Convenience store retailers are among those looking to better understand the hectic and uncertain US market for CBD-infused beverages. A raft of CBD products from ready-to-drink coffees to relaxation shots have flooded the market since Congress legalized industrial hemp production late last year, even though the FDA hasn’t legalized CBD for use in foods and beverages. To help store owners make better sense of the market, the convenience store trade group NACS hosted CBD workshops and a “CBD Pavilion” at the organization’s annual trade show, held this year in Atlanta. The CBD display area was a first for NACS. Underscoring the challenges of the emerging category, the CBD Pavilion was separated from the main trade show and access was even more closely monitored. Visitors were required to acknowledge that the sale of CBD products “that are ingestible or make claims of therapeutic benefit” is illegal and that any such products on display “are not yet legally on the market.”
Products. Photos with this story catalog the 25 beverage products on display at NACS’ CBD Pavilion. Some of the products are prototypes. Others are in production and being retailed in patchwork distribution centers based on the permissibility of state law and the willingness of manufacturers and retailers to take on some risk. The pavilion provided a broad overview of the myriad forms and positioning manufacturers are experimenting with for CBD beverages. Most of the beverage offerings were ready-to-drink, and packaging skewed heavily toward shots. One vendor showed CBD-infused coffee pods. Beverage categories included cold brew coffee, sparkling water, canned tea, soda and Bloody Mary mix. Positioning included words such as “sleep,” “chill,” “stress,” “mood,” “relief,” and “wellness.” “Energy” was the most curious call-out, with one vendor taking pains to explain how the idea of CBD and “energy” together isn’t oxymoronic. The CBD, he explained, helps smooth the “jitters” from caffeine. Other brands bypassed the claims and focused on the amount of CBD.
Perspective. CBD beverage consumers face a significant challenge in a market that includes plenty of claims, but a dearth of science and protective regulations. This is a risk for producers, as well, who need to know where the line is so they can invest, create and compete with confidence. The CBD market isn’t waiting for answers, however. Consumers are fascinated, and buying. Investors are adding capital. And entrepreneurs are acting. Given all this marketplace activity, there will be a day of reckoning when regulation and science catch up. Either the bubble will burst under the weight of dubious claims, or beverage entrepreneurs who are left behind will reach for a double-dose of CBD to calm their nerves.
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