1999: First Online Hemp Store, “Finance Your Activism”

Starting in 1999 HempNut, Inc. had hemp’s first online food store, on Yahoo! Stores. It may have even been the first online hemp store of any kind.

It was unique for the fact that if one bought a full case, one paid the wholesale price (one-half the retail price). That was by design, to encourage retail stores and budding entrepreneurs to sell HempNut products in their town.

In the late 1990s part of our marketing strategy was to give budding entrepreneurs and hemp evangelists the tools to get in on this new thing called hemp foods. It was a way for them to finance their hemp activism by selling our foods in their town. We provided sales sheets, recipes, signs, and trifold brochures. It was part of my “Business = Activism” ethos.

It was like a wooden produce box, then later a cardboard version in a shipping case, everything needed to get started.

From bottom to top: blue corn chips, hempseed oil, shelled hempseed, nut butter, cookies in two sizes, lip balm, “The Hemp Nut Health and Cookbook,” and an energy bar. Brochures on the left, recipes on the right, sign in the middle.

It would be the most profitable square foot in the store, at $488 in sales. This allowed anyone to go into the HempNut Foods distribution business in their town, at a very low cost. They could sell them to any retailer, from boutiques to grocery stores to gas stations, or even direct to consumers at fairs or parties.

Anyone could buy at wholesale prices just by buying full cases. That wasn’t hard, as most were packed in cases of 6 or 12 each. And when they did, they got half-off the retail price, allowing them to re-sell to others or stores. Since the products were also distributed via our international sales and distribution network to thousands of stores, it allowed the entrepreneur to be close in price to them.

When introducing HempNut foods, we offered retailers what’s called a  “free fill,” or a case for free. It’s pretty standard in the natural food industry, it lets them test the product to see if the public wants it or not. If you have a good product, you’ll get placement after that; at least we did.

I called ours the “First One’s Free” promotion, well yeah because it was hemp. Authentic Marketing should be fun! Leverage the Stigma.

HempNut, Inc. also placed banner ads on websites, to sell the idea of selling hemp foods to “finance your activism” to hemp evangelists:

The most popular products in the Store were 4×5# bulk HempNut shelled hempseed, 12-oz cans of HempNut, hempseed oil, 25# bulk HempNut (mostly sold to natural food stores, restaurants, and food processors), nut butter, and The HempNut Health and Cookbook:

It grossed almost $10,000 per month at its peak in 2001, before the fiber group HIA sued DEA when DEA legalized 98% of the industry (with no max THC), killing the hemp food market died for years (taking Canadian hemp down with it):