Colorado: Hemp Food Hotbed

The problem with the hemp plant that “makes 25,000 products” is… which product should be first? A company that tries to be all things to all people is extremely difficult to pull off successfully, narrower specialization is more likely to ensure success.

So then, which? Hemp fiber interest is at an all-time peak but has so many challenges the USDA had to throw millions of dollars at it for basic research, as Big Business scoffs because they see an industry not yet ready for prime time until someone bridges that gap with standards, quality control, pricing, professionalism, and consistency. The hempcrete segment has its own trade association and magazine; yet, it’s not actually legal for General Contractors to use without expensive engineering certifications on every structure built and no certification as to R-value has yet been performed, and it can be made with kenaf or ag wastes anyway. Textiles require a massive infrastructure investment. Hempseed for animals just continues the unfortunate CAFO system, competing with human food and turning abundance into scarcity at a time of rising food insecurity and huge interest in plant-based and sustainable foods. The CBD bubble has popped and is technically illegal to FDA anyway.

Colorado not only pioneered the CBD industry in 2014, but it has also long been active in making hemp foods. Its historical importance to the hemp food movement helped create the first billion-dollar and widest-diffused segment, 90% of Canadian hemp, the seed for food use. Since becoming “legal” to the FDA (GRAS designation) in 2018, the last remaining regulatory hurdle was removed for the hemp food industry.

Seed for food is the easiest hemp product to get used in society widely and quickly. Any of the tens of thousands of food processing or marketing companies could have a hemp line extension or new product on the shelves in days or weeks, not months or years.

From part-time side hustle to “Big Food, Inc.,” hemp food is the hemp product already with the largest number of current and potential wholesale and retail customers. The ease of introducing hemp foods could even create entirely new companies founded by aspiring “Hempreneurs,” diversifying and democratizing the commercialization of hemp for the average start-up bootstrapped entrepreneur

Hemp foods have a high potential to help fight climate change. Foods made from hempseed instead of animal products have three times greater CO2 impact than green cement such as hempcrete, and eleven times greater than electric cars. “Climate-smart,” as USDA puts it.

For these reasons it is clear that food is the best hope to build demand for domestic hemp production fast, and is the one segment that has a potential market of 100% of consumers. That’s the reason seed for food has long defined Canada’s hemp industry.

The way to a nation’s heart is through its stomach, and Colorado has long been a hotbed for hemp manufacturing. No state has had more hemp food companies in it, not even California.

The first hemp food I knew was made in Colorado starting in the early ‘90s was Boulder Hemp Company of Nederland and their many varieties of corn chips and baking mixes containing hempseed.

In addition to pressing hempseed oil in 1991, local hemp legend Agua Das made Hemp-I-Scream frozen dessert, which sold for years at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It is the one hemp food continuously made for the longest time in the state.

HempNut-brand Nut Butter was made in Keenesburg, and the same brand had Organic Blue Corn Chips made in Denver; it was the first hemp food with a Structure-function claim. Both were from the ‘90s.

Since 2014 meat alternative maker Hemp Way Foods has been in Evergreen.

Colorado Hemp Coffee began in Boulder in 2011.

Hempseed bar-maker Evo Hemp in Boulder is 10 years old this year.

Rocky Mountain High Hemp was started in the state in 2014.

San Luis Valley Hemp Company makes primary hemp foods in SLV.

Let There Be Hemp was started by people who met while working at natural food conglomerate Hain Foods in Gunbarrel (Boulder).

In Parker is Colorado Hemp Honey.

Diesel Beverage of Loveland makes hemp terpene-flavored sodas.

Colorado Hemp Works processes hempseed into primary hemp foods in Denver.

In Denver is the hemp food marketing company The Vivid Team, LLC.

High Mountain Hemp processes hempseed into primary hemp foods in San Luis Valley.

Meat alternative company Planet Based Foods is in Denver, founded by Robert Davis, one of the earliest pioneers in that space; he was the originator of the first tofu-based “Not Dog” in the ‘70s.

Project Umami of Boulder includes hempseed in some of their flavors of tempeh.

Hemp foods have also been served at the many hemp expos in Colorado since 2014.

The founder of the Hemp Industries Association’s Food and Oil Committee lives in Colorado.

Even the world’s second-oldest hemp trade association since 1998 and the only one for food, the Hemp Food Association, is located in Colorado. In the ‘90s, Hemp Food Association members were able to generate hundreds of millions of media impressions nationally in thousands of newspapers and magazines and hundreds of TV news and radio for hemp foods. Even The Tonight Show mentioned hemp foods here, here, and here, and a hemp potato salad was made for millions on CBS-TV’s “The Roseanne Show.” The “THC issue,” every buyer’s first question, was handled deftly with a “zero THC” policy much like FDA allows 0.5% to be the cut-off for “alcohol-free” or “fat-free” on the label.

Nepra Foods in Centennial are driving innovation in technical hempseed ingredients. They are producing stellar foods suitable even for picky palates, and in some cases equal to the nutrition found in their dairy or meat cousins. Being high in protein and omega-3, hempseed enhances nutrition, product functionality, and often flavor. And it’s not just that it is made from hempseed that makes their products so interesting, but also that Nepra Foods use hempseed to avoid the “Big 9 Allergens” and thus be dairy-, soy- and gluten-free.

Despite these companies listed, I’m undoubtedly missing a few. And this doesn’t include those making foods on the regulated THC side, such as Incredibles, Cheeba Chews, and Wana among many others. Nor does it include the many hempseed breeders such as Front Range Biosciences and New West Genetics, CBD companies selling food, or the legacy bakers of stony delights up in the hills for the last 50 years. Solidifying Colorado’s eminence in hemp, there’s Envirotextiles in Glenwood Springs, the oldest importer of hemp textiles in the country, but of course that’s not food.

Considering Colorado’s historical importance to the hemp food movement which helped create hemp’s first widely-adopted, sustainable billion-dollar segment, it would be wise to use state and federal grants to further develop the hemp food industry there, synergistically creating a market for their seed to be produced by farmers in the eastern plains, western slope, and San Luis Valley.

The economic leverage of such a grant would be greater than the current fiber projects that don’t create markets, just commodities which hope to someday see one.

Colorado could maintain its historical standing in the global marketplace by concentrating on hemp grain for food, producing the main ingredient for food companies as well as those wanting a finished consumer product.

A seed cleaning, shelling, and oil pressing facility could produce the “primary hemp foods” for sale to those using them to make “secondary hemp foods” such as Nepra and Hemp Way, or sold as-is branded to consumers. Who doesn’t love Colorado? The branding of hemp foods made in Colorado from hempseed grown in Colorado could be powerful.

But hemp will not succeed without government help; we’ve seen that in Canada and elsewhere. This is a project which has enormous potential to produce returns and build acres the fastest, with a ready, proven, legal market and ideal growing conditions in a traditional food-farming state. The processors are already here, the market is already here, all they need is a little help tying it all together. For a company to succeed in hemp and rise out of Colorado to feed the world in a big way, it’ll take close cooperation between farmers and processors. But to start that off requires grant money from the USDA, the state, and private sources.

This project could enhance food security in the state, easily allow under-served communities to start businesses, and could inspire young people to return to the farm. The Value The Seed and Hemp Exemption recommendations loosening irrational federal restrictions on farmers would help this situation immensely.

Richard Rose, Founder
Hemp Food Association

One thought on “Colorado: Hemp Food Hotbed”

  1. Cannabis seed production includes many product options that span the vast, nascent market, ripe with opportunities for multiple income streams. Hemp foods are a large slice of that pie, but at the enormous scale of production yet to be realized, that’s urgently needed to heal Earth’s atmosphere soil water air & wildlife, there are endless possibilities for development of hemp seed markets that require volume to be economically viable. We’re not there yet, but we need to get there this year. Climate imbalance demands immediate shift to hemp-based biofuels energy production. Seeds are produced by the same harvest as the stems that are used to produce energy. Hemp is the only crop that does both. Building regional biofermentation energy infrastructure before next year’s harvest is critical to the quality of life in the future. Time is running out at an accelerating rate. Spring 2023 will be here in a minute.⏳

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