Growing the French hemp market: ‘Europeans need more education’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Hemp THC France

Europe is lagging in the global hemp market, says Green Leaf Company, a French firm working to widen access to the ‘superfood’ in protein bars, hemp pasta, and hulled seed products.

Located on the outskirts of Paris, Green Leaf Company aims to integrate hemp products into consumers’ daily diets.

Hemp seeds are the seed of the Cannabis sativa plant. When grown for seed or fibre with low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical responsible for most of cannabis’ psychological effects – the product is known as industrial hemp.

Green Leaf Company sells finished food products containing industrial hemp under the Hello Joya brand, such as hemp, almond and goji protein bars; organic buckwheat and hemp pasta; and hulled hemp seeds; as well as supplements.

“The hemp [in our products] is grown in France, mostly in Brittany,” ​Green Leaf Company president Aurélien Delacroix told FoodNavigator, adding that hemp is also sourced from other regions in case of adverse weather in France’s rainy northwest.

Buckwheat and hemp seed pasta ©Hello Joya

A growing market

The global industrial hemp market is expected to reach US$10.6bn (€9.4bn) by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15% during this time, according to Grand View Research.

Increasing demand for hemp seeds and oil in the processed food and beverages, due to their dietary advantages, is contributing to this growth, the analysts continued. Hemp seed is a high source of vitamin E, and contains important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. 

Canada leads the pack in terms of hemp production and export, in a variety of formats: hulled hemp seeds, hemp oil, and hemp protein powder.

While Delacroix’s homeland falls behind Canada’s production and export rates, the Frenchman suggested industry can progress in a short period of time. “Canadians didn’t cultivate any hemp in 1998, and now they grow 50,000 hectares and specialise in hemp seed products.” ​ 

Indeed, Green Leaf Company hopes that with increased education and awareness, the European hemp seed market will continue to grow.

The regulatory state of play

In France, the cultivation of hemp is regulated. Varieties grown must contain less than 0.2% THC.

Therefore, regulatory concerns relate to cannabis leaves and flowers only, explained Delacroix, not the seed.

Earlier this year, on 15 January 2019, the European Commission modified the entries relating to ‘Cannabis sativa’ and ‘CBD’ in the EU’s Novel Food Catalogue’.

All extracts of hemp and derived products containing cannabinoids are considered ‘novel’, whereas hemp seeds, flour and seed oil remain permitted.

The amendments make it more difficult for products with cannabinoids to enter the EU market, since they now require pre-market approval as novel foods according to Regulation 2015/2283.

Educating consumers

The fact that that the hemp industry is less developed this side of the pond is, in part, due to tradition, according to Delacroix: “Europeans don’t change their habits very quickly.”

Trends in superfoods come from North America, where consumers are more interested in alternative protein sources, he continued. “In Europe, we have traditional heritage. [As a company] we are trying to show that traditionally, hemp seeds were used in European foods, but it [has seen been] lost.

“We are trying to reintroduce this food,” ​said Delacroix, adding that he is positive Green Food Company is contributing to change. “Every month, hemp product sales increase, and with the press [similarly showing interest], we are sure that this will increase.”

However, Europeans need more education about hemp products and their uses, said Delacroix, suggesting that more work can be done to ensure consumers recognise the difference between hemp and THC.  

In his role as president of the Syndicat du Chanvre Bien-Etre, a body that supports the interests of those in the hemp sector, Delacroix works with governmental authorities to develop and progress laws towards the safe consumption of cannabis-related products.

The responsibility for this education should be shared between the syndicate, the sector representatives – which in the hemp industry is ‘Interchanvre’ – as well as individual companies, he added.

The 'unfamiliar' consumer

Another reason for reduced uptake, at least compared to traditional protein sources, may be linked to its lack of familiarity, suggested a survey conducted last year​.

Insight firm FMCG Gurus gauged the opinion of more than 10,000 consumers in the UK, Sweden, Spain, the US, Italy, Germany, France, Nigeria, China and Brazil, to determine consumers' most popular protein sources.

According to the survey milk, egg and soy were the most popular, with hemp regarded the ‘least appealing’ protein source, appealing to just 34% of those surveyed.

“The familiarity factor is a major reason. Consumers recognised they can easily incorporate these food items into everyday diets and do not have to pay a premium for a product positioned as a ‘magic bullet’ health solution,” ​FMCG Gurus director of insights, Mike Hughes told FoodNavigator at the time.

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