Warren Bobrow=WB: Please tell me where you are from? What was your influence with cannabis? How did you discover the healing properties?
Justin Singer=JS: I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan and went to school in Ann Arbor, so cannabis was always around. Growing up, my parents never demonized pot. In fact, they were clear that they’d rather I smoke pot than drink alcohol (to be fair, they were also clear that they’d strongly prefer I do neither during high school). Nowadays, I consume THC for relaxation. As I’ve gotten older, I can get a hangover just by looking at beer, so THC feels like a healthier option.
WB: Please tell me about your company? What do they produce? Is it listed with the FDA? What are your thoughts on stigmas in cannabis?
JS: Caliper Foods is a consumer-packaged goods company that produces safe and standardized hemp-derived soluble cannabinoids for both consumers and manufacturers alike. Our core product for consumers is Caliper CBD, a single-dose packet of precisely 20mg of CBD suspended in clean-label, zero-calorie dissolvable powder. Caliper’s B2B arm, Caliper Ingredients, offers a suite of application-specific formulations of soluble, hemp-derived cannabinoids tuned to a variety of wet and dry food systems and supported by rigorous shelf stability trials and pharmacokinetic studies. Finally, our sister company, Stillwater Brands, produces similar products to THC consumers in Colorado. They offer a dissolvable powder called Ripple, a suite of gummies, and a soon-to-launch line of QuickSticks that dissolve right on your tongue.
As a company, we distinguish ourselves through our perspective. We believe cannabinoids represent a new category of functional ingredients, and that has informed our approach from the beginning. Uniquely in this sector, we’re a food company first, and a cannabis company second. Our company is staffed with food scientists and manufacturing experts culled from some of the nation’s leading CPG brands, companies like M&M/Mars, Danone, WhiteWave, Church & Dwight. We’ve invested heavily in food safety, quality control, and label accuracy from the start, despite the FDA’s refusal to exercise oversight of the space, and we continue to spend significantly on clinical research with public universities to substantiate our pharmacokinetic claims (e.g., absorption rate). Our facility is registered with the FDA, but consumers shouldn’t take that as proof of anything meaningful. What matters is oversight. Until the FDA accepts responsibility for regulating CBD products as foods or supplements and holds manufacturers liable for following GMPs and substantiating claims, consumers will remain at risk.
When we first started this company back in 2014, my grandmother — someone who adamantly didn’t “do drugs” — asked me for a pot brownie, not because she wanted to get high but because she wanted to feel better. Ultimately, the illicit nature of it all was too much and she couldn’t bring herself to try it. Moments like that became the motivation behind our first product, Stillwater Tea, a micro-dosed THC beverage specifically designed to feel acceptable to a generation raised on “Reefer Madness”. No one looks at a cup of tea and thinks “drugs,” but there was the mental barrier we had to overcome to convince skeptical consumers that cannabinoids are useful ingredients that can help offer some relief.
WB: What are your six and twelve-month goals? What markets do you want to open? What obstacles stand in your way? How do you anticipate removing them?
JS: Our six-month goal is to get federal regulation and oversight for non-drug CBD products. Regulatory uncertainty has been a cancer on CBD from the start. It’s been almost seventeen months since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp-derived CBD. Today, almost 20 million Americans consume CBD products daily, and not one of those products is made with oversight for food safety, quality control, or claims substantiation. Hemp prohibition is over, and it’s long past time for the FDA to get onboard with that. They have a statutory duty to ensure the public health, and yet their approach to CBD so far has been to bury their head in the sand. Therefore, we’re working hard at the state and federal levels to put regulation in place, and we hope to see a lot of movement in the next six months. CBD regulation is the rare issue that is wholly bipartisan, not to mention good for consumers and manufacturers alike. It helps the entire process chain from farmers, manufacturers, retailers, to consumers. It ensures a level playing field for all market participants and protects consumers. Not least of all, it will generate much-needed tax revenue for local governments. Institutional momentum is a hell of a drug, but we’re optimistic it can be beaten.
Our twelve-month goal is to get our CBD products onto mass-market retail shelves beyond natural grocers, which depends on federal regulation. Major retailers aren’t comfortable investing in a product that the FDA could decide to pull at any time. We’d also like to see the market emerge from today’s “anything goes” dynamic where people claim all sorts of crazy things about their products. CBD doesn’t cure cancer, and when ingested won’t absorb into your bloodstream any faster than water. CBD needs more science and less charlatanism, but that won’t change until there is regulation.
On the Stillwater Brands side, we’d like to open a second state this year – most likely Massachusetts, Illinois, or Michigan. The obstacles are mostly bureaucratic, but supply chains are also a consideration. It’s difficult to find extracts that meet our quality standards in nascent markets, so we need to do some work to figure that out. We’ve done it before though, and I’m confident we can do it again.
WB: What is your favorite food memory from your youth? Do you cook? Have you ever cooked a grandparent’s recipe? If yes, what was it? JS: My grandmother worked at Hudson’s when I was growing up, and she used to shower me with the Frango mint chocolates she sold there. Our Ripple Relief QuickStick is mint chocolate flavored, and every time I try it, I’m transported back to her couch.
I didn’t grow up cooking. My mom is a great cook, but it never really took for me. Since my wife and I had our son and moved into a house, we’ve been learning how to cook. Fortunately, we work with a lot of great cooks who are happy to share recipes and advice. I think in a year or two we’ll be ready to attempt my mom’s brisket, but for now we shy away from the more complicated recipes. That said, my wife is a great baker. Thanks to her, shelter-in-place has been surprisingly delicious.
WB: What is your passion?
JS: Professionally, my passion is consistency. It’s what distinguishes a logo from a brand. The story of cannabis today is the evolution from never knowing what you’re going to get to the expectation of having the same experience every time. But consistency is hard. It’s much easier to claim a product is consistent than to produce a product that is consistent, especially when you’re talking about plant-derived compounds like CBD. As a company, we don’t believe it’s plausible to claim universal effects for cannabinoid products (e.g., sleep, awake, happy) because everyone’s brain chemistry is unique. How one person experiences a certain amount of CBD or THC doesn’t tell you anything about how someone else would experience the same cocktail. But if we can produce a consistent product on the front end, then consumers can get a consistent experience – whatever that may be to them – on the back end.