Matthew Clifton, CEO of cannabis marketing company Milk & Amber, and CEO of the UK’s largest cannabis expo, Product Earth, discusses working in the industry.
After working at Facebook, Matthew Clifton has shifted his focus to his passion for cannabis with the establishment of cannabis marketing company Milk & Amber and working as CEO of the UK’s largest hemp, CBD and cannabis, Product Earth.
What do you and your business do?
Product Earth is the UK’s largest hemp, CBD and Cannabis expo dedicated to building a safe and trustworthy industry that is good for the planet and all of those who inhabit it.
Milk & Amber is a growth marketing agency network dedicated to helping build and develop all manner of cannabis brands from lifestyle to CBD and medical. Our team boasts over 50 years’ worth of marketing experience across companies such as the Financial Times, Facebook, Bebo, Endemol and much more.
Our network is built up of trusted partners with specific disciplines that will add value to our client base covering website and app development, content creation and production, packaging, design, PR and more.
Why did you enter this industry?
I have always been an advocate for cannabis but had never really seen a pathway, or ever considered it as an option for my career, instead spending 22 years working across a variety of companies, honing my skills across a variety of media disciplines.
Having spent 12 years at Facebook, I was lucky to have worked in a strength-based organisation that allowed me to expand my horizons and develop different skills. As head of marketing for small and medium-size businesses, in spite of spending the majority of my career working with brands like P&G, Diageo and Samsung, I got a genuine thrill out of helping small businesses grow.
My time at Facebook afforded me a number of privileges, including the ability to be able to invest in several businesses. Gavin Sathianathan, CEO of Alta Flora, had left Facebook several years before me to enter into the world of cannabis, and having heard this, I asked him to keep an eye out for opportunities for me to invest in. Gavin presented me with the opportunity of investing in Product Earth and having involved some friends, we completed an investment round and it became clear that there would be value in me not only investing in the company, but potentially moving into the role of CEO.
With Facebook being so community-focused, both internally and externally, I saw the connection between Facebook and the heavy community focus of the cannabis industry and jumped at the rare opportunity to take on a role where I was able to apply my skills to something I feel so passionately about.
It was a bumpy start though… Who would have known back in September 2019 that there was going to be a pandemic that would decimate the event industry? It got to December 2020 and everything was still looking bleak with regards to the future of the show. We wanted to do something for the agency in a time when people needed support and stimulation and our founder, James Walton, had the great idea of a “joint rolling” competition.
We carefully navigated Facebook’s policies and created a two-part competition for speed and style rolling where people would upload videos in a bid to win some great prizes from our sponsors. The High Roller World Cup had some astonishing results, reaching 1.3 million cannabis consumers, generating over 600k video views with views costing a fraction of a penny! This was the moment we realised we should offer these brand-building type skills to the community and Milk & Amber was born. We have already had some world firsts, successfully running an awareness and acquisition campaign on Facebook for Drug Science and Project T21, and we look forward to welcoming even more brands.
How long have you been part of the industry?
I am still very much a noob, having only worked professionally in the industry for two years and it is a very steep learning curve!
How has it grown since you first started?
The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) and the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) launched their report “Green Shoots – Sowing The Seeds Of The New UK Cannabis Industry”, where they size the market at £690m up a third from their 2019 forecast. The UK is the second-largest CBD market in the world. Considering the stigma, awareness and ridiculous regulations meaning that farmers are having to destroy 90 per cent of their crops, I think this is a really positive signal that many investors will have their eyes on. To say anything other than the fact that we are still very much in the grassroots stage though, would be wrong.
What do you feel are the three key developments or updates that have changed the industry?
I would say that there are two main growth factors, but these are still far from perfect.
In November 2018 medical cannabis was made legal on prescription. This has not been smooth and still has a long way to go, but this certainly shone a light on cannabis not necessarily being the devil’s lettuce that people have been trying to engrain into us over the past 50 years. We still need to improve access, efficacy & price and this is no mean feat.
In January 2019 when CBD was reclassified as a novel food, this led to bodies such as the FSA and the home office improving regulations. As with medical cannabis, this is still far from ideal. Brexit, in spite of the car crash that it continues to prove itself to be, could have provided us the opportunity to carve out our own rules, however, we still appear to need to jump through various EFSA hoops as well as our own, with an infrastructure not set up to serve this body of work. This is a costly and drawn-out process for all concerned and if you weren’t one of the lucky ones to be involved in the EIHA consortium, the start of your journey as a fledgling business is going to be difficult.
What do you think the future holds for the industry?
Growth. Celebrity endorsements are on the rise with many mainstream personalities stating their allegiance to certain brands and as the stigma breaks down CBD will quickly become a familiar sight on shelves up and down the country.
Legalisation is the big thing everyone likes to talk about and in all honesty, I have no idea when this is going to happen. You will often hear about the dichotomy between activists to capitalists and their opposing views on what the future would look like.
I believe true success will involve large-scale grows leading to costs effective mid-quality products and more boutique, high-quality products that will serve a more affluent market as you would see across most industries. The missing piece to the puzzle is the ability to grow your own. If we want to stop feeding the black market, then we need to stop criminalising people that like growing plants. It’s crazy.
How much of the industry relies on collaboration?
We are very much a cottage industry. Yes, there are some big players with deep pockets and good luck to them, but the reality for most is they need to collaborate in order to firstly survive and then thrive. Product Earth, in spite of being seen as the UK’s largest event has relied on collaboration from a number of people including, but not limited to; Beyond the Green, PSYence fair, OEV as well as all of our exhibitors, sponsors, ambassadors and let’s not forget the community that are buying their tickets by the fist full!
This is something we have also given careful consideration to regarding Milk & Amber. By identifying key players with complimentary skills and values, we have built a network that offers our clients the ability to harness world class ability and resources at a price they can afford. We want to work with like-minded businesses with a growth mindset that want to grow with us. What’s more, I look forward to building a new type of company without toxicity and prejudice that allows employees and clients alike to thrive.
Who is your main inspiration in business and why?
I find inspiration everywhere. My team inspires me. My friends inspire me. My family inspire me. I have a positive mindset and the more I work on this, the more I notice the positivity and creativity around me.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given in business?
Sheryl Sandberg once made a speech about the say/do gap. If you say you’re going to do something then do it. The smaller that gap is, the more trust you will build. People want to work with people they can depend on. It is much better to be upfront about limitations rather than building a false sense of security and letting people down.
A mantra that I live my life by is that “vulnerability is the fuel for growth”. I truly believe this. There are things we do that scare us, whether we show it or not. The thing is, the more we do something that scares us, the less scary It becomes and you grow as an individual. When you start to realise that fear is the first feeling on a pathway to growth, you will start putting yourself forward for more opportunities and you will find yourself on an amazing trajectory towards success.
Cannabis Trades Association now under new leadership
The UK Cannabis Trades Association has appointed a new executive director.
The Cannabis Trades Association (CTA) has appointed Marika Graham-Woods as its new executive director.
Graham-Woods was voted in by the CTA board in November as executive director.
The trade body is Europe’s largest representing the interests of the cannabis and hemp industry, and the only Association formed to work with Government to create a legal and sustainable European cannabis industry.
Graham-woods brings specialist experience in strategic international marketing and market development as well as business growth and change leadership.
The CTA stated: “Over the last year we have become an outward looking organisation which exists to support our members, and their businesses by opening up the Hemp and Cannabis Markets in the UK, EU and further afield.
“The UK markets are set to open rapidly with legislative changes during 2022. The CTA is at the centre of these changes helping to remove the legal barriers to hemp and cannabis markets and enact legislative change.”
Speaking in a public post, Graham-Woods, stated: “I am the new Executive Director for the CTA, and together with my fellow Executive Director Sian Phillips we are changing the CTA together. I was elected to my role at the end of November…
“The CTA is forming the Industrial Hemp Marketing Board to organise and market growers, production facilities and the products that vertical integrated markets needs eh building materials and bio-fuels.”
In July 2021, the body struck a deal with a local UK authority, Oxfordshire County Council, to help it navigate regulations – a relationship is known as a primary authority partnership.
The partnership was formed due to Novel Food regulations on CBD products – for which the Foods Standards Agency, recently announced local authorities will need to ramp up efforts of enforcement as applications make their way through the approval process.
“Every milestone we go through as a business gives me a moment of pride.”
Matthew Anderson shares his journey from marketing to the CBD wellness space with the launch of his new business, RAIN.
Matthew Anderson, managing director of RAIN speaks to Cannabis Wealth about his start in the CBD industry.
Matthew was inspired to enter the CBD industry after it was recommended to him during a stressful period in his life. As he began to feel more relaxed, he wondered if there was a way he could combine his marketing skills with wellness products.
“I tried CBD after a friend gave it to me to help me with how stressful things were at the time. I had no experience with CBD and zero knowledge about it other than it was related to cannabis. It blew me away and I was surprised by how much it helped me,” he said.
“That was the beginning of my curiosity on a purely personal level. I began to realise that the career I was in wasn’t sustainable in a lot of ways. I had been interested in wellness and the area of CBD was becoming something I was interested in.”
By chance, Matthew was introduced to Harry Jameson, the personal trainer and wellness consultant. Together they developed the idea for RAIN. The brand launched in 2021 with a selection of three products including their RAIN cloud CBD pen, a balm and a candle. The candle is described as containing a “fragrance contains only non-synthetic essential oils which evoke delicious notes of the cannabinoid sensory experience… without unnerving the neighbours.”
Matthew explained the reason behind the name. “We liked it as it is symbolic of renewal. Cleanse the old and tend the new is our line which is what rain does. It embraces the natural world which is what the brand is about. Everything we do is 100 per cent natural in terms of ingredients in our products, even our pens.”
The signature product for the brand is their CBD pen which contains 40 per cent of high-quality broad-spectrum CBD with a carefully selected array of terpenes. The pen has a citrus flavour and contains terpenes such as linalool, citral and terpinolene. The pen design is sleek and it can fit easily into a pocket or handbag.
“Our RAIN CLOUD sums up the real essence of the opportunity we saw. On a formulation level, we saw the chance to make a product that is genuinely cleaner than others by using the best ingredients. The vape industry was lacking an elegant beautiful device as vapes were traditionally clunky, big devices.”
With his background in marketing, Matthew has a head start on how to position the brand or advertise. But, the CBD industry is a difficult one to advertise in due to restrictions and now, social media bans.
Matthew said: “Social media is not our friend in the way it is to a lot of brands at our stage. It is the go-to marketing channel for early-stage consumer business and there is no getting around that. We would like it to be for us as well and we can do that but to a very limited extent. We can’t put any money behind paid marketing on a lot of platforms.”
He added: “It can be incredibly frustrating when you are trying to figure out a strategy, how to scale or grow your business. You may not have the money to put into traditional advertising channels and PR isn’t a cheap thing to do either.”
As with a lot of brands, the changing nature of the CBD industry has had an impact on the products Matthew and Harry have decided to launch. The novel foods regulations have meant they decided not to launch an oil.
“The novel foods regulations have been the biggest headache for the business. We would have had a sublingual oil on the market were it not for that regulation. It has been a big frustration for us. We refocused what we wanted to do and hopefully one day we can make a product like that.”
RAIN is Matthew’s first business and as a result, he feels incredibly proud about what he has achieved. He has been delighted by the success of the business but feels that the reaction from customers has made it even more worthwhile
“As it’s my first business, every achievement is cool. The fact that people wanted to put their hard-earned money into the business I run is something in itself. Then there is having a business which is on the shelves in shops, including Selfridges as well, he said.
“The most meaningful thing has been the customers who love the products. The feedback has been phenomenal. We really believe in our products like our balm. We’ve had people find it incredibly useful for things like arthritis and I use it when I play tennis.”
“On a professional level, just about every milestone, we go through as a business gives me a moment of pride.”
Productive start to 2022 for Apollon Formularies
The company has secured new agreements, confirmed the renewal of licenses and has appointed a new non-executive director.
After ending 2021 initiating the treatment of cancer patients in Jamaica, UK-based Apollon Formularies has continued with a productive start to 2022.
International medical cannabis company Apollon Formularies has announced the appointment of Roderick Claude McIllree as a non-executive director of the company.
McIllree, who was instrumental in bringing the company to the AQSE Growth Market via a reverse takeover in April 2021, has advised, funded and run public companies across multiple global exchanges in several sectors for more than 20 years. He has specific experience in technology, mining, international logistics and finance.
The news follows announcements across January 2022, including the renewal of its licenses in Jamaica which will enable the company to operate its new pharmaceutical processing laboratory, as well as to operate consumer dispensaries and provide spa services. It also announced the signing of new agreements with Jamaica’s Cannabis License Authority (CLA) licensed cultivators allowing access to high-quality flower, working with Jamaican farmers.
CEO of Apollon, Stephen Barnhill, MD, commented: “We are delighted to welcome Rod to the Board as a non-executive director.”
McIllree currently owns ordinary shares in the Apollon, representing approximately 29.06 per cent of the issued share capital.
“Rod, a significant shareholder in the company, has a long-established career with a demonstrable record of growing small-cap companies and creating shareholder value of many business ventures over a long career,” continued Barnhill.
“He brings a wealth of financial and directorial experience to the team, and I look forward to working with him as we move our business towards the global rollout of Apollon’s product range and medical expertise to supportive jurisdictions.”
Currently charmian of AIM-listed Bluejay Mining Plc., McIllree has been a long-time advisor to, and investor in, Apollon. The company has stated that it believed his appointment strengthens its board at a time that the company expects to experience significant growth.
In July 2021, Apollon announced results of third-party independent testing of its medical cannabis formulations, which demonstrated they were effective in killing hormone-resistant and hormone-sensitive prostate cancer cells in 3D cell cultures.
McIllree commented: “Apollon is an excellent example of utilising research and development to help improve people’s lives.
“The compelling results of Apollon’s formulations killing cancer cells in 3D-cell culture and the upcoming opening of the International Cancer and Chronic Pain Institute in Jamaica are important milestones for the company and offers outstanding potential on many fronts.
“I look forward to working with Dr Barnhill and the wider Apollon team at this exciting time for growth as the company looks to execute on the various business partnership opportunities becoming available.”
Apollon expects to appoint further high-profile directors to the board in the coming month.