One could hardly time a better entrance to the CBD/hemp/cannabis and related space than Sweet Earth Holdings Corp.'s (SE:CSE) trading debut on May 26. Late last week, researchers from Canada's University of Lethbridge found that CBD appears to help prevent contracting COVID-19, and can treat its symptoms. Early indications suggest that CBD could be used in mouthwashes, throat gargle products and inhalers.
Make no mistake, these findings are far from definitive. Considerably more study (time + money) will be required. Yet, share price reactions were indicative of the potential upside for CBD/hemp stocks in coming months. For example, CBD industry giant Charlotte's Web Holdings Inc.'s (CWEB:CSE; CWBHF:OTCQX) stock rose 24% on a single day from this announcement, and is up 62% from its low of May.
Other CBD/hemp stocks are up even more this month. CV Sciences Inc. (CVSI:OTCQB) is up +154%, Isodiol (ISOL:CSE) +122%, cbdMD (YCBD:OTC) +106%, Medical Marijuana (MJNA:OTC) +90%. While many readers have heard of CWEB, some are wondering about the others. Never heard of them? You're not alone.
Surprisingly, only about 1 in 10 of the 303 hemp/CBD/cannabis and related names I track are primarily hemp or CBD-focused. The dozens of Canadian LPs & U.S. multi-state operators (MSOs) are all cannabis-focused. This suggests to me that well managed, vertically integrated hemp/CBD companies could meaningfully outperform cannabis-focused peers.
Think about it: just 10% of the stocks are hemp/CBD, yet well more than 10% of the market opportunity in the overall hemp/CBD/cannabis and related sector is from companies like Charlotte's Web & Sweet Earth [see corporate presentation].
In the following interview, I asked founders Sam Nastat, Farinaz Wadia and CEO Peter Espig for an overview of Sweet Earth Holdings.
During the past several years, Sam Nastat has been actively involved in the funding and operations of cannabis-related businesses. During this time, Sam has created valuable relationships with growers, processors and distributors throughout the U.S. and Europe. His detailed agricultural knowledge, plus keen capital market background, gives Sam a truly unique perspective on this sector.
Farinaz Wadia is a cofounder of Forcefield, based in Oregon. Forcefield is a leader in the design/build of technologically advanced greenhouses and acts as exclusive agent for Danish based DACS A/S and the MagFan line of exhaust fans. Farinaz has the managerial skills needed to handle expansion plans for Sweet Earth, and the creativity to help Sweet Earth thrive.
Peter Espig has structured over US$2.0 billion in private equity and pre-IPO [initial public offering] investment transactions. The former Goldman Sachs and Olympus Capital executive is a pioneer in special acquisition companies (SPACs) and is a highly experienced turnaround expert in multiple sectors, on an international scale. He received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia and an MBA from Columbia Business School.
Epstein Research: Sam, your corporate presentation says, "Sweet Earth has been years in the making." Please describe your corporate history.
Cofounder Sam Nastat: Our company started out in the famous Applegate Valley of Oregon as a stand-alone, all-encompassing hemp operation. We are not an industrial hemp grower/processor. Our intention from the beginning was, and still is, to be a large producer, but with the feel and care of a small, niche-market farm stand.
ER: Please tell readers about being awarded "Best CBD Products" at the 2019 Global MJBiz Conference. How significant an honor is it?
Cofounder Farinaz Wadia: To be chosen from among 1,312 exhibitors at the world's largest cannabis show is a huge honor. It validated our corporate identity and product lines. To win "best CBD products" out of 111 hemp/CBD exhibitors in our first year of attendance is a noteworthy milestone. The products, our story, team and booth, all assisted in getting our message across to the thousands of people that visited with us at the conference.
ER: The CBD space is very competitive. How can readers be sure that Sweet Earth is pursuing the right products, brands and jurisdictions?
CEO Peter Espig: Correct, it is competitive. But I ask you, is there any rapid-growth, strong-margin, globally significant industry that is not highly competitive? Regarding the right products and brands, we recognize that some products will be hits and others not. This is the consequence of being cutting-edge creative. It's more important to understand the benefits of strong partners within targeted jurisdictions than to try to go it alone.
Sweet Earth has the mentality to succeed globally. We need to think and be "globally local," which is achieved through our local relationships that provide local insight in every global market we enter. The company has various affiliations, but our brand, Sweet Earth, and the concept of ethical, organic, high-quality merchandise, resonates globally.
ER: How can a company of your modest size afford to be in so many places, doing so many things, all at once?
Peter Espig: Good question. This can only be accomplished with trusted relationships. Our key legal advisor is based in Europe, we have a board member based in South America, we have a team in the U.S. that understands that market. The U.S. is still, by far, the largest hemp and cannabis market in the world.
Sam Nastat: In Spain we have made an investment in getting a farm up and going this year. Until we have a reliable supply of the materials that we will harvest from this farm, Sweet Earth will export its line from the U.S. to Spain and into Europe. Sweet Earth has a distributor in place to assist with the marketing and distribution so that we will have shelf space and brand awareness until our harvest.
In Panama we have a major retailer that will distribute our products, products we will export from the U.S. Once laws have been ratified in Panama for the growing and processing hemp/CBD, we will then enter into a lease for farmland that we have identified.
ER: Sweet Earth hand and body sanitizers kill the COVID-19 virus. Does management expect meaningful sales of these sanitizers?
Farinaz Wadia: Yes, we have just begun offering a high-end sanitizer that contains moisturizing qualities. These sanitizers are beginning to get noticed by chain retailers, some of which we have begun to supply.
ER: Is Sweet Earth a cultivator? An extractor? A brand developer? A distributor?
Peter Espig: Sweet Earth is, in fact, doing all four. We are a cultivator in all aspects of our growing, seed breeding, sowing and harvesting. We do not outsource those tasks. Sweet Earth has developed its own unique harvester to be able to substantially reduce harvesting labor costs. We have a building being constructed that will house the extraction equipment we purchased and the personnel to operate it.
Once construction and permitting is completed we will begin that phase for Sweet Earth and for other growers. A testament to our brand development was the award given to us at the MJ Biz Show for best CBD product line. We are on several retail platforms that have garnered us retail clients that we directly distribute to.
As a cultivator, we assure quality control and the ability to obtain scarce ingredients. Internal extraction lowers the cost of production, provides quality control and a potential revenue stream. We are not a distributor, other than for our own brands, and white label for others.
White labeling gives us experience in new products (especially when white labeling for larger entities). We recognize that on certain consumer products we lack expertise; white labeling provides us the opportunity to gain expertise and enter new markets/jurisdictions.
ER: Sweet Earth points to having 2,500 hemp plants/acre, compared to peers at 1,500/acre, and up to 15% more yield per plant. How is this accomplished?
Sam Nastat: Our strain was developed by our in-house genetics team. Our process of feeding, along with soil amendments and a unique strain, give us advantages that other recently converted commercial farms don't have.
ER: Your CBD cultivation activities are fairly significant, but not that large. For outdoor crops, aren't economies of scale very important?
Peter Espig: Sweet Earth is not an industrial grower of hemp/CBD. Still, our corporate reach gives us a large enough footprint for the activities that we are pursuing. For our operations, economies of scale are not necessarily advantageous. In fact, large scale creates a different platform.
Cannabis growers learned that the hard way. Growing operations of excessive size created significant quality control issues. Millions of dollars of hemp crops across North America had to be destroyed due to elevated THC levels.
Larger hemp operations typically focus on the production of biomass, not flower. We have modern machinery for harvesting; getting too large would force us to focus on the lower-end, highly competitive biomass segment, which does benefit from economies of scale.
ER: Many companies are starting to talk about CBG and CBN. Where is Sweet Earth on this front?
Sam Nastat: Sweet Earth has begun to explore that avenue, and some of the acreage in our 2020 growing cycle will include those strains that have shown promising CBG/CBN yields. While many companies are talking about CBG and CBN, not all have the experience and a dedicated genetics team like we do.
ER: To what extent is purchasing CBD products a luxury item versus a necessity?
Peter Espig: We are witnessing a paradigm shift in consumer consumption. There's a big difference between "luxury item" and "superior quality item." Our products are high quality, but also within the price range of most consumers. Online sales of products have performed very well. We need to emphasize traffic to our site and a user-friendly online shopping experience.
Typically, during hard economic times, high-price fashion brands suffer the most. However, consumers still like to shop and enjoy the experience of receiving an exclusive product at an affordable price. We need to instill this into the consumer.
ER: COVID-19 has already had a tremendous impact on business activity. Given this uncertainty, how is Sweet Earth planning for the rest of 2020?
Peter Espig: Yes, it has impacted us. The reality is that sales of biomass and flower have been negatively impacted. On a positive note, new supply is, and will be, greatly diminished. Sales of sanitizer products have performed well, but other products have suffered.
ER: Thank you, Sam, Farinaz and Peter, for your time and thoughtful responses to my questions. I wish you the best of luck and will circle back in June.
Peter Epstein is the founder of Epstein Research. His background is in company and financial analysis. He holds an MBA degree in financial analysis from New York University's Stern School of Business.
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