The company said it took the decision to advertise ‘a product that cannot be brought’ to fight the stigma around CBD as well as the discrepancies caused by ‘unclear legislation’.
Selling or marketing CBD beverages is not allowed in the Nordics. YSUB is circumventing the ban by making it clear that the product cannot be bought. ‘Not for sale’, declares YSUB’s ad campaign featured on 54 billboards around the capital city of Finland, Helsinki.
The company turned to billboard advertising after what it described as ‘discriminatory practices’ from large internet companies. “Facebook banned our ad account because we used #CBD in some social media posts. We have not advertised or sold CBD drinks on Instagram and therefore closing our account seems arbitrary and wrong. As advertising in our main channel was made impossible, we decided to take a chance and get creative in a more traditional channel,” Petri Nyländen, co-founder of YSUB, revealed.
So why promote a product which is not yet on the market?
“We have the CBD beverage ready, but for regulatory reasons we cannot sell it in Finland or other Nordic countries. With this campaign we wanted to spark the discussion and bring awareness around CBD and legal cannabis in general. The use of CBD and hemp as wellness products, and the recreational use of cannabis are two completely different things. This is what we try to emphasize,” explained Nyländen.
“We feel that we need to campaign to normalise CBD in the eyes of the Nordic consumer,” Veli-Pekka Pello, fellow co-founder and Head of Product & Business Development, added.
‘Common sense legislation’ needed
Pello, who is a lawyer as well as the brand’s co-founder, told FoodNavigator that the company wants to see the adoption of ‘common sense legislation’ that would provide clear rules for businesses as well as protection for consumers across the EU.
CBD continues to be considered a Novel Food by European regulators after the European Court of Justice forced the Commission to abandon an effort to classify non-synthetic CBD a narcotic and halt the Novel Food application process last year.
This means that for CBD to be legally available on the market, the ingredient requires pre-market authorisation including a safety assessment presided over by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Or does it?
CBD was placed on the Novel Foods Catalogue in January of 2019. The difficulty is that Novel Foods classification was applied to an emergent – but already existing – industry. The result has been a patchwork of national enforcement measures across Europe. Some markets, such as Spain and Austria, stringently enforce the Novel Foods ruling and products containing CBD are removed from the shelves. But in others, national food safety and enforcement agencies turn a blind eye.
“It’s hard to navigate when the rules differ from country to country. The EU single market should treat all businesses and consumers as equal. When it comes to CBD this is not the case,” Pello argued.
In Finland, a strict enforcement position has been adopted. The authorities ‘acknowledge the legitimacy of the EU Novel Food process’, Pello told us. However, he continued, they do not ‘give reassurances’ that they will implement the eventual stand taken by EU lawmakers. This is because at a national level CBD is considered a medical product.
“CBD is considered a prescription drug in Finland, contrary to the EU principle of free moment of goods, which applies to CBD as the ECJ clearly states. There is a risk that the Finnish Medicines Agency will uphold the medical status of CBD even if EU qualify it as food,” he warned.
YSUB – alongside much of the nascent CBD sector – is keen to see the development of a clear path to compliance for an industry that is buoyed by growing consumer interest.
According to figures from New Frontier Data, consumers in the EU spent around €8.3bn on CBD products in 2020. Over the next five years, that spend is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.4%, rising to €13.6bn by 2025.
“There should be an open and coordinated effort to harmonise the legislation around CBD in the EU. There is a risk that even after the Novel Food approval, Member States [could] refuse to implement it and that companies and consumers are forced to navigate the utterly confusing mix of national laws within the single market. We need predictable path to compliance with clear rules for businesses and more protection to consumers.”