When CV Sciences debuted its PlusCBD Oil product line in 2014, the hemp CBD market was very new and largely uncharted territory. The company knew that beyond getting its products onto retail shelves, it had to pave the way for this sector by educating the industry and “doing things the right way,” says Sarah Syed, director of marketing: “We realized there wasn’t a brand on the market that was labeling or marketing correctly, so we set the standard for hemp CBD products.”
Five years in, CV Sciences’ 50 SKUs are sold at stores nationwide and online. The brand offers three formulas—Raw, Total Plant Complex and Gold Formula—and a broad array of delivery formats including capsules, gummies, drops, topicals and softgels. This year, the company is launching PlusCBD Oil Roll-Ons, which contain camphor and menthol along with hemp CBD.
Yet even as its offerings and distribution expand and everybody and their brothers are talking about CBD, CV Sciences remains steadfast in its commitment to education. We caught a few moments with Syed to learn more about the company’s grassroots efforts to teach the world about hemp CBD, its appreciation for independent natural products retailers and how it plans to keep moving this market forward.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: How does PlusCBD Oil stand apart from the countless other brands out there?
Sarah Syed: We believe that PlusCBD Oil was the flagship brand in the natural products industry. We were the first brand that most stores felt comfortable enough to put on their shelves. And to do that, we were compelled to create comfort and understanding around this complex subject matter. Back in 2014, most people didn’t know much about CBD, and now it’s everywhere. We believe this is because of our stewardship of the space: We are hemp experts, and we fought for the category and the legalization of hemp all the way to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Also, our dedication to transparency, quality and education really sets us apart from the “me too” brands. We are the only company with published toxicological safety assessments, which makes us self-affirmed GRAS. Further, our dedication to consumer well-being is underscored through our research efforts, as this is a new molecule that hasn’t truly been in our supply because of prohibition.
NFM: What most helped market your products in the beginning?
SS: When we were creating the market, there were just a few brands in the space and none that understood the nutrition industry or, frankly, dietary supplements in general. So marketing these products came down solely to education. In the age of misinformation, it became clear that we had to spread the truth about hemp extracts to the world. We educated retailers, doctors, consumers and even our competitors. Our grassroots efforts meant hosting webinars and teleseminars and putting educators on the ground to visit stores and host meal trainings for retailers, whether they were an account or not. We wanted everyone to feel comfortable with us first. That’s how we built trust.
NFM: Why offer hemp CBD in so many different formats?
SS: The wide array, we believe, speaks well to the fact that each person has unique biochemistry and hemp extracts work with each person’s endocannabinoid system differently. Our three formulas contain a different biochemical matrix of constituents found in hemp, so depending on someone’s need for taking hemp CBD, we have an offering that could serve them best.
NFM: How do you position your products in mass, natural and online retail?
SS: This is tough because I think there has always been a stigma about natural products brands expanding outside of this industry. But let’s face it, this is a brand-new category that is completely different from any other in this space. Conventional marketing tactics don’t always apply, so you have to think outside of the box. With that said, being the industry leaders, we want to ensure our products can be accessible to all—in natural, online and even in mass.
Hemp CBD requires expansion without guardrails, in a sense, as long as the brand is doing it right—which we are. So I think by staying true to our values as a natural products brand—clean ingredients, meeting label claims, following DSHEA, etc.—we can also capture new customers who may not shop at natural products stores normally but want to feel the benefits from our products. It’s really exciting to see that the opportunity to make hemp CBD accessible is limitless.
NFM: Where do you focus your retail education efforts?
SS: Education remains paramount in everything we do, and we are fortunate that our founders and leaders understand that this investment is necessary. Along with the webinars, teleseminars and amazing educators who travel the country, we’ve partnered with media companies like New Hope to sponsor content in order to teach the industry, even when there was skepticism and hesitation. This is an area of our business where we thrive, and frankly, we are often told by consumers that our staff is the most knowledgeable about this subject matter. This is completely intentional. Every person who represents our brand is trained extensively, and we have an internal team dedicated to just that.
NFM: Why is it important for your products to be in independent natural products stores?
SS: Independents got us to where we are today, and we are so grateful for the forward-thinking nature of these indie buyers and owners, who heard our mission and took a chance to put us on their shelves—especially in the face of a regulatory gray area.
The Independent Natural Foods Retailers Association and Natural Co+op Grocers, amongst others, are also part of our knit. Their vetting processes are extensive, and we deliberately focused on retail before online because we knew the quality requirements that needed to be met. If we could pass those stringent requirements, we knew we could build credibility because we had gone above and beyond to do this right.
NFM: How can independents stay in the game as hemp CBD gains a wider audience?
SS: Work with companies that invest in you too. We offer an online training program to educate, we invest dollars via co-op advertising, we have educators available to hold seminars at your store and we offer demos to increase your sell-through. Also, independent retailers are so incredibly knowledgeable already and we offer the tools to help you become a hemp CBD expert.
NFM: What is the biggest challenge for hemp CBD brands right now?
SS: Buyer fatigue. It’s a double-edged sword, creating the industry and teaching the world about something so new and disruptive, and then today you can’t go anywhere without someone talking about hemp CBD. Buyers are being flooded with new brands and even legacy brands launching CBD line extensions, so there’s certainly some fatigue. Brands need to differentiate themselves beyond their products, and we’ve certainly had to pivot a few times to keep agile in such a fast-growing market.
NFM: What does this industry need going forward?
SS: More research will help add to the already growing list of case reports about the effects and benefits of hemp extracts. Due to the newness of hemp in the U.S., we have a long way to go to really understand how hemp CBD works in the body.