Brandless executives reveal the e-commerce company's plan to become the CBD market leader


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  • Brandless is venturing into the uncharted world of CBD.
  • Business Insider spoke to CEO John Rittenhouse and new chief merchant officer Jen Hagness about the online retailer’s pivot. 
  • “Brandless is going to be the number one destination for CBD wellness products in the future,” Rittenhouse told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Brandless isn’t just looking to sell CBD products; the e-commerce business wants to establish an industry gold standard for all other manufacturers to follow.

Previously, under the tenure of founder and former CEO Tina Sharkey, Brandless was primarily known for its online grocery business and set price points. CEO John Rittenhouse told Business Insider that the company is “declaring a success” as it looks to double down on new categories.

“Brandless is going to be the number one destination for CBD wellness products in the future,” he said. “In order to do that, we spent three and a half months getting up to speed and understanding the science behind it.”

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is an ingredient found in cannabis that may have medicinal uses in treating pain. Moving into the CBD business is one of three prongs to a strategy that Rittenhouse and newly appointed chief merchant officer Jen Hagness are dubbing “Brandless 2020.”

The rest of the forward-looking plan includes a product rollout at retailers across the country and a jump into beauty and wellness items. Rittenhouse said that Brandless’ CBD initiative will kick off with brands like Plant People and Sunsoil.

Read more: Here’s everything you need to know about CBD, the cannabis compound that’s in everything from coffee to ice cream and could soon be a $16 billion business

The next phase of the pivot will include introducing two Brandless-owned CBD products: a mid-line option made with an outside manufacturer’s formulations, and a premium brand with Brandless’ own mix of botanical oils and packaging.

“Consumers really trust Brandless and what we stand for,” Hagness told Business Insider. “As you come to our site to buy CBD, you’ll know the manufacturer. You’ll know the package has been really thoroughly tested with rigorous standards, which is not really in the marketplace today.”

But why focus on CBD, a product that has not been officially regulated at a federal level? Hagness, who previously served as an executive at Caribou Coffee for five years, says that the answer is simple: customers conveyed through direct feedback and collected data that they wanted to buy CBD.

“We’re bringing products to market that we know there’s a huge demand for,” Hagness said. 

Rittenhouse said that consumers ages 55 and older were especially interested in CBD, to help manage pain and sleep cycles. Brightfield Group analysts told CNN that the CBD business could become a $24 billion industry by 2023.

That being said, don’t expect to be able to buy CBD-infused coffee on Brandless’ site anytime soon. Rittenhouse said he was “saddened” by the overuse of CBD in different products, as well as the unscientific claims about the substance’s healing properties. 

In fact, Rittenhouse and Hagness said that they are looking to turn Brandless into the “standard bearer” of the CBD industry. 

“We have an initiative to be the certifying body for CBD products in the United States,” Rittenhouse said.

The CEO says the idea would be to certify “other people’s CBD products, all the way through the lab, not just with a mark of trust, but with a certification process.” That would mean testing for pesticides and herbicides and producing literature on topics like the types of fertilizers appropriate for growing the product. 

“We want to kind of be a leader in that learning, for others as well as for consumers and, frankly, other producers that are out there,” Rittenhouse said.

SEE ALSO: A VC best known for organic-food investments just made its first foray into CBD. A top partner at BIGR Ventures told us why.

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