After producing cannabis products for more than a decade, Colorado edible product manufacturer Cheeba Chews is formulating new products that its chief marketing officer said just wouldn’t have been possible without the 2018 U.S. legalization of hemp.

Two of those launched this year: a 1:1:1 cannabigerol (CBG), CBD and THC taffy, and a 2:1 THC and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) taffy.

Eric Leslie, co-owner and chief marketing officer at Cheeba Chews, told Hemp Grower that while fully hemp-derived products aren’t the company’s best sellers, new opportunities have arisen for it to combine hemp-based cannabinoids with THC in state-legal cannabis.

“Hemp gives us a chance to build a portfolio of products that aren’t just THC-derived in a regulated market, but also drive it through the regulated marketintroduce more of the people to the plant,” Leslie said.

Ups and Downs in the Hemp Market

Cheeba Chews, which sells state-legal cannabis product in Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oklahoma, has had variable experiences working with hemp edible products as the company has adjusted to a sales model that works.

In the hemp space, Cheeba Chews’ Hemp Taffy is sold primarily direct-to-consumer via ecommerce, Leslie said. The manufacturer’s hemp site markets both full-spectrum CBD hemp taffy in multiple flavors, and a Sleepy Chew CBN (cannabinol) taffy that contains CBD, CBN and melatonin.

But this hasn’t always been the company’s approach.

Cheeba Chews has manufactured and sold CBD taffy, or “chews,” since 2014, which Leslie said were more popular before the 2018 Farm Bill and the market saturation in CBD that followed it.

Photo courtesy of Cheeba Chews

Eric Leslie

In 2019, after the 2018 Farm Bill passed, Cheeba Chews sought distribution deals for its CBD chews, Leslie said. However, one of the bigger-name distributors declined purchasing Cheeba Chews’ products, as they decided to work with brands within their network rather than sourcing from additional companies.

So, Cheeba Chews looked to various retailers. “We went through the head-shop networks, convenience-store networks,” Leslie said.

One problem with those avenues was that Cheeba Chews’ full-spectrum, hemp-derived products were often placed next to CBD-isolate-formulated products on store shelves. The retailers preferred stocking the isolate because it didn’t contain any THC.

“I [was] like, ‘Yeah, everybody goes to convenience stores. Let’s just sell tons!’” Leslie recalled. “But how we were positioned and what we were next to—and the feedback that was happening from those isolate products—people were really, at the time, promoting isolate because it was [considered more] safe. Is [the THC limit] 0.3% of a piece, a package? What does it mean? No guidelines whatsoever from the feds as far as what we’re doing here.

“So, everybody just wanted a straight isolate. And I think that was the biggest mistake on hemp CBD because you need the entourage of that low-level THC and the other cannabinoids that support CBD, for it to really get the full effects of CBD. So, we really pulled back on wholesale.”

Despite demand issues, hemp has created more opportunities in cannabis for Cheeba Chews: reaching more customers in dispensaries, forging new relationships, and formulating novel products that cater to the individual tastes of consumers and patients.

Multiple cannabis dispensaries that Cheeba Chews provides product to, source hemp products, including The Green Solution and Leiffa in Colorado, Leslie said. He added that cannabis retailers sometimes have designated hemp sections in their stores, where consumers can find those products.

“It’s not a big portion of our business,” Leslie said of the products derived from federally legal hemp. “It’s led to some really good relationships, honestly. My Oklahoma partner was in liquor distribution, started out ordering hemp chews from me. And I said, ‘Hey, I want to sell THC chews.’ … So, hemp introduced me to my Oklahoma partner, which yielded a phenomenal [cannabis] partnership.”

‘The Future of Edibles’

Cheeba Chews formulates products that contain THC as well as CBD and/or other minor cannabinoids, and sells them to state-licensed cannabis dispensaries.

“The hemp act really gave us access to higher volumes of minor cannabinoids,” Leslie said of the 2018 Farm Bill.

In 2019, the company launched its THC-dominant Sleepy Chew, its best-selling stock-keeping unit (SKU) in all markets. The product has a 2:1 ratio of THC:CBN and melatonin, compared to its other Sleepy Chew, which has a 10:1 CBD:CBN ratio, plus melatonin, and is completely sourced from hemp.

“CBN, outside of California, which is a closed-loop system, is sourced from hemp,” Leslie said. “It opened the door for us.”

In 2019, Cheeba Chews began working with CBD manufacturing companies to source hemp-derived CBN, Leslie said.

Earlier this year, Cheeba Chews launched its Trifecta Be Happy Taffy, which contains a 1:1:1 ratio of CBG (cannabigerol), CBD and THC. Then, in November, it launched its THCV-Charged Energy Chew with a 2:1 THC:THCV ratio. (For the former, Leslie said, “I would have never been able to—I won’t say never—I wouldn’t have been able to execute as efficiently on bringing that product to market if I didn’t have access to the hemp market.” While with the latter, he said, “That one I know for sure I’d never find in a regulated market.”)

Cannabis and hemp companies aren’t allowed to make health claims, so Cheeba Chews decided to allow budtenders to convey with consumers their perceived effect of Be Happy Taffy.

“I said, ‘Sample,’” Leslie recalled conveying to his sales teams. “‘Sample every budtender. It’s going to cost a lot of money. It’s going to be a very expensive investment. Sample every budtender, every manager, as many people as we can.’ That amplification of how it works is how we built a reputation with Trifecta.”

And in a recent press release for the THCV-Charged Energy Chew, Cheeba Chews cited studies published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes: “Research links THCV—found in many sativa-dominant strains—with increased energy and reduced food cravings, among other potential benefits,” Cheeba Chews’ release states.

Selling hemp-derived products has allowed Cheeba Chews to reach consumers that it otherwise wouldn’t have, Leslie said. What’s more, he said minor cannabinoids exploration represent “the future of edibles,” and that components of hemp and cannabis complement each other well, seeing as they’re the same plant.

“That’s the walk we need to walk as an industry is the marriage between the two,” he said. “I’m not trying to separate them. I get the THC-psychoactive side—we need to regulate it; we need to be smart about how we introduce it to adults only. But I think the two need to work together and not as separate lanes.”

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