FoodNavigator-LATAM was at Food Tech Summit in Mexico City last week where CBD in food was a big topic.
Although the regulatory status regarding CBD and THC in Mexico is currently 'on hold', there is a strong movement to legalize the substances there in order to reduce criminality and the social harm it has caused.
Francis Boero is head of the Legalized Cannabis and Hemp Edibles LCHE working group at the Institute of Food Technology (IFT), which estimates there are around 14 million potential consumers for THC and CBD in Mexico, of whom 40 to 50% are ‘active’ consumers eager try products when they are legal.
However, this market opportunity brings a huge responsibility.
“This is a unique opportunity for the food industry because it’s very rare that it is handed a new segment that springs into being with a ready-made consumer market," he said. "But it also has a very strong social responsibility because, in a way, the government is saying ‘We are legalizing this to reduce social harm.’
“So if the industry goes and over-sells, overdoses and over-markets, we may see the same issues we see today with sugar, fat and alcohol. It’s a unique opportunity but also a big social responsibility.”
In any case, the food industry is gearing up. Chinese supplier Layn, which entered the CBD market this year, sees Latin America as a potential hotspot for both selling and sourcing.
Elaine Yu, president of Layn USA, said: “Regarding hemp production […] Colombia has the potential to have two crops a year instead of the US where we currently only have an annual crop.”
Yu added that interest in CBD at Food Tech Summit was high and Mexican customers were eager to begin importing the substance as soon as the country’s regulators give the green light.
'Some consumers will view this as criminal'
However, manufacturers should be mindful that although there are millions of interested consumers, there will inevitably be opposition to selling something that has been illegal for so long.
According to one survey, the population can be divided into three segments: users, accepters and rejecters.
Boero said: “Right now the estimate is that around 35% of the population will absolutely view this as criminal, regardless of the state of legalization. This is quite similar to early views on alcohol.”
Currently, in Mexico, around 35% of people do not drink and, among those, some are against alcohol.
“I would see those social mores as changing but we do have to understand that there will be a significant portion of the population that will have to be convinced.”