will these CBD-fortified innovations be debuting at next year’s Natural Products Expo? Time will tell.

Judging from the growth rates and big number of new vendors in the space, the plant-based foods and beverages sector is clearly the most thriving area of the natural products industry. It’s glaringly obvious that today’s new generation of environmentally-conscious consumers not only wants value-driven products; they also want to know the inside story: where the ingredients are sourced from and whether the product impacts climate change or uses sustainable manufacturing practices and fair labor. These new consumers want to know that the products they are purchasing are helping to regenerate the planet and not deplete it. They are showing that concern over such issues as “standing behind one’s product” and “giving back to the community” will determine their lifelong support and loyalty to the brand.

We are heartened that the KeyLeaf offers all of our customers these values and is keeping in step with the changing consumer.