Canada’s hemp in­dus­try grow­ing fast but com­pe­ti­tion looms

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY IAN BICKIS

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.

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