Entrepreneur, Tom Whettem, set up British Cannabis™ in a bid to make his daughter proud. Seven years later the firm recently secured its position as the largest manufacturer of legal cannabis in the UK. The CEO shares his journey and where it all began.
When successful entrepreneur Tom Whettem heard the words of Jason David, father of epileptic child Jayden, in 2013, it dramatically changed the course of his career.
“My number one goal is to have my son say I love you. People take that for granted… that people talk and say I love you. That’s all I want to hear my son say.”
Jason, father of epilepsy child Jayden, was describing weening his seven-year-old son off 22 prescription pills a day to be replaced by a small dose of cannabis oil, almost immediately putting an end to the constant seizures from which he had suffered since birth.
For Tom, a father himself, these words were powerful enough for him to begin a journey that propelled a small British start-up to become the largest manufacturer of legal cannabis supplements in the UK.
It’s a journey that has seen him play an instrumental role in influencing the regulatory direction of ‘Novel Food’ supplements, working with the EU and member states, supporting trade bodies and securing the position of an industry built around the once-controversial substance.
When Tom was growing up in Berkshire, UK, attending the same school as Dragons’ Den’s Peter Jones, Cannabis was just an illegal substance.
But as of Thursday, 31 March 2022 Tom’s company British Cannabis™, now manufactures nine per cent of all CBD food supplements legal to sell in the UK, following successful inclusion on the Food Standard Agency’s Novel Foods public list.
“By chance, I saw that video of Jayden,” says Tom.
“Diagnosed with a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy, his life was changed overnight by CBD. I saw an opportunity to start a business that could be based on principles I had never experienced before”, says Tom.
CBD as a Novel Food
There was no blueprint for the CBD industry in the UK when Tom started. He began from square one.
“We built the science, the technology and growing methods all from the ground up,” he says.
By far the most monumental challenge has been compliance with the regulatory environment around CBD as a ‘Novel Food’, the classification under which CBD products are now listed in the UK.
As the lead author of the 15 dossiers, British Cannabis™ has written about the safety of CBD products, (including 20 per cent of all applications through to the next stage), giving the company the highest number of applications covering the safety of products permitted for general sale in the UK.
Tom and his team went above and beyond to prove the safety and efficacy of CBD, a task that only a company like British Cannabis™ could have achieved.
“While other companies outsourced the completion of their dossiers to expert regulatory consultants, we didn’t have that option as they were all already contracted to other companies and couldn’t take on more work,” says Tom, who had no option but to undertake this monumental task himself.
“I headed up a team of five, including two of our scientists, my father who has been my lifelong mentor and our compliance lead. We then spent countless days and long nights leveraging all the knowledge we had built up over the years to complete them by the 11th hour.”
Tom’s vast autodidactic legal knowledge came through self-education in every legislation and regulatory compliance, identifying potential opportunities that have resulted in the creation of more than one emerging market he has pioneered.
As the founder of the first company in the UK to reclaim bank charges and PPI in 2006, he went on to take on some of the UK’s largest financial institutions in court, saving consumers £928 million a year from the subsequent fall in unauthorised overdraft charges. All of this experience gave him the knowledge to understand complex legal situations around cannabis products.
“I don’t read books, but I often read Acts of Parliament from cover-to-cover multiple times. Most people have a favourite book, I have my favourite regulations. I studied the Novel Foods regulations so many times until I became an expert,” he adds.
This also saw Tom become a founder of the UK’s first Cannabis trade body, holding the position of Regulatory and Compliance director and being instrumental in developing an industry enabling consumers to continue to access cannabis supplements in the UK.
Formed in 2016 after the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued notices to several CBD suppliers stating that cannabidiol (CBD) was being designated as a medicine and that sale of all CBD products must stop within 28 days, it saw Tom meet with the MHRA representatives at the agency’s headquarters in London.
This resulted in the MHRA updating its statement on its website softening its position by claiming that its notices to CBD suppliers were merely its “opinion”
Later in 2019 he was joined by Robert Jappie (ince) and Jonathan Kirk QC, of Gough Square Chambers, and travelled to Brussels to make representations to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in respect of the decision to reclassify hemp extracts as ‘novel’. Again, being at the forefront of protecting the industry which he had pioneered, and which is now valued in the hundreds of millions.
While the efforts did not reverse the decision classifying CBD as being novel, Tom continued to engage with the UK’s FSA to ensure products could remain on sale while authorisation was obtained.
Novel foods are not just about the law
“Building our farm from the ground up and living and breathing cannabis every day all gave me the knowledge to demonstrate the safety of CBD as a Novel Food,” says Tom.
Today CBD products are available on supermarket shelves and also for certain medical usage. But it’s not been an easy road.
“I have sacrificed a lot,” says Tom. “When you operate a business for monetary gains it’s easy to take time off and enjoy yourself. But it’s so different when you know the work you do impacts the lives of other people so dramatically.”
He adds: “The business has not only enabled me to help so many of our customers but also it’s been instrumental in securing the future of the industry. If we hadn’t done what we did, many lives would be worse off as a result. My legacy before currency mantra is something that has driven every aspect of my life for the last 10 years.”
What sets British Cannabis™ apart from the competition in this emerging market is its dedication to regulatory compliance and professionalism.
“We are not just a CBD brand, we are a proper cannabis business. We do everything. We often get asked who our competition is, but in the UK, no one does what we do,” says Tom.
“We have achieved this by doing more than is necessary. Our revenues are just the result, not the reason we exist. We exist to continue to build on our knowledge. What we say is we know more because we do more. And that’s so true. No one is as well-positioned as us.
“Nearly all CBD in the UK is imported. As it’s much easier to profit from putting a label on an imported bottle than creating it yourself. But while our competition has invested in profits, we have invested in ourselves, driving all profits back into the company.”
A bright future
So where is this business heading?
Tom still has much more to give to this burgeoning industry. A natural next step for British Cannabis™ will see the launch of a Seedrs fundraise in the coming months as they prepare to list as a public company.
“After years of being self-funded, having no debt and operating a profitable business, we are now looking for investment. The next stage is to enable others to share this legacy with me and help further accelerate our growth,” says Tom.
“We are not so interested in selling out. We are just looking to open up ownership of the company to the public through seed funding to enable others to join us on this incredible journey.”
He adds: “Everything I do, whatever it is, is dedicated to continuing the legacy that is British Cannabis™.
“I aspire to a world in which we don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, but we are standing shoulder to shoulder alongside them. I want British Cannabis™ to be a household name.”
Tenacious Labs acquires CBD pet company Rover’s Wellness
The acquisition is part of Tenacious Labs buy-and-build strategy.
Tenacious Labs has diversified into the pet care market with the acquisition of Rover’s Wellness, which specialises in THC-free CBD.
The acquisition sees the group diversify into the high-growth pet care market for the first time. CBD pet care, according to Prohibition Partners, is expected to see global sales of products reach $424.4m (~£350.83) by 2024, representing a CAGR of 18.6 per cent.
As part of the acquisition, RaChelle Baca-Lobre will join Tenacious Labs as global director of sales – pet division and CPG wholesale and private label. Tenacious has stated that Baca-Lobre’s personal passion for CBD-enriched pet care, as well as her experience in managing a fast-growing brand, will prove invaluable for the Group as it looks to scale up its pet care division over the coming months.
CEO and co-founder of Tenacious Labs, Nicholas Morland, commented: “We are delighted to welcome RaChelle and her team to Tenacious Labs.
“Since launching in 2018, Rover’s Wellness has grown rapidly, launching genuinely market-leading products which have been well received by customers across the US. This acquisition will enable us to kick-start our pet care division, while combining RaChelle’s expertise and Tenacious Labs’ high quality manufacturing capabilities to significantly scale up Rover’s Wellness.
“We look forward to working with her closely over the coming months and years.
Tennessee-based Rover’s Wellness creates high quality products containing all natural, non-GMO ingredients including 100 per cent certified organically grown hemp. The company was founded by Baca-Lobre in 2018 after her own pet was diagnosed with cancer. Rover’s Wellness offers a range of oils, topical salves and treats which use CBD to support joint flexibility and mobility, ease anxiety and promote positive long-term health for dogs, cats and equine.
A core part of the brand’s approach is its commitment to testing and transparency. Leveraging a “seed to sale” approach, Rover’s Wellness works directly with growers and uses state-of-the-art nano technology to extract CBD before purity testing.
Each batch is tested by a certified industrial hemp laboratory, both before and after production, with all lab-results published on its website. This process ensures that none of Rover’s Wellness products contain THC – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis which is harmful to animals.
Baca-Lobre said: “I am excited to join Tenacious Labs, a group which reflects my desire to create safe, natural and quality products, underpinned by third-party laboratory testing.
“We have enjoyed great success to date, and I believe that by harnessing Tenacious Labs’ best-in-class manufacturing facilities, marketing expertise, and operational support, we can unlock more exciting growth opportunities for Rover’s Wellness and the group’s broader pet care division.”
Tenacious Labs has now completed three acquisitions since launching 12 months ago, including female-focused CBD brand Press Pause and high-quality white-label manufacturer SZM LLC — now operating as TL Manufacturing. The group has also continued to expand, now employing 35 people around the world as it looks to scale up.
SEED Innovations ramps up investment in South West Brands
The company has now invested a total of £500,000 in South West Brands.
SEED Innovations has invested a further £50,000 in CBD company South West Brands Limited.
Focusing on making investments in the medical cannabis, health and wellness spaces, Guernsey-based SEED Innovations made its last investment in South West Brands of £150,000 in 2021, bringing its toady investment in South West Brands to £450,000.
South West Brands, which recently saw its Botanic Lab drinks and supplements added to the UK Food Standard Agency list of CBD products permitted to stay on sale in England and Wales, has recently had two of its products listed in major UK retailers.
Its LoveMeMeMe brand is now stocked in Asos and its FEWE brand will be stocked in Superdrug from September.
CEO of SEED, Ed McDermott, commented: “We have seen some considerable progress made by the team at South West Brands over recent weeks with the launch of their two brands for sale in to Superdrug stores and online at ASOS.
“The products have received a fantastic reception by consumers in what is fast becoming a burgeoning FemTech sector where South West Brands are leading the charge.
“Generating early revenues, with the products now increasingly available, we anticipate seeing a fast uptick in wholesale sales which will further lead to additional product development and hopefully support for the products availability outside of the UK.
“We are pleased to continue to support Rebekah Hall and her team as they build a credible, sustainable and scalable wellness business developing and commercialising their brands.”
CEO of South West Brands, Rebekah Hall, said: “The progress SWB has made in the short time since launch is just the beginning of where we believe our brands can reach. In particular, we are at an exciting juncture in the provision of female wellness solutions with increased awareness infiltrating mainstream audiences and building commercial traction with mainstream retailers.
“With further funding in place, including the support from SEED, we look ahead to continued growth in the UK as well as commercial opportunities in other markets, including the US. “
The investment is by way of a three year, 8 per cent Convertible Loan Note (CLN), and SEED has agreed to convert £50,000 of the 12 month, 8 per cent CLN subscribed for in July 2021 into this three year, 8 per cent CLN.
B3 Labs discusses the future of the consumer cannabis industry
CEO of UK-based B3 Labs, Marc Burbidge, speaks to Cannabis Wealth about the UK’s Novel Foods process and shares his outlook for the future of the consumer cannabis industry.
B3 Labs recently had 525 of its products included on the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) CBD Novel Foods list.
The country’s move to be one of the first in the world with a regulated CBD market has seen companies wishing to sell their CBD products having to submit Novel Foods applications to ensure all products that go on sale are safe for human consumption.
B3 Labs has described the publication of the list as a landmark moment for the UK cannabis market, providing greater transparency and assurance over CBD products for both consumers and retailers.
B3 was founded by ex-Asda store manager Marc Burbidge, who left over 15 years of experience in the traditional FMCG sector to move to the fast-growing cannabis market. Marc set up B3 after suffering from severe shoulder pain and realising the side effects that came from taking traditional pain medication.
Since founding B3, which is currently based in Manchester, Burbidge has turned the business into Europe’s leading CBD manufacturer and the first of its kind to become BRCGS certified, producing a range of white-labelled CBD oils and gummies and driving change in the market by providing consumers and brands with greater assurance and transparency over the safety, transparency and quality of its CBD products.
Novel Foods in the UK
Burbidge says that the UK’s Novel Foods process is a major positive step for the industry as a whole, giving more confidence to retailers to open up conversations with companies.
“As more and more data comes to pass moving over to the validation phase, this is only going to legitimise CBD as a product,” said Burbidge. “We’re seeing more and more adoption from consumers all around the world as it is now.”
Whilst consumers have been quick to take up CBD, said Burbidge, retailers have fallen behind and will now have to keep up with regulatory changes.
“I really sympathise with the regulators for what they’ve had to go through over the last year. Novel Foods as a process is very much ingredient-led, as opposed to finished product-led, and the UK has taken more of an approach of a finished product-led way of working, which has obviously created a number of challenges for brands.
“At the same time, those challenges – overcoming them, getting the list out there, seeing the number of products and brands that are now able to really push forward in terms of their plans – it’s a fantastic thing.”
This development has been positive for B3 Labs, Burbidge highlighted, which is the first CBD company in Europe to gain a BRCGS certification for finished products.
Burbidge commented: “We see novel foods as a regulatory hurdle that everybody needs to go through. It means an awful lot to get through that hurdle, especially the first stage, but there’s still a long way to go. Currently, it’s ultimately it’s a list – there’s no validation or authorization yet.
“For us, we focus on product safety and product quality. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more of a cannabis-related certification for everybody that won’t just encompass food but also the vape industry and the cosmetics industry, for example.
“Novel Foods really did change the mindset of people to legitimise CBD and that’s always been my mission – the legitimisation of CBD and cannabis as a widely consumed product. By having something like Novel Foods, by having a food certification and by businesses having to reach those quality standards, people believe in the product a lot more, whether it be the retailer or the consumer.
“Everybody talks about vertical integration in cannabis but vertical integration of regulatory steps and compliance in cannabis is equally as important.”
The future of the industry
The rise of the cannabis and CBD industry is harkening back to the days of herbal medicine, said Burbidge, who has been studying herbal medicine for many years.
However, Burbidge highlights that for the industry to progress, innovation is a key element, and Novel Foods may play a part in hampering this innovation.
“We’ve seen a tincture market has grown out of CBD, oil-based tinctures. It’s going back to making herbal medicine products and using dropper bottles in the early 1900s, which is great,” said Burbidge. “It’s really good to see that unique application from coming back and you’re seeing it more and more with other kinds of herbal wellness products that are coming out.
“We are seeing less innovation now because of Novel Foods because of what we are and aren’t allowed to do in terms of bringing new finished products onto the market. I think once we reach validation, and ultimately authorization of products, the product categories will begin to change more.”
The market will move more towards products that are familiar to people such as tablets, lozenges and slow-release formulas, said Burbidge, with a focus on aspects such as bioavailability.
“Drinks have been a major growth sector, tinctures are another major growth sector and the biggest growth sector has probably been gummies as it is easy for people to use these.
“We need to get to full authorization of products before we can really start innovating new exciting products. But I do see that’s where it’ll eventually go.”
Whilst the UK has been very slow to adopt both medical and recreational cannabis, Burbidge says that as more patients find the benefit of using medicinal cannabis there will be more discussion around the benefits of CBD.
“I think we’re seeing more and more people – whether they’re taking certain pain relief medications that might be more addictive or costly – getting cannabis privately prescribed,” said Burbidge. “I think you’ll see people looking to get more medical products and this is similar to Novel Foods regarding generating data.”
Pointing to more mature medical and recreational markets such as Canada and Israel, Burbidge notes that the benefits of cannabis are becoming more evident through the reduction in the use of medications such as morphine.
“People seem to be getting more quality of life based on just the verbal data,” said Burbidge. “And it’s really good to see as far as recreational is concerned. I don’t think that’s anything close to an agenda point as yet for a discussion, but once the safety of cannabis is more established, and it’s used more as a medicinal product, I think I think we might get there.”
The future of B3 Labs: an engine room of innovation
B3 Labs has been focusing on compliance through the Novel Foods process, but the lab will be an “engine room of innovation”, said Burbidge, and the company will be focusing on areas outside of CBD as interest in herbal medicine rises.
“The reason that B3 was created was all around innovation. We’re looking at building partnerships with equally as compliant manufacturers as ourselves to widen our brand’s portfolios, building a wide network of companies that we can work with to develop and create amazing products for the future and eventually build an engine room of innovation with wonderful ideas, ways of working, methodologies and applications of products.
“CBD and cannabis are, and have always been, a huge part of my life. But there are so many other compounds that are out there which provide benefits to people. We’ve seen a huge rise in awareness of medicinal mushrooms, and there are so many plant extracts whether you look at Vedic medicine, Chinese medicine, African health.
“People looking at the nutrition and people are changing their diets. There is a realisation from people that good health is a combination of how you eat, how you sleep, how you live your life, how much stress you have, and then, having the right herbs and vitamins around that give you the most benefit.
“That’s where I see B3 focusing more and more on that rounded wellness for people – being able to support them with that and tying that in with innovation.”
- Curaleaf partnership to build platform for German recreational market
- Tenacious Labs acquires CBD pet company Rover’s Wellness
- Khiron announces opening of first Zerenia medical cannabis clinic in Brazil
- MGC Pharma receives first tranche of funding under new $10m financing facility
- Akanda and Cansativa to supply German patients with cannabis flower