Hemp, thanks to its high protein content and good source of magnesium and dietary fiber, is no doubt a rising star in the food space.
But marketing the ingredient as marijuana to consumers is misleading, Plamil Foods’ managing director Adrian Ling has said.
He noted certain chocolate companies package their bars with a bright green cover that features a weed leaf on the front – such publicity move does not seem to be a “positive and logical sale.”
“I am surprised some manufacturers blurring these two plants. There might be a great deal of short-term sales benefit as consumers may link their products to marijuana,” said Ling. "In longer term, it might cause legal concerns."
He added: “The hemp seed has nothing to do with marijuana, and we avoid using any association between the two.”
Instead, the hemp chocolate, which is sold under the UK firm’s So Free brand, is covered with a dark brown package. The product is also free from milk and gluten, and it is made with 72% cocoa and organic hemp seeds.
What does the FDA say about labeling?
Michael Felberbaum, FDA’s spokesperson, said hemp seeds and hemp seed oil can be used in foods under certain circumstances.
“Oil made from the seeds of industrial (low tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC) hemp has been the subject of an independent GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) to which the FDA has not objected,” he said.
However, “The hemp seeds and the hemp seed oil should be free of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) except for the trace amount that might result from crossover contamination as the seeds are being processed,” noted Felberbaum.
He added the FDA does not have any specifics to share on hemp chocolate labeling beyond its current food labeling guidance.
This site previously reported the Controlled Substance Act, which was signed into law by former US President Nixon, prohibits the growth of all types of cannabis, including both marijuana and hemp.
But Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnel decided to change that by introducing a bill earlier this year, called “Hemp Farming Act of 2018”, which allows states and tribes to regulate hemp production.
Expanding production volume
According to Ling, hemp chocolate only accounts for a small percentage of Plamil Foods’ overall sales, it is one of the company’s fastest growing products.
“We produce tons of chocolate per year, and hopefully reach 1,000 tons annual target after we finish building a new manufacturing unit next year,” he said.
As Plamil Foods is scaling up its production volume, its hemp chocolate is also drawing a wide interest among domestic retailers.
“We started producing hemp seed-added chocolate five years ago, and it has mainly been available in health foods channel, independent stores and Whole Foods,” said Ling.
“We are getting a lot of interest from the UK supermarkets too, even though many of them worry that stocking hemp products maybe a bit too far for their customers to understand.”
He also noted the international markets account for nearly half of the company’s revenue because of the increasing global awareness of hemp’s health benefits, and they are expanding rapidly.
Plamil Foods currently exports to 11 countries outside the UK, according to Ling. It entered Canada 18 months ago, where it anticipates a quarter-million-dollar sales next year.
“We are also looking for substantial volume [sales] in the US after we find a distribution partner,” said Ling. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we add another 10 tons to our [annual] chocolate production.”
Hemp fits with dietary trends, but it is a low quality protein
Hemp has been named by Mintel as one of the ingredients to watch in 2018 because of its compatibility with major lifestyle trends. Its high protein content also gives it a unique selling point compared to other common types of protein such as dairy, soy or wheat.
Emma Schofield, global food science analyst at Mintel, said: “Veganism is on trend, dairy avoidance is mainstream, and many consumers are avoiding allergens as a lifestyle choice, not because they have a medically diagnosed allergy.
“Soy is another allergen that many consumers avoid as a lifestyle choice,” she added. Thus, “hemp is a protein that fits with both free-from diets and plant-based diets.”
However, “from a protein nutrition perspective, hemp is a lower quality protein than dairy and soy proteins,” noted Schofield.