Industry: Cannabis & Hemp
Products: Hemp extracts
Stressing product testing and safety certifications, CEO Brandon J. Beatty sees big potential for his company's full-spectrum CBD oils through sales at big-box retailers.
Growing up as a youngster in New Jersey, Beatty, now 31, had a unique pursuit. "I would go into GNCs in my teen years and, literally with a notepad, write down the different ingredients and supplement products I hadn't heard about, and I'd go home and research them," he says. "I was obsessed with them."
His research into the natural health field has paid off.
After moving to Colorado "on a whim" in 2009, Beatty started working for an e-commerce apothecary which sells essential oils, before founding Bluebird Botanicals in 2012. Among the first products that Bluebird sold online were items like pine pollen and ant extract. Then, Bluebird began selling its "first hemp CBD line" in late 2013 -- and that's when the company really lifted off.
Beatty says of sales, "In 2014, I think we did a little under $3 million. In 2015, $3.75 [million]. In 2016, we did $5 [million]. 2017 was a bit more modest: we did $6.5 [million]. And then our growth after that was astronomical -- and, because of some deals going on, I actually can't disclose it past that." Except he adds, "In Q1 of 2018, we did $2.5 million. We've been growing damned fast -- historical growth for us."
Products include extracts -- and concentrated extracts -- containing cannabinoids (including CBD) from industrial hemp, within a carrier medium of hemp seed oil. In addition to a plain "Classic" extract, there's the "Signature" one containing the addition of black seed oil and frankincense, which are suggested for "general wellness." And there are also CBD capsules and isolate, pet formulations, and juice for vape cartridges.
The number of online customer sales add up to "hundreds, if not a couple thousand, a day right now," Beatty says. Presently, about 60 percent of Bluebird's business is via ecommerce and 40 percent is wholesale. But Beatty predicts that the company's wholesale orders will increase to over 80 percent in the next few years.
"Just over a year ago we got into Lucky's Market, which has about 32 stores, they're in 14 states," says Beatty. "That was monumental for Bluebird -- and this industry. Before that there was no one quite like that carrying these products."
Beatty says big box retailers are starting to call: "Usually other brands, other industries, will spend years just trying to have a meeting with these people. And they're knocking on [Bluebird's door]. And, at this point, our reputation for quality control is preceding us. And that's extremely important to these big stores."
As a company, and as a CEO, Beatty stresses product testing and civic engagement.
Bluebird's hemp is grown is grown in Oregon and Colorado using "organic practices," Beatty says, and it's extracted using carbon dioxide or ethanol. Right now, extraction is done by a third parties, but Beatty intends to bring that back in-house. Products are made in Broomfield and Louisville, where a third facility is being presently built. According to Bluebird's website, the two current facilities "are licensed with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment."
Each batch of hemp extract is tested by companies -- like Eurofins Scientific -- to make sure there are no residual solvents, pesticides, or heavy metals, and that there's accurate potency information. Batch numbers are listed on the products, and those test results are available for consumers to see on Bluebird's website.
Bluebird Botanicals is one of the first 13 companies to be certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority. Beatty says of the self-regulating (but not FDA-approved) designation, "It covers good agricultural practices, good manufacturing practices, and good testing practices for labs, too. It's heavily based on the FDA's Good Manufacturing Practices, but tailored specifically to hemp."
Bluebird Botanicals might not be the top company or two in terms of hemp extract sales, but Beatty says Bluebird's quality control is the number one reason for consumers to shop with them: "It a gold standard in this industry -- and it is a gold standard in the dietary supplement industry at large. We are the only CBD oil company that is certified [by the Detox Project] as [free of glyphosate], which is the pesticide found in Roundup that is becoming more of a serious issue." Furthermore, he says, the company is well on its way to being certified as a B Corporation.
Beatty warns against "bad actors" in the hemp CBD industry -- whose products might be made from tainted hemp or not contain accurate dosing information -- and he speaks to the need to protect consumers.
Beatty serves as the executive vice president of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, he's on the board of trustees of the American Herbal Products Association, and he's a director of the Hemp Industries Association. "I had a hand in drafting the Hemp Farming Act that was passed in the 2018 Farm Bill," says Beatty. At the NoCo Hemp Expo in late March, Beatty says he shook hands with a hemp supporter -- and a onetime congressional co-sponsor of that farming act -- who happened to be touring the expo floor: Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
Due to that "historical growth" Beatty cites, he expects Bluebird to double its number of employees next year. "We're really making history at Bluebird -- and our employees understand that," Beatty says.
Challenges: The need for FDA certification. Beatty says, "The biggest challenge right now for my industry -- for the dietary supplement side of this hemp industry -- is the FDA. Getting over what I consider the last final hurdle here is getting their official approval for CBD and hemp extracts as ingredients in dietary supplements and conventional foods and beverages and cosmetics. Now that it is undoubtedly not a controlled substance anymore, that's the last major regulatory hurdle."
Opportunities: "The interest coming from big retailers," says Beatty. "We're going to look at a lot of growth from that."
Needs: To paraphrase a Woody Guthrie song, Bluebird needs that do re mi: "Quite honestly, money," says Beatty. "We are one of the biggest companies in the industry, I know that. But the two competitors that are bigger than us, they're raising serious money. One's been public for years already. And then another one . . . raised 70 million last year, and they're raising $250 million right now. We grew our company organically, and we've done incredible doing that. But we are looking to raise some money here -- I think I can just generally say that much. That is something we are looking at, for the first time ever."