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What’s next for CBD in Food Service?

One major trend that always seems to come up when discussing the next big thing in food service is CBD. CBD is Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as the non-psychoactive compound of Marijuana extract. CBD infused drinks and food led the top trends voted on by chef’s in 2019 on the national restaurant Associations top trends. For 2020 they still were going strong, albeit not in the top 10 overall and focused more on coffee beverages desserts and sweets. We also know that functional foods and beverages are on the rise overall as we head into 2021

To learn more, we held a virtual interview with beverage development expert and BizLink founder Donovan Wong about his experience with CBD. Mr. Wong has 20+ years’ experience in assisting companies create great concepts to sell to some of the biggest national brands in the world as well as a Masters in Food Science.

What experience have you had with CBD to date?

I was looking at CBD when it started to gain popularity in the nutraceutical sector over 5 years ago. Up to that time, CBD was focused in the medical versus recreational sectors. Once CBD became more accepted as states started legalizing it, I started following it as a trend.

What are the common questions you’re getting from food service operators regarding CBD?

Recommended dosage is a big one. Most products focus anywhere from 10-25mg per serving. Why the range? 10-25mg is the current range for products like gummies or capsules which is considered low dosage to mid dosage for the general consumer.

I also get asked about taste, and that can be a concern at the higher dosage levels. As consumers look to find CBD in products like baked goods and beverages, taste become paramount. Depending on the form and concentration, the taste can come across very pine leaf like, with a touch of bitterness. However, improvements to the extraction process and CBD specific flavor technology are helping in reducing those off-notes.

What are the types of CBD extracts available?

There are 3 common forms that most companies work with and they are full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate. Each carriers its own unique challenge with taste and label declaration.

What product category do you see CBD fitting into the most for food service?

I see beverages based on what is being sold in retail currently. One of my favorite outlets is Bicycle Coffee in Oakland, CA that has CBD containing cold brew and kombuchas on their menu. Another outlet is Fuel Recharge Yourself out of Philadelphia who have CBD containing smoothies. I have also seen bars offering cocktails offered a CBD tincture but unfortunately many of those have closed due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Marketing to food service customers is always challenging to relay a concise message, what is the main message for consumers who want to try products with CBD? What are the claims?

CBD is kind of a catch all for pain relief and I see that restaurants are only saying “with CBD” or “add CBD” while not making any real medical claims. I believe that CBD will be used as a boost where people will add it to their food or beverage with a preconceived personal benefit in mind. Even retail products are not making hard claims yet from what I see.

How long away do you think we are from broad CBD adoption?

It’s going to be quite a long road for the larger chains as the federal government has really only allowed the growing of CBD. It is unknown where they stand on products that incorporate CBD even though they are readily available on Amazon and CVS. The risk is that the government could put a halt to it at any time. Also, there is still customer confusion with CBD and THC that needs further education.

What are CBD companies doing to make their products acceptable to food service companies?

There’s a good list of things that a potential CBD supplier could do and these include helping improve awareness while educating the consumer, updating the chain on the regulations, delivering on quality and taste, and understanding operations. As an example, for use in a beverage, dispersibility, neutral taste, and portion control are imperative.

Has the research on CBD caught up with consumer appetite for the product?

There is quite a bit of research out there, although with the recent (past 5 year) lifting of restrictions on the recreational side the consumer awareness and demand is a bit in front of clinical research right now.

Could you see any large chains using CBD in their products?

Well in 2019, on 4/20, Carl’s Jr did a CBD burger LTO for the Denver market already. I have yet to hear if any other chain has offered a CBD product as an LTO or as an option to their core menu.

The Rocky Mountain High: CheeseBurger Delight features two 100 percent charbroiled beef patties paired with Carl’s Jr. signature Santa Fe Sauce infused with CBD, pickled jalapeños, pepper jack cheese and Crisscut fries to give the burger the extra crunch—all between a premium bun.

Do you have any favorite products in the food service marketplace today that use CBD?

I really like AltWell’s plant protein with CBD drink mix. It has 20mg of CBD and 20 grams of protein per serving and tastes great!

How have sales of CBD products performed during the pandemic? All of my clients who service this industry have done extremely well from a sales perspective during COVID in that their customer base, who also tend to be dietary supplement consumers, were looking for products to help with prevention and just to “feel better”.

Any last thoughts?

As with anything perceived as “functional” from a health benefit point of view, I suggest always consulting a legal and regulatory team for their input. Claims are tricky and it critical to understand what you want to say in advance of development. Be conservative and be smart!

Well, thanks to Donovan for all of his great insights on this topic, and it will be fun to watch the trend evolve into foodservice over the next several years. How will you incorporate CBD into your menu? Tell us in the comments below.

Jeff Miller is the CEO of Cutting Edge Innovation and creator of the Turbocharge Your Foodservice Sales online course. Donovan Wong is President of The BizLink Group.


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