As a leader in the hemp-derived-CBD space, CV Sciences (San Diego, CA) has used its resources to create a market for and lend credibility to a burgeoning product category. In 2018, Nutritional Outlook recognized the company for achieving the first Generally Recognized as Safe self-determination for a full-spectrum, hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) ingredient. This required commissioning a battery of toxicology studies, the first published toxicology studies on hemp extracts since 1981. Now, Nutritional Outlook is recognizing the firm’s efforts to secure a mainstream audience—sometimes without using CBD at all. It’s a strategy that not only benefits CV Sciences but also sets the stage for other CBD brands to enter the mass market.
Maximizing Consumer Access
“CV Sciences’ business strategy includes developing products that maximize consumer access to high-quality hemp-derived CBD products that are supported by independent lab tests verifying purity, strength, and composition,” says CV Sciences CEO Joseph Dowling. The foundation of this goal is the firm’s flagship PlusCBD line of full-spectrum, hemp-derived CBD products. With capsules, tinctures, and balms of varying strengths and price points, PlusCBD offers consumers reliable and trustworthy sources of CBD in a market that is increasingly saturated and unpredictable. However, foundations need to be built upon.
“Our experience has taught us that a singular brand is not elastic enough to meet the growing demand for CBD from diverse consumers across many sales channels,” Dowling explains. “In order to expand consumer access and meet consumers where they are, we launched Happy Lane, our line of THC-remediated CBD products.”
Happy Lane expands CV Sciences’ reach into the convenience retail channel, introducing hemp-derived CBD products to shoppers who may be uncomfortable with the thought of consuming tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), no matter how miniscule the amount. “Happy Lane products are made with the same rigorous manufacturing and testing standards CV Sciences is known for; however, unlike the European hemp sourced for PlusCBD, Happy Lane products are made from hemp grown in Kentucky. We pass the cost savings of growing hemp in the U.S. to consumers,” says Dowling.
Despite the market success hemp-derived CBD has experienced so far, widespread consumer recognition is not achieved within a single product category. In order to develop a relationship with a wider base of consumers, it was important for CV Sciences to diversify its portfolio. This is particularly important because outside of cosmetic products, mainstream retailers are still uneasy with stocking hemp-derived CBD in dietary supplement or functional food formats. For this reason, CV Sciences debuted its CV Defense and CV Acute lines of immune health products. The new products do not contain any hemp-derived CBD.
“A third tier of our business plan is to use brand awareness, reputation, and retail relationships to introduce non-CBD dietary supplements,” says Dowling. “CV Defense provides daily immune fortification with palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), organic reishi extract, and vitamins and minerals. CV Acute provides short-term, high-intensity immune support in a liquid herbal form. CV Acute is a 21st-century version of a time-tested Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula that has been extensively used and studied for respiratory immune support.”
The exclusion of CBD from the new line also acknowledges the limits of CBD, or at the very least the limits of our current scientific knowledge about the compound—a move that takes integrity. “As a science-based organization, we have always had concerns about companies that add CBD to condition-specific products without any scientific rationale for including CBD in those products,” explains Duffy MacKay, ND, senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs. “To us, including CBD in products without any scientific basis is gimmicky and creates a reputation risk for the category.”
Launching entire product lines is no small task, especially during a pandemic. Nor do things always happen as planned. While COVID-19 set some roadblocks, it also created urgency. “When Expo West was cancelled in March 2020 due to COVID-19, we had just wrapped up our plans for refreshing the PlusCBD line and were well into the research and development for our next phase of product innovation,” says Dowling. “The day after COVID-19 shut down California, where CV Sciences is headquartered, a few members of our team were sitting in the office and looking out at empty parking lots as far as the eye could see. This stark sight made us realize that we had to move quickly to protect the health of our employees, families, and customers.
“As we surged forward with product development, our scientific committee keyed into the immune-fortification power of PEA, an endocannabinoid-like molecule, for what would become CV Defense. In addition, we identified a strong partner with an impressive TCM formula—backed by science and regulatory work—for what would become CV Acute. The CV Sciences team worked around the clock, overcoming many obstacles and challenges brought on by the pandemic, to successfully launch our first two non-CBD products for immune support.”
Operating a company in the CBD space is complicated enough without a global pandemic, but CV Sciences has demonstrated a great deal of flexibility in adapting to certain business realities while continuing to develop new products and bring them to market. This is a testament to the company’s wherewithal and the dedication of its staff.
“Due to the restrictions and challenges brought on by the pandemic, CV Sciences has made significant operational changes to protect the health and safety of our employees, their families, and our customers,” says Dowling. “During the pandemic, we have continued to operate as an essential business. This would not have been possible without the incredible staff in our warehouses, lab, and elsewhere whose work kept the lights on and ensured orders were fulfilled during the most uncertain times.”
CV Sciences’ ability to work efficiently and strategically under pressure has fortified the brand’s position in the market, making up for deficiencies caused by the pandemic. For example, when the pandemic forced authorities to mandate closures of non-essential businesses and eventually limited in-store shopping, e-commerce experienced exceptional demand. This forced many companies to change their approach and shift resources to e-commerce. For CV Sciences, this also presented a major opportunity to help meet demand in the immune space to which consumers were clamoring as well as expand the brand’s online presence.
“We shifted our sales focus from in-store to in-home. E-commerce is a highly competitive space that consumers are relying on more than ever to get the products they need safely and without interruption,” explains Dowling. “Marketing CBD online has a host of inherent challenges, the greatest being that Amazon and other large online retailers heavily restrict the marketing and sale of CBD. Introducing CV Immunity, our line of non-CBD immune products, has allowed us to expand our online presence through new opportunities and partnerships.”
The industry has waited a long time for regulatory clarity on the subject of CBD, and while the wait is certainly not over, some slow progress is being made by FDA and Congress. For example, FDA is currently conducting a series of sampling studies of the CBD marketplace to determine the extent of adulteration and mislabeling, and a bipartisan bill called “The Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act of 2020” was introduced in September by congressmen Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR). The bill would make hemp, CBD from hemp, and other ingredients derived from hemp lawful under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
With a new presidential administration on the way and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unclear if and when Congress will vote on the bill or how many revisions the bill will undergo until then, but one thing industry and regulators can agree on is that the current situation is unsustainable. “We have been optimistic about the regulatory future of CBD since FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn was quoted in February 2020 as saying it would be ‘a fool’s game’ to keep consumers away from CBD,” says MacKay.
In the meantime, CV Sciences’ hard work helps provide the space some stability while the powers that be catch up to the rest of us. CBD will continue to grow no matter what, but brands like CV Sciences provide a high benchmark for quality that consumers will be attracted to and that other manufacturers will have to strive to. The success of high-quality products such as PlusCBD will only help the industry at large because of the credibility they lend. The success of CV Defense and CV Acute will lend name recognition to the brand outside its usual marketplace and will serve as a gateway for mainstream consumers to the CBD space. And products will continue to launch.
“CV Sciences plans to expand its CBD and non-CBD offerings with innovative products. Our experienced team of nutrition industry executives is working closely with our medical advisory board on several exciting projects that will advance CV Sciences’ position as the most reliable and trusted CBD manufacturer for all sales channels,” says Dowling. “At the same time, we are working on improving our e-commerce operations to improve the online shopping and education experience.”
Education will play a huge role in CBD’s mainstream success. Hemp’s relationship to marijuana can make consumers nervous, but with the right guidance, their concerns can be put to ease. “CV Sciences continues to expand its mindshare and education offerings with a YouTube channel that goes outside the bounds of our products,” says Dowling. “YouTube is where we let our talented staff explore the human condition with topics that span traditional healing to the latest science on psychedelics. We think the CV Sciences community will see tremendous value in this content for expanding their health horizons.”