1. Make your store the go-to-source:
“There are two strategies to keep in mind when trying to stand out among other CBD retailers: quality creates return customers and customers have questions you can answer,” says Stuart Tomc, Vice President, Science, Regulation and Education, CV Sciences. “Not all CBD products are on the same level, and some are downright unsafe, meaning it is critical to choose an experienced, trustworthy manufacturer. Customers who are happy with their products are more likely to revisit your store to purchase again. Their word-of-mouth advertising when they tell others about your products will further expand your customer base.”
Because CBD is still new to the health and wellness industry, Tomc adds, customers have a lot of questions about CBD products. “Educating your team on the effects of CBD and how to properly discuss its benefits with customers compliantly will help your business stand out among other retailers. This is why we have launched CV Sciences on YouTube to educate and unlock the magic of the remarkable hemp plant and invite you to learn from our original content.”
Stacey Gillespie of Gaia Herbs shares similar quality cautions, noting that not all herbal supplements are created equal, and that the purity, integrity, and potency of ingredients will impact performance and results. Look for brands that have nothing consumers don’t want, such as fillers, heavy metals, or pesticides and harsh chemical residues. “At Gaia Herbs, you can always trust that what you read on our product labels is what you will find in the bottle. To help make it easy for our customers, we created www.meetyourherbs.com, the world’s first comprehensive herb traceability platform. You can look up any of our products with a bottle-specific Herb ID. By inputting this Herb ID number, you will discover the origin of the herbs, how they were grown, and see validation of a product’s level of purity and potency. We verify at every stage of our products’ seed-to-shelf journey because you deserve to know exactly what’s in your herbal supplement.”
That fact that CBD is not a one-size-fits-all product is a plus. Jim Higdon of Cornbread Hemp explains: “Every person is different and is looking for CBD to do something specific for them. Their results are often based on a person’s sex, body weight, metabolism, and genetics. The advantage that natural food retailers have over gas stations and online stores is the ability to have these sorts of discussions with customers. There’s no substitute for knowledgeable staff members who can help customers dial in a good CBD product based on their specific needs. The reason consumers come to a health food store is they expect the brands offered at a health food store to be more trustworthy and reliable. This is why Cornbread Hemp offers staff training via Zoom calls and in-person visits (when safe and appropriate) to continue to educate retailer staff on how to answer customers’ most frequently asked questions about CBD products.”
To that, Michael Bryce of Healist Advanced Naturals adds, “Given that CBD has so many different benefits, one of the major barriers for trial is consumer confusion around what CBD actually does. We need to help the confusion at shelf by merchandising by benefit and supporting brands that take a consumer-first, benefit-led approach; are clear and transparent in their labelling; and triple lab test their products to help build trust in the category.”
2. Ask Brands the Right Qs:
When determining what to stock, Tomc notes that knowledgeable CBD manufacturers should be able to work with retailers to match the ideal products to their customers. Points to consider:
- Ask manufacturers what their brand’s top-selling products are for your type of business.
- Ask about the types of ingredients used. Do manufacturers use natural ingredients? Where do they source them, and can they produce COAs?
- Tomc says there are two critical questions that will “severely limit manufacturers to only those of the highest quality.” (1) Is the extract used in the products considered to have generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status? (2) Has the company completed any research, such as randomized controlled trials, into the safety and efficacy of their products?
- The facilities and processes used to manufacture CBD products are also important, Tomc stresses. “Are the products made using cGMP methods? Does the product display a 1-800 number for adverse event reporting? Does the label include a QR code with a certificate of analysis to demonstrate lawful THC levels? How are the ingredients and finished products stored? Have any certifying bodies, like the U.S. Hemp Authority, approved of the products?”
- A caution from Tomc: “With so much demand for CBD products, some unsavory players have entered the market with products that contain incorrect or even no CBD and, even worse, may contain hazardous contaminants that pose a health risk to consumers. When looking at CBD manufacturers, transparency in process and testing is key, and retailers should ask to see third party testing results. CV Sciences provides full traceability From Seed to Shelf so that retailers and customers can feel confident they are getting the safest and highest quality CBD products.”
In addition to all this, Dr. Shade suggests asking:
- Are you the manufacturer (vs. white labeling)
- Do you have a line of CBD products or is it one-and-done?
- Where else do you sell your products?
- Do your products contain the legally required labeling and ingredient information?
“This comes down to trust,” says Ola Lessard of Barlean’s. “It can be hard for retailers—and consumers—to know which brands truly are safe, are doing the appropriate third-party testing, have the right things in the bottle, and are using good manufacturing processes.” She also suggests looking for brands that have been certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority. “While it’s not to say there aren’t non-certified companies that are doing everything right, that seal is fairly hard to earn. It involves both a lot of documentation relating to the entire sourcing chain from farm to bottle and it also involves an outside audit of the manufacturing facility. As such, it truly does provide a level of trust to both retailers and their customers.”
3. Use All Resources—From Store Space to Manufacturer Demos
The buzz surrounding CBD may have eased a bit, but retailers should not stop promoting these products and placing them in promotional places throughout the store, advises Stacey Gillespie, Gaia Herbs Brand Director. “Retailers should make sure they are offering placement of Hemp/CBD products outside of just the supplements section—endcaps, floor displays, and/or at the register—so that customers that may not go down the supplement aisle will still see the Hemp/CBD products. This should help bring new customers to the category that may not have purchased this product before.” Also, she stresses, “Educate your retail staff on the benefits of Hemp/CBD so they are able to answer customers’ questions. Many customers are not familiar with the benefits of Hemp/CBD and are unsure of why they should use it. Treat it like other condition specific supplements and help your customers understand its value for stress, sleep, and inflammation.”
Seconding the need for being educated and passing on that education, Jim Higdon of Cornbread Hemp says, “News reports continue to reveal a great deal of mis-labeling in the CBD industry. It’s up to retail buyers to act as gatekeepers to protect and inform their customers from CBD brands that cut corners. A quick rule of thumb is always ensure CBD products are 3rd-party lab tested not just for cannabinoid potency, but also for safety checks against heavy metals, pesticides, residual solvents, bacteria, mold, and fungus. Every product’s packaging should have a QR code that links directly to these lab reports. Even still, the CBD industry has seen fraudulent lab reports posted online. So for added safety, look for the USDA certified organic seal and anti-counterfeiting hologram tags that demonstrate a brand is taking quality and safety as seriously as retailers and consumers expect. Cornbread Hemp offers USDA certified organic CBD oils with anti-counterfeiting holograms and QR codes that link to a full panel of lab reports. Anything less is cutting corners on customer safety.”
Retailers should seek transparency from the brands they carry, agrees Michael Bryce of Healist Advanced Naturals. “There is so much confusion and misinformation in the category and brands have a responsibility to educate and make it as simple for the consumer to get what they are looking for.” For its part, he says, Healist clearly labels the amount of CBD, not hemp extract, and publishes both the lab tests of its hemp extract and final formulations on the brand’s website for every batch.
With so many players in the market right now, it is truly a daunting task to figure out who are the truly legitimate manufacturers/brands, laments Steve De Forest, Green Gorilla. “One of the biggest issues in the CBD market today is that the products are not what they say they are or do not contain the potency indicated. A third-party lab report verifies the veracity of the product and verifies the potency of the CBD. It also assures that the product is pesticide, heavy metal, residual solvent and microbial free. All Green Gorilla products contain a QR code on their label. This code is directly linked to our website and product testing/lab results file. In this file, the specific product, manufacture date, lot code and third-party test results are available.”
Stuart Tomc of CV Sciences says the company offers its retail partners a selection of educational resources for their use and to share with their customers. “These outreach efforts are spearheaded by our industry leading education team, including our national educators, who engage with retailers and customers through a variety of channels. The CV Sciences and PlusCBD websites, YouTube channel, monthly newsletters, and regular webinars and educational podcasts contain valuable information regarding hemp and CBD, the body’s endocannabinoid system, and how hemp derived CBD products can be used. We also sponsor talk radio shows that highlight topics surrounding health. Additionally, CV Sciences uses the ExpertVoice online learning platform to give retailers and their associates the information they need to confidently answer customer questions and promote our products. For years, our team has hosted in-store training and education sessions for retail employees and customers. When retail partners sign on to distribute products from CV Sciences, we provide them the opportunity to get sample products for employees and testers for customers. That’s because we believe that first-hand experience with CBD products is the ideal way to understand how they work and why CV Sciences stands out.”
Quicksilver Scientific also provides demos and technical information sheets, says Dr. Shade. “We can provide educational webinars or presentations to share with retail teams.”
And at Barlean’s, says Ola Lessard, “We built out a wide range of educational resources, including at-shelf education decks and brochures, window clings, posters and other display materials. We also created an in-depth education binder for our retailers to use as their CBD resource. The Barlean’s team has also created a wide range of educational videos that both consumers and retailers have access to on our website. We offer both short-form (3-6 minutes) and long-form (30+ minutes) content, so people can choose how much time to spend learning, or dial in to a specific topic.”
Some retailers have said CBD has hurt business, since consumers think it “does it all.” So how can retailers leverage consumer interest in CBD/hemp? “When looking at the growth trend of the CBD market, it’s clear CBD products will be around for years to come,” says Stuart Tomc of CV Sciences. “Rather than seeing CBD as a competitor to current products on your shelves, supplements and topicals containing CBD can be an effective tool for driving traffic to your retail location. Additionally, if your customers are asking for CBD products, not carrying them on your shelves could potentially cause your shoppers to look elsewhere. If you are concerned that CBD is overtaking your other top sellers, see if there is a similar product with CBD that you can feature alongside them on your shelves.”
Focus on education efforts, adds Christopher Shade, Ph.D., Quicksilver Scientific. “Provide science-backed information on what CBD is specifically used for, etc.; retailers need to help consumers understand the potential and limitations of CBD. And make sure floor staff are educated so they can explain the differences between products.”
Retailers can leverage the interest in Hemp/CBD and use it as a chance to introduce other herbs to customers, agrees Stacey Gillespie, Gaia Herbs Brand Director. For example: “Hemp has been shown to help with sleep, but there are other herbs that may be more beneficial and have been used traditionally for hundreds of years including Passionflower, California Poppy, Chamomile, Valerian. Retailers should train their staff to help people pick out the best product/best herbs to support their specific health concerns. Use their interest in Hemp/CBD as a gateway to educating them on other herbs that may actually work better for them.”
CBD actually offers a “huge opportunity” to cross-sell at retail, adds Barlean’s Ola Lessard. “For example, a customer coming in for CBD may not realize that the ECS requires adequate levels of Omega-3s to function optimally. If the retailer provides that education, along with the fact that most Americans are deficient in Omega-3s, they can cross-sell their lines of fish and flax oil. Many of our retailers have had success with cross-selling like this, particularly when the other product helps to support the effectiveness of the CBD. As they point out to their customers, CBD is expensive, so if there’s something that helps your body utilize the CBD better, it’s to the customer’s benefit to consider that other product as a way to make their CBD investment go further.” WF