CBD was added to the Novel Foods Catalogue in January 2019. This means that the ingredient requires pre-market authorisation.
No CBD manufacturer has yet secured such approval but Mile High Labs moved a step closer to compliance when it submitted its Novel Foods dossier with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a culmination of 10 months of work.
“Putting together a Novel Food application is not a trivial task,” the company’s VP of international expansion, Christian Hendriksen, told FoodNavigator.
Mile High Labs supplies CBD ingredients and co-packs finished CBD product. According to Hendriksen, two things differentiate the group’s business model: scale and a focus on compliance.
The Colorado-based company launched its European operations last year and is already focused on building distribution across Europe.
Hendriksen believes that, if secured, Novel Food approval will give Mile High a competitive advantage in the region. “We are the first of the major players to file a Novel Food application. It is important, it is the pathway we all need to go down.”
CBD and Novel Foods enforcement
The enforcement of Novel Food rules on CBD can be described as patchy at best. In some countries, like Spain and Austria, enforcement is stringent and CBD products are removed from the shelves. In others, like Germany, Hendriksen observed there is 'inconsistent enforcement' at a state level. “The majority of Europe simply isn’t enforcing it… It is important to remember that the Novel Food Catalogue is a guideline, it is not legally binding.”
The UK regulator confirmed this week that it does not intent to extend this deadline due to the coronavirus crisis in a meeting with the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI). “After this date, only products for which the FSA has a valid application will be allowed to remain on the market,” the authority said.
Hendriksen suggested that the FSA’s approach is ‘progressive’. It provides an industry that was already somewhat established (with sales of around GBP300m according to the ACI) with a route to compliance without blocking shoppers access to a category in which there is considerable consumer interest.
What is CBD?
CBD is a chemical found naturally within the cannabis plant.
Unlike THC, which is responsible for cannabis’s ‘high’, CBD is not psychoactive.
It has been linked to a number of positive health outcomes. In medical uses, robust evidence points to its use in treating some symptoms of childhood epilepsy, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).
In the FMCG space, CBD is commonly associated with reducing anxiety, insomnia and different types of chronic pain. The ingredient has made its way into a range of finished products, including oils, confectionery, bakery products and drinks.
“The industry was around for several years before the Novel Food Catalogue came into play. We know it’s a big market…. People want these products. At the same time, they are unauthorised Novel Foods.
“The UK took a progressive stance when it said we want companies to comply, but we are going to give them a timeframe to do so. That is paving the way for the UK to be a leading market.”
This will be important for the development of the industry, he predicted, because it will provide the necessary ingredient to fuel innovation and growth: confidence.
Trust and the mainstreaming of CBD
The CBD sector has been beset by studies that have highlighted products do not contain the levels of CBD claimed on the label. Indeed, some products have even been found to contain THC – the psychoactive component of the hemp plant.
“The way to view this is it about ensuring consumer safety. With an application filed we have put the data together that demonstrates we have the robustness to prove the product is safe for human consumption,” Hendriksen observed.
The ingredient’s unclear legal status has also served to deter large CPG brands from actively innovating in the sector and rolling out CBD products under well-known – and trusted – brands.
Mile High expects Novel Foods approval will change this situation.
“Novel foods and what is happening in the UK is so interesting because it paves the way to big companies innovating. We will move away from a space that is dominated by start-ups to one where large manufacturers are confident,” Hendriksen predicted.
This, in turn, will boost consumer trust. “When the big guys get comfortable moving into the space that lends higher consumer trust. That is where the industry needs to move to. It will be the seal of approval.”
F&B has ‘great potential’ for CBD
Taking a bird’s eye view of the category, the CBD market can be broken into three basic sectors: ingestibles, topicals and vaping.
Within the edibles space, oils currently account for the bulk of CBD sales. But as the functional ingredient gains a greater foothold in the mainstream, Hendriksen expects increased innovation to move CBD into mainstream food and beverage categories.
“Over the coming years, we will see CBD move into mainstream consumer products,” like non-alcoholic beverages and soft drinks.
Mile High’s Novel Food application, if approved, will cover use in these end products. “The Novel Food framework works on an ingredient level, then a finished product level. We need to specify the finished products we would use [our CBD isolate] in. You list the types of food categories you see it being used in and it is a very wide application,” the international development executive revealed. “It can be used in a wide range of products.”