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“The industry doesn’t need to be divided”: Negotiating novel foods as a small CBD brand

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Applications for novel foods need to be submitted by March 31st
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Amelia Baerlein, co-founder and CEO of Apothem Labs shares her experience of navigating the novel food process as a small business and why she feels positive about the future of the sector.

With the novel food deadline looming at the end of the month the future of the CBD industry can seem uncertain.

Some smaller, independent companies have reported feeling “cornered” by the Food Standards Authority (FSA) guidance, which announced early last year requires any brand on the market before February 2020 to submit a novel food application by 31 March.

Only those with a submitted application will be permitted on the market after this date and some have complained of feeling pushed out of the market completely. 

But despite it being challenging at times to understand what’s actually required, Amelia Baerlein, co-founder of Apothem Labs, a small CBD lifestyle brand launched in 2019, believes that ultimately the introduction of novel food regulation is a positive move for the sector. 

Amelia Baerlein – co-founder of Apothem Labs

“It has been quite frustrating at times, I do think there has been some misinformation in industry and we had our own concerns when it was announced in 2020 and we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” she says, speaking to Cannabis Health.

“The novel food application is a much needed shakeup, but it’s a really positive thing for the industry, for the companies themselves, as well as customers and retailers. Just having the knowledge and peace of mind that you are fully compliant is a big reassurance.”

Apothem entered a Primary Authority partnership with Trading Standards in November last year to help them negotiate the novel food process. 

The legally recognised partnership allows the local authority to deliver guidance and advice in order to support the company to be 100 percent compliant. 

The partnership has been a huge help for the team over the last few months, says Amelia and is “extremely accessible” for smaller brands in terms of fees. 

“Taking the relationship with Trading Standards was a brave decision, but one that has been really helpful for us through this process as they are in direct contact with the FSA,” she continues.

“Opening the door to Trading Standards was a big decision in such an emerging category and to me one that shows our commitment as a brand to being fully compliant 

“We’re going through all of our claims and messaging, not just from a novel food point of view, but complete compliance, making sure we’re not saying or doing anything that is misleading.

“It’s been quite labour intensive in that respect but it’s been a really good learning curve and it has taken away some of the stress of the novel foods process.”

Apothem Labs sells a range of oils, topicals and personal care products, made from CBD isolate.

As only selective extracts of the hemp plant are considered ‘novel’ food supplements, it is thought that after the March, only isolates will be permitted to legally remain on the market. 

Indeed, some suppliers have not submitted applications for full spectrum products at all, due to the fact they contain trace levels of THC and other cannabinoids. 

While from a personal perspective, Amelia supports the role of whole-plant products in cannabinoid therapy, she and her co-founder made the decision to stick to CBD isolate when they launched two years ago.

“The whole plant has a number of great properties and I really believe in it, but when we launched there was a lot of misinformation out there that any products with less than 0.2 percent THC were legal,” Amelia explains.

“When you look at the market, people have been buying products for a long time that contain controlled cannabinoids, so from a consumer and compliance point of view I don’t think they should have been on the UK market.

“As a consumer you can look at something with a pretty label and a beautiful brand and be seduced by that, which is why an industry like CBD needs to be regulated.”

The FSA is now said to be compiling a “positive CBD list” of all the companies who are covered by a valid novel food application. 

Although this doesn’t mean excluded brands will not be allowed on the market, if approached they will likely have to provide proof of a supporting application along with their product dossiers, including the details of how they test everything from the raw ingredients to the finished product.

No new brands will be allowed to enter the market without one.

Apothem sees this as an exciting opportunity for all brands –  big or small – who are compliant, with demand expected to grow exponentially.

“From a business point of view, it’s great news because it means that we have a level playing field with no brands able to assume a financial advantage when it comes to regulation as long as you are doing things compliantly,” says Amelia.

“This means that the brands in our space have a real opportunity now to bed into the UK market as no brands on sale after February 2020 will be able to launch for the best part of two years.”

She continues: “The growth potential of the CBD category is massive, off the back of COVID people are thinking more about their health and their wellbeing and the wellness space as a whole is really exciting.”

And there’s room for everyone, Amelia adds, believing that Apothem is proof that small businesses can still achieve success under the regulation.

“It shouldn’t feel like this industry is divided. It wasn’t designed to be an us and them situation and we’re proof of that, alongside other small brands,” she says.

“Regulation shouldn’t be a swear word. It’s a positive thing for retailers and consumers who really believe in the category and don’t deserve to get caught up in the confusion.”

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health.Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained.She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa.Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@handwmedia.co.uk / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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