Canada’s hemp industry growing fast but competition looms
Business is booming for Canada's hemp industry, but industry experts say it could be on the cusp of even bigger things.
“This year is a year of change,” says Jan Slaski, a senior researcher at the governmentfunded Alberta Innovates Technology Futures who has been studying hemp uses.
Slaski is confident that after several false starts, Canada will soon start to see traction on some of the more industrial uses of hemp.
Those range from a building insulation made of lime, water and hemp called “hempcrete” to replacing fiberglass in car parts and new types of textiles.
So far, however, it's been food products that have put Canadian hemp producers on the map.
“Hemp has really made its footprint with the food sector,” said Kim Shukla, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.
In the first four months of 2015, Canada exported $34 million worth of hemp seeds and oil, well on the way to besting the $48 million exported last year and far ahead of the $12 million exported in 2011.
To meet increasing demand for hemp foods, Manitoba-based Hemp Oil Canada is building a $14 million processing plant to triple its production capacity.
And in June, U.S.-based Compass Diversified Holdings bought Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods for $133 million.
The buyout came after Manitoba Harvest, which sells hempbased foods, saw a 500 per cent growth in sales over the past five years.
Both companies have made significant inroads into the U.S., which already accounts for about half of Manitoba Harvest's sales, according to company spokeswoman Kelly Saunderson.
Saunderson says there's still strong growth potential in the U.S., where less than one per cent of the population has ever tried hemp foods, while here in Canada less than four per cent has.
“We're really just scratching the surface,” said Saunderson.
Canadian producers have a competitive advantage over Americans: hemp, a distant and non-high-inducing cousin to marijuana, is still largely banned from commercial growth in the United States.