This article authored by Vertosa CEO, Ben Larson, originally appeared in Forbes on January 27, 2020.
Cannabis and cannabidiol (or CBD) products are reaching a wider market than ever before as legalization sweeps state after state. And as the market expands, so do its tastes. Whereas industry insiders and early adopters default to ever more refined or experimental flower offerings, I believe the cannabis space as a whole could win a mainstream appeal on the shoulders of trustworthy, mass-marketable products, such as infused consumer packaged goods like edibles and beverage products.
As the CEO of a company that creates infused cannabis products, I've seen that infused products bring a number of key assets to the table, from the built-in trust of the food and beverage industry to the near limitless opportunities for customization and marketing. But for new infused-product companies, the primary concern is not only to meet growing demand but also to meet this demand with a quality product; namely, a product with trustworthy and effective cannabinoid ingredients.
Selecting the right ingredient provider is crucial to building lasting success. It can be a process of trial and error as you work to find a partner that is both trustworthy and the best fit for your beverage or edible. As you set out on this key step in completing the supply chain to launch or grow your cannabis business, keep these guidelines in mind:
1. do: ask for documentation
Certificates of analysis, safety data sheets, farm bill compliance and other documentation ensures that you're receiving the highest quality product from an ingredient provider. Going forward with a provider who hasn't shown this documentation can put your entire business at risk. Even if there is nothing wrong with their ingredient — which I've found is unlikely — their lack of compliance with documentation requirements means they could face regulatory issues at any moment, leaving you at legal risk and unable to fill orders or move forward with your product.
2. don't: believe that one size fits all
Creating water-dispersible CBD and THC is complex chemistry. Depending on your desired ingredients, packaging and manufacturing processes, you will likely require a specific formulation. An ingredient provider who is unwilling or unable to customize their technologies and solutions to fit your needs is unlikely to match your standards for quality and will be incapable of helping you develop new products with different requirements.
3. do: question big claims
"Clear" and "flavorless" are very subjective terms. Although most providers are working hard to achieve these standards, all ingredients have some impact on a product. Additionally, an ingredient that is completely innocuous in one base might be clearly recognizable in another. Just like any other ingredient, the cannabis or hemp component should be part of the product development process.
"Water-soluble" is another term to approach with caution. From a chemistry perspective, evenly dispersed encapsulated oil droplets in water are a suspension and do not technically count as water-soluble. Test the ingredient provider's understanding of their own product. While this might be viewed as semantics, it can reveal their level of sophistication and industry knowledge.
Similarly, test their understanding of the sourcing of their materials. Do they know where their inputs come from? What farms? If the person selling a product is not knowledgeable about it, you should be concerned about the reliability of that product.
4. do: ask for references
In an industry with so much legal risk, not to mention the variation in quality across products and providers, building a network of references around each of your partners is an essential step. Not only do these references help back up the provider's claims, but they can serve as useful and enduring resources as you launch your product and build your name in the industry.
Choosing the right ingredient provider is an exciting step in bringing a CBD or THC product to market, but the stakes are high to make the right choice. These guidelines are a jumping-off point for choosing a provider that meets your present needs as well as your plans for growth. In the face of everything that regulators might throw our way, it's these calculated choices that will help ensure the smoothest path forward.