When Ari Sherman invited his college roommate Jourdan Samel to co-found a hemp company together in 2011, little did they know they would go on to become trailblazing pioneers in the space.
Through their Colorado-based company Evo Hemp, the duo would go on to build one of the world’s most trusted brands in hemp food and CBD products today.
“In 2011 there was a lot of hype around the medical and adult-use varieties of cannabis, and nobody was really talking about hemp,” Sherman recalls.
The decision to focus on hemp foods came after Sherman’s mother showed him an article about the amazing nutritional value of hemp seed.
“At first I was surprised that people could eat hemp seeds, and then she starts telling me how they’re one of the best plant-based sources of protein with an incredible omega fat profile, and how they are this nutrient-dense food,” Sherman notes.
He immediately started thinking: why doesn’t somebody put hemp into a protein bar? He had never heard of a hemp bar.
Today, Evo Hemp has a growing line of hemp foods and CBD products in over 4,000 grocery stores and retail outlets in the U.S.
And now, Sherman is sharing his secrets to success in the hemp industry as part of Green Flower’s upcoming online Cannabis Business Essentials Certificate Program, which features 14 industry-leading experts covering almost every aspect of operating a successful cannabis business today.
For Sherman, this ongoing journey of stigma-busting entrepreneurship has hinged on education every step of the way.
The further he dug into his initial research on the nutritional benefits of hemp seeds and hemp protein – combing through the scientific jargon and history – the more he found what so many others had been overlooking.
“Hemp protein is the healthiest single ingredient on the entire planet. The body can literally survive off of eating hemp seeds and just drinking water because it has all the essential amino acids, all the essential fatty acids – this incredibly dense mineral profile,” Sherman explains.
One finding that really strikes him today is how doctors used to treat tuberculosis with hemp seeds. The complete package of proteins and essential fatty acids naturally helped bolster the immune systems of patients trying to fight off the disease.
“Hemp protein is incredible and more relevant than ever today when you consider people with immune deficiencies or people trying to boost their immune system to help fight off COVID-19.”
Educating people on the overlooked benefits and de-stigmatizing one of the world’s greatest superfoods remains a driving force in Sherman’s efforts today.
Once they’d settled on a direction for their business, Sherman and Samel began experimenting in the kitchen, researching how to make fruit and nut bars.
They knew they wanted to keep the bar simple, and it had to be raw. “We didn’t want to bake it because the omega fat profile in hemp seeds is very sensitive, and you can destroy some of that nutritional content,” Sherman explains.
After making their first batch of hemp bars, the partners immediately ran into resistance after hiring a design firm to help them with the branding.
Essentially, the design firm pushed back hard on using “hemp” in the brand name, fearing stigma might impact sales. After all, the average consumer knew little about hemp as a mega protein source and superfood.
“We really wanted to put hemp at the forefront of this product because that was the exact reason why we were doing this. We were trying to break the stigma around hemp, and we wanted people to not be afraid to eat a hemp food product,” Sherman notes.
Evo Hemp continues to scale and launch new products to this day. They recently launched their first CBD gummy line and concocted their own keto-friendly chocolate. They also have reason to believe they’ve created the world’s first-ever keto-friendly white chocolate for their low-sugar white chocolate brownie bar.
“It was very passion-driven and mission-driven from day one to try to reintroduce hemp foods into grocery stores and break the stigma of hemp and cannabis in the United States, and that’s really what got us started.”
With their in-house team of chemists always working on new formulations, Evo Hemp is also creating collaborations with different food and beverage manufacturers.
“We’re really excited about working with these very large food conglomerates – these same companies that I was talking to just nine years ago when they would have never put hemp in their product because of that stigma,” Sherman says.
“Everybody is now more open and actually truly excited about incorporating this ingredient into their food products that will hit mainstream consumers across the globe. We are not only working with small startups but we are working with very established food companies that are over 100 years old, now incorporating hemp into their product. That’s been a really rewarding thing to come full circle.
According to Sherman, food manufacturers are much less nervous about selling hemp products because consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits.
Meanwhile, one of Evo Hemp’s most critical manufacturer partnerships came when the co-founders were still in startup mode, making their bars by hand. They needed help on the manufacturing side and realized they needed a co-packer that could help them scale production.
They found a well-established manufacturer in Denver, but the operators were reluctant at first. Should they trust a startup? And why get into hemp food?
With a little education on Evo Hemp’s part, the manufacturer took a risk that paid off beyond their wildest expectations.
“We’re still working with them today. Hemp and CBD are their number one sources of revenue for their entire company now. They bottle CBD for tons of companies, filling tincture bottles and capsules, and manufacturing hemp food products like our protein bars,” Sherman says.
“I would say probably over 90% of their revenue is now coming from hemp and CBD products.”
Sherman believes that industrial hemp will soon hit a hockey-stick growth curve in innovation.
With new investment dollars starting to come in on the back of the 2018 Farm Bill, research and development firms are looking at things like hemp plastic and hemp-based ethanol.
“And major corporations, like Shell and so on, they utilize up to 10% plant-based ethanol in their gas that people use to fuel their cars. It would be very easy to use industrial hemp instead of corn,” Sherman says.
Whether it’s hemp food, or plastic, or any other application of this amazing plant, Sherman and his business partner have recently started consulting and helping other entrepreneurs in the space.
“It’s a big passion of mine. Helping people get their products into retail stores, sharing our knowledge, sharing our supply chain and the relationships we have with various distributors, salespeople, brokers, and retailers – helping other people get involved in this space,” Sherman reveals.
“However, people need to really do their research and realize that this is not a gold rush or some green rush where you can just come in and take advantage. You have to have a mindset of really wanting to build – which means starting with a strong foundation.”
As the industry becomes more competitive, entrepreneurs will need to be all the more prepared if they want to build a strong brand.
This is a big reason why Sherman has joined Green Flower’s upcoming online Cannabis Business Essentials Certificate Program.
Sherman’s portion of the certificate program is called “The Business of Industrial Hemp,” and it covers:
The online Cannabis Business Essentials Certificate Program is a set of 14 courses taught by industry-leading experts that will give anyone the playbook to find success in the cannabis industry today.
This upcoming Green Flower certificate program will include courses on winning a cannabis license, cannabis cultivation, processing and manufacturing, lab testing and analytics, retail, distribution, the business of industrial hemp, securing real estate, regulatory compliance, marketing, sales, accounting, human resources, and investing.
Sherman maintains that education is one of the most important things for any kind of emerging market – especially where stigma is involved.
“There are still a lot of people across the globe that do not really have an understanding of what hemp products are, what CBD products are, and it’s incredibly important for entrepreneurs especially to get educated as much as possible,” he advises.
“Education is essentially our ammo when we go into retailers, consumers, or really anyone that may have pushback on what we’re doing. The education is how we get things done.”