A veritable hemp revolution

08 November 2021 | Opinion | By Gauri Chaudhari, Co-Founder, Brand Innerworld, Mumbai

There is something about Hemp. It elicits unusual reactions from people...almost literally. Not only its consumption but also its mere mention results in euphoria amongst the people. No wonder the new regulations regarding Hemp have created excitement in the market, particularly for the cultivators and the manufacturers. Hemp, commonly known as Bhang in Hindi, has a special space in Indian culture. It arouses interest across ages, genders and geographies. Let’s take a closer look at this heady, new market.

Thus far, there was no clarity regarding the use of hemp in foods and beverages. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had granted licenses for Hemp seeds in India but soon declared it illegal as there weren’t any standards for its usage. But, in October 2020, the FSSAI published its draft regulations allowing hemp seeds below 0.3 per cent of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in food and beverages. The draft is expected to be finalised by the end of this year. The announcement has set the market on fire. Startups interested in promoting hemp are mushrooming.  Today, there are over 100 startups that are interested in promoting hemp-based foods and medicines.

Will the excitement shown by the manufacturers result in increased demand for the hemp brands? Will the consumers prefer hemp-based products over other available food beverages? Will they use the Over-the-counter (OTC) hemp brands to soothe their aches and pains?

The answer is somewhere between Yes, and No. Hemp-based products will face many challenges and need to undertake market-shaping activities before they enjoy the fruits of this new regulation. But, if done correctly, there would be no stopping for hemp brands.

Before understanding what challenges lie ahead for hemp products, it is essential to understand the benefits offered by hemp.

Hemp is an interesting plant. Found at the foothills of the soaring Himalayas, hemp has a unique place in Indian culture. Traditionally hemp is used with flavoured milk and consumed during the Holi festival. In Uttarakhand, hemp chutney is relished with parathas. In some cultures, it is distributed as prasad. Though commonly associated with psychoactive properties, hemp has many medicinal values. Certain parts of the plant, like seeds, can deliver medicinal benefits without any psychoactive effect when consumed at a certain concentration of THC.

Hemp has a wide range of medicinal properties, including anti-anxiety, anti-ageing, and anti-inflammatory benefits. It, also has a prominent place in Ayurveda. Through AYUSH licensing, hemp-based medicine manufacturers are promoting medicines to ayurvedic doctors.

19th century modern medicine also included hemp in its research and application. There are over 1000 authentic research papers on hemp, its uses and adverse effects associated with it. Modern medicine recognises hemp as an analgesic, antispasmodic and sedative.

Yet, the usage amongst the general population was restricted by mandatory doctor prescriptions. The new FSSAI policy will widely open up hemp usage.

The two industries that stand to gain from hemp regulation are the Food and Beverage industry and OTC industry. The prescription market, both pharmaceutical and Ayurveda, will also see an upswing in the movement related to hemp-based products.

The market-shaping activities can be broadly divided into four categories:

 

Right target    

Today in India, there exists a psychographic profile of consumers who are incredibly aware of the food that they put on the table for their families. This segment is ready to invest time, energy and money in foods that are good for health. They search for extra information on various food items, discuss with like-minded friends and look for social media signals from the health and nutrition experts. Belonging to educated and affording economic strata, this group is an ideal target audience for hemp-based brands.  The pandemic has further increased the size of this group.

This group takes a special liking to plant-based food that offers immunity and other health benefits. Will hemp products leverage this trend? Will the health-conscious middle class gravitate to hemp naturally?

The answer to this question is No. The right communication is the key.

Right communication

Though hemp products are plant-based, they have certain negativity associated with them. Bhang, as it is called in India, is known for its psychoactive properties. Those who have consumed Bhang and have experienced those effects have interesting stories to tell.

The marketers of hemp-based products need to break the clutter and put forward the right information. How, at the given concentrations of THC, hemp can provide beneficial healing effects sans the psychoactive effects must become the communication theme. Being relevant, authentic and credible would be critical to success.

Right media

The draft regulation of FSSAI forbids marketers from making any medical label claims for hemp brands. In such a situation it would be important for the manufacturers to use the PR / consumer education route. Spreading the right information through health and nutrition articles, blogs, and social media sites would help the brands.

In today’s world, when information noise is deafening the consumers, the information needs to be put in a manner that is snackable and easy to digest. The media that supports such communication would be the key.

The FSSAI regulation would also see an increase in OTC or prescription-based brands. Hemp has a specific role to play in joint pain, heart disease, menstrual pain, anxiety and many other areas.  Pharmaceutical companies can take advantage of the FSSAI regulation and launch a range of products in the form of tablets or capsules. Today the hemp is being sold through an Ayurvedic route. But the new regulations will encourage the pharma companies to launch hemp-based products for self-medication or doctor prescription.

Doctors, too, are expected to have biases against hemp similar to those seen in the consumers. This necessitates the next important step, right influence.

Right influence

The doctors are the ultimate experts when it comes to health and wellness. The doctor’s word is often the final word. Getting a positive nod from the doctor for hemp-based food or OTC medicine is extremely important. If the doctor even slightly hints at hemp being a controversial option, the consumer may stay away from it forever.

Many food categories are promoted to doctors—for example, milk food drinks category including Horlicks or Complan. The idea behind the promotion is not to get a prescription for these brands. The promotional attempt is to get a positive response from the doctor when the patient mentions the brand and seeks informal approval. The same is the case with OTC brands like Digene or Gelusil. Though these are non-prescription brands, they are actively promoted to doctors.

The hemp-based brands will need to reach out to the medical community with scientific research material to convince them about its benefits.

The new FSSAI regulation definitely opens up floodgates for the manufacturers. Yet, to take full advantage of these regulations, manufacturers will need to do more than just launching them in the market.  Yet, if they diligently take care of the above points, nothing can stop the Hemp Revolution in the market.

 

Gauri Chaudhari, Co-Founder, Brand Innerworld, Mumbai

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