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Holland & Barrett and Grass & Co discuss CBD retail strategies, partnerships and innovation

At the GCI Summit, leaders from Holland & Barrett and Grass & Co discussed business partnerships and how to stand out in the crowded CBD market.

Sophie Rose, business unit director of Holland & Barrett (H&B) and Toby Gordon-Smith, founder of Grass & Co held a detailed discussion on their partnership and how shared values are important.

Grass & Co, is available in H&B and Gordon-Smith is working with the company to increase education for their retail staff.

Holland & Barrett has been on the high street for 150 years, becoming one of the retailer leaders in the natural health and wellness space. They have stores all over Europe, but key countries are the UK, Ireland and Belgium. The store was an early adopter of CBD when it was first introduced and it now sells a variety of different products, including Grass & Co.

Rose highlighted that the store is introducing changes to increase access to health and wellness products for consumers, including those using CBD. While some of these changes are physical, such as retail store refits, many of them are focused on the customer journey including access to more education on products and diagnostics.

Sophie said: “Our purpose is to make health and wellness a way of life for everybody. Accessibility is really key. We want to make it easy for people to take control of their health and wellness to achieve their goals. We are going to be creating new customer experiences that focus on their wellness journey.”

Grass & Co has been supporting H&B within the CBD sector. They introduced a ‘cheat sheet’ for H&B staff that lives near the tillpoint that they can refer to when they need extra help speaking to customers about the products. Toby highlighted that staff ‘lit up’ when they heard they were allowed to talk to customers about CBD. Not only that, but they are being encouraged to approach customers to open a conversation.

“When people go to H&B looking for CBD then they will find it, but if they go in with no idea about CBD then they will leave with no idea. We want to help change that because there are people out there who can really benefit from these products who at the moment know nothing about it,” said Gordon-Smith.

“Today is all about launching a new approach on changing the conversation with store managers through to store staff. We are giving them a toolkit to do that by giving them some cheat sheets with the information they can keep on themselves or refer to. We are backing this up with further education, communication and that’s not just to staff members but a further 5,500 store staff.”

CBD partnership

Both Sophie and Toby highlighted the importance of synergy between brands when it comes to core values. This isn’t always the case and can be difficult to achieve.

From a big brand viewpoint, Sophie recalled that it was clear with ten minutes of meeting Toby for a business meeting that they were aligned on their values and that they could work together. She stressed that H&B are approached by at least one CBD company per day so choosing carefully who they allow in-store really matters.

Rose commented: “There are a lot of great products out there but you have to find the right partners you have synergy with. When we first met, it was clear within ten minutes of our conversation that our strategies aligned with what we were trying to bring to market. That was the point where we knew we were going to take this forward.”

Toby explained that as a startup, as most CBD companies are, the benefits of going into a large store were backing and recognition of quality.

“The way a retailer can help with that is that they already have a reputation and footfall coming through the store looking for the solutions we offer. Being listed at H&B is a kitemark, we know as we’ve been through the process of how carefully you choose brands that you list. Being one of them, in a crowded, cluttered and competitive market gives us credibility.

“We are able to really help each other in terms of growing the story around CBD.”

Standing out in the industry

Rose commented: “We get approached by a new CBD brand every day and there are a lot of people setting up new businesses in this space. We do very stringent quality checks and processes but for us, it’s important the products are bringing something different to our range so it’s not more of the same thing. We are looking for innovators in this market.”

One way in which Grass & Co have been innovators in the market has been to include different ingredients such as adaptogenic herbs.

Toby agreed: “There is a very cluttered space of people just doing CBD products. The botanicals, adaptogens, other elements and vitamins that we build into our products sets us apart. We work hard on making the consumption of our products a pleasant experience because that’s not always the case with CBD.

“If you are no different, then you end up being in a space where you only have commercial levers to play with as in marketing budget. It becomes who has the biggest marketing budget or it’s a race to the bottom on price. That’s not the game we want to be playing.”

CBD: A sign for Holland and Barrett

CBD regulations

Sophie revealed that H&B has been impressed with the response to the CBD category in-store. She felt that as innovators, they wanted to push boundaries and continue to support the growth of the category. They hope to keep working with the FSA on regulations as the industry progresses.

Toby said: “It’s a tricky space to be working in. We embrace regulation and when you look at novel foods in Europe and the UK at the moment, there is a lot about that that is good. It’s flushing out some of the cowboys that are playing in this marketplace. There are many good elements but also, there are a lot of frustrations to how the FSA has implemented novel foods.

“At the same time, you have to step back and say, the FSA could have killed the whole category by saying stop selling consumable products straightaway. They didn’t do that and created a workaround that enabled the market to carry on. Innovation is the lifeblood of a new category that has been stalled by the way the FSA is implementing this.

“There are major challenges around the policies of certain media owners that goes beyond what the regulations or laws are. It makes it very difficult to get the message out. That’s another reason why working with a retailer is a great avenue to be able to access consumers in a different way to be able to get the brand and educational message out there.”

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