Does Organic Certification Make a Difference in CBD?
One company is betting the farm on it.
In order to firmly establish itself as a leading farm-to-shelf producer of hemp and CBD products, Green Gorilla has completed the arduous process of having its 1,474-acre farm in Arizona certified Organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP).
“It kind of puts us in a league of our own because there’s a lot of people who say they’re ‘organic’ but they’re not certified Organic,” CEO and co-founder Steven Saxton says.
The company was already a trailblazer in CBD products, with more than two dozen certified Organic SKUs, but having its own farm certified Organic “was a necessity for the supply chain,” Saxton says. The company had previously worked with other certified Organic hemp farms to ensure all ingredients met the NOP standards for Green Gorilla’s CBD products.
The certification has numerous benefits for the company, not the least of which is setting itself apart from the competition in what is becoming an incredibly crowded market. The Organic standard is well-recognized among consumers and typically considered to be of higher quality and a better value, potentially giving Green Gorilla a leg up in a field where so many questions remain about the accuracy of labels when it comes to potency, purity and other concerns.
“It reinstates our mission and our promise that we have made to our customers,” says co-founder Katherine Guevara Saxton, the company’s sales and marketing director. “From day one, we have set standards for quality, so getting our certification on the farm has really allowed us to build on that promise to our customers, that promise of sustainability, that promise that they’re the most important part of our business.”
Beyond the marketing benefits, the Organic certification aligns with the company’s ethos of being kind on the environment. Av Singh, Ph.D., the company’s chief science officer, says Green Gorilla wants to create top-quality products without losing sight of sustainable, environmentally sound farming practices.
Singh says the company chose a regenerative, organic approach to farming knowing that the majority of its end users were either choosing organic products as part of a healthy lifestyle or because they have a compromised immune system. That means maintaining the soil’s health by using compost and cover crops, keeping the ground covered as much as possible and not using an excessive amount of water.
But getting the farm up to full capacity is going to be a multiyear project. Currently, less than a hundred acres of the 1,000 total plantable acres have been developed.
“Quite frankly, if we had a thousand-acre farm that was fully operational, we would have more biomass than we could use ourselves and probably even more than we would be able to sell to outside people at this time,” Saxton says. “Over the next couple of years, as this industry matures, we’ll be positioned very nicely to continue to be one of the leaders of farm-to-shelf organics.”
The process to be certified basically entailed “a massive amount of paperwork,” Saxton says. Team members spent six months in preparation, filling out application forms and making sure everything on the farm was in full compliance.
But the Organic certification does little to blunt the challenges of the past few years.
Although Saxton believes the company is in a good position moving forward and has the leadership team to thrive in the aftermath of the CBD industry’s growing pains, Green Gorilla was impacted by two major events that knocked the company off course.
After launching the company in 2013 and releasing their first products in 2016, the Saxtons had the company headquarters and their home in Malibu, California, burn to the ground in a wildfire on November 9, 2018. Less than two months later, the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, effectively legalizing hemp nationwide, and setting off a CBD boom across the country. Green Gorilla had lost a substantial amount of inventory and “a zillion companies were trying to take over our accounts that we couldn’t keep up with,” Saxton says. “So we really had to scramble.”
And then, a year-and-a-half later, COVID-19 brought about a massive disruption of the global market. Retailers, in particular, were affected, as foot traffic dropped precipitously in many locations. Plus, after the unsettling year that was 2020, it’s still impossible to know how the pandemic will play out or when the world will return to normal.
COVID also caused delays with the Organic certification process and equipment delays — in addition to the normal joys of farming, like fixing a broken tractor.
“I think it was very typical of a farming season. If you think you’ve got everything planned, you’re in for a rude awakening,” Singh says. “As farmers, we’re always thinking, ‘hey, next year is going to be better.’”
And of course, the Food and Drug Administration’s authority continues to hang over the entire CBD industry, leaving brands in a state of confusion and creating unrest among investors.
“Once the laws completely emerge and the general public becomes more educated of this industry, we think there’s another big boom about to happen,” Saxton says. “And obviously, there’s lots of companies in the race to become the next best CBD company.”