ReGen Brands Recap #68

Jared Simon @ Manitoba Harvest

The Regen Strategy For North America’s Leading Hemp Food Brand 

On this episode, Anthony and Kyle speak with Jared Simon, the CEO of Manitoba Harvest. Manitoba Harvest is North America’s leading hemp food brand and they’re supporting regenerative agriculture with their recently released Regenerative Organic Certified® Hemp Hearts. Manitoba Harvest products can be found in thousands of retailers across Canada and the United States, as well as online through their website and Amazon

Manitoba Harvest also operates a hemp ingredient business since merging with Hemp Oil Canada. In 2019, Manitoba Harvest was acquired by Tilray, a publicly traded company focused on cannabis, beer and spirits, and wellness products. Today, Manitoba Harvest continues to sell its own branded hemp products and ingredients to other brands and food manufacturers.


Hemp’s History

Manitoba Harvest was founded in 1998 in Manitoba, Canada by Mike Fata. While on a journey to improve his health, Mike overhauled his diet to focus on protein, fiber, and healthy fats – and discovered the power of hemp seeds to deliver these nutrients. He created Manitoba Harvest to enable others to use hemp as an ingredient to easily boost the nutrition of any snack or meal. 

Hemp hasn’t been the easiest product to grow, market, or sell, because it comes from the same plant species as cannabis. In 1998, Canada had just legalized the industrial production of hemp. Conversely, at that time, the US allowed sales of hemp products, but it didn’t legalize the domestic production of hemp until 2018. It is important to note that hemp is not cannabis. The hemp plant variety is different from cannabis in that it grows to optimize the fibers and seed for food, and does not contain impactful levels of THC. Manitoba Harvest has a nice breakdown of hemp’s history on its website.  

Hemp plants produce many seeds which eventually become hemp hearts after they are dehulled during processing. These hemp hearts are a nutrition powerhouse as they provide a complete plant-based protein, Omegas 3 & 6, and other key nutrients like Potassium and Vitamins B1 & B6. Manitoba Harvest sells these hemp hearts by themselves, as ingredients in their granolas and cereals, and as the basis for their hemp seed oils and hemp protein powders. 


The Growth Opportunity

Despite increased consumer awareness of hemp and its health benefits in the past two decades, it has only reached 5% market penetration in the United States and 10% in Canada. For Jared, this signals a massive opportunity for growth and a myriad of possibilities for Manitoba Harvest.

There is incredible room for innovation and new SKUs under the Manitoba Harvest brand. They recently launched a super-seed hot cereal with oats, chia, and hemp, and they developed a first-of-its-kind hemp cooking oil. Manitoba Harvest also recently partnered with Brightseed, a firm that utilizes bioscience and AI to understand how plant nutrients impact the human body, to launch its latest innovation. After Brightseed found unique bioactive compounds in hemp shells, the two companies worked together to develop a new gut-health supplement powder by blending ground hemp shells and psyllium fiber.

Jared highlights that while product innovation is exciting, they cannot exponentially increase the demand for hemp foods on their own. Instead, they leverage their B2B ingredient business to scale the use of hemp in many more food products, such as including hemp hearts in granolas and other snacks, hemp oil in products such as salad dressings, and hemp protein in any products that need more plant-based protein. 

Jared and his team also see opportunities to scale hemp sales and consumption through food service. This could be through restaurants looking to deliver keto-friendly or high-protein offerings, or universities catering to open-minded and curious students who are interested in healthy and sustainable food. The opportunities seem endless and the Manitoba Harvest team is excited to further explore these channels in the future. 

“I'm so excited about what we can be doing on Manitoba Harvest itself. And then like I said, having this whole ingredient side of our business where we partner with other brands…we can help them do some of that research and development. I think there's just a huge upside on hemp.” - Jared 


Their 1st Regenerative SKU

Jared also sees growth opportunities for Manitoba Harvest through their increased focus on Regenerative Organic Certified® (ROC™). They are seeing increased interest in regenerative products from both natural and conventional retailers, as well as growing demand on their B2B side from other CPG brands looking to incorporate regenerative ingredients.

Manitoba Harvest started its regenerative journey by launching a ROC™ certified line of hemp hearts. The interest in supporting regenerative production comes from the company’s historical dedication to sustainability as well as increasing interest from their partner farmers.

The transition to regenerative production is not a huge stretch for many of their hemp farmers. Hemp is a strong, sturdy plant that requires few inputs. Hemp easily outcompetes weeds, so most conventional farmers do not need to apply herbicides or pesticides. Most farmers already grow hemp on a three-year cycle, rotating with nitrogen-fixing plants like soy, as well as oats and barley. 

Manitoba Harvest’s operating model has been essential in enabling them to develop a ROC™ line for hemp. They own their own manufacturing centers for hulling and processing the hemp seeds, which allows them to source directly from farmers. They have also invested in an in-house team of agronomists that provide regular technical advisory to their farm partners. When developing their ROC™ line, Manitoba Harvest’s agronomists are there to help farmers identify and apply the practices needed to meet ROC™ standards. 

While Jared is confident that Manitoba Harvest can bring more acres under ROC™ certification, he can’t ignore one challenge: time. Hemp is harvested once a year, so there will always be a significant delay between a farmer’s interest in regenerative certification, to the application of practices, to when the hemp will be certified and available for purchase. 


Making The Commercial Case For Regen

Manitoba Harvest has been intentional and strategic about launching its ROC™ SKU. They invested time into thinking through which retailers they would launch with and invested in consumer awareness and education. During their launch at Whole Foods, they included shelf signage explaining the benefits of regenerative agriculture and conducted a digital direct-to-consumer campaign with Amazon to educate their online buyers. 

Jared explains that they are still strategizing how to scale ROC™ certification across their business. Their number one priority is increasing the distribution of ROC™ certified hemp hearts at retailers across North America. While it would be easiest to certify other single-ingredient SKUs, they see less opportunity for scaled impact there. Where Jared sees more potential is increasing sales of ROC™ certified ingredients through their B2B business, which helps increase volume and can ultimately help bring down the price premium of end products on the shelf.

“I think regenerative has that potential as a kind of group of leading adopters bring it into their homes and advocate for it… Sometimes there does become this tipping point of I've seen that logo on two or three of the cool products that I really enjoy or on some of my most beloved products. I wanna see it on more of my products.” - Jared


50% Market Share 4 Regen

Jared sees opportunities for Manitoba Harvest to influence others to transition to regenerative sourcing, starting from within Tilray brands. So far he has received great feedback and admiration from the rest of the company. In particular, he sees an opportunity to bring regenerative ingredients into Tilray’s beer and spirits brands. He notes that the craft beer consumer is already interested in quality and making specific choices around taste, and therefore will be more likely to care about the ingredients going into the product. 

Jared is also enthusiastic about helping other firms source regenerative ingredients. He will gladly speak with other firms sourcing ingredients from Canada and hopes to form pre-competitive collaborations that link buyers to a suite of regenerative ingredients like oats, barley, and flax that are also grown by Manitoba’s hemp farmers.

Like many other regenerative brands, Jared believes we need more consumer education. He also points out that there will always be the smaller group of consumers who are more dedicated to learning and educating themselves (that Kyle calls “scuba divers”) and a larger group of consumers who just need a short, clear signal that a product is good for them or good for the planet (in Kyle’s terminology, “the swimmers”). He thinks we can only reach a critical mass once we get those swimmers to follow the divers. Having also worked for some larger CPG brands, Jared knows the power of their distribution reach and marketing budgets. He is excited to be a part of the group of regenerative brands leading the movement, but he believes it will take larger firms joining in to create a real market shift.

“That's my hope is, we lead the movement, as some of these, you know, true blue mission and purpose-driven brands. And then we make enough noise that the bigger brands who maybe aren't as mission-driven, but are opportunistic, see it, hear it, and start pushing it out there. And then the whole supply chain just starts evolving and changing.” - Jared 

This ReGen Recap was written by Katey Finnegan

The illustrations were created by Stacey Shaller

You can check out the full episode with Jared Simon @ Manitoba Harvest HERE

Subscribe to future episodes of the ReGen Brands Podcast on your favorite podcast platform using the buttons below. You can help support our mission of growing regenerative CPG brands with a 5-star rating!

Stay engaged in the conversation by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, The ReGen Brands Weekly, and connecting with us on LinkedIn (Kyle & AC).

Your support of the show and these brands truly means the world to us. Thank you!