Canadian hemp milk looks to nourish US dairy alternative market

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Canadian hemp manufacturer Manitoba Harvest is counting on its new
hemp milk to bring further consumer awareness to the health
benefits of a seed often associated with marijuana.

Hemp Bliss is the latest in the organic producer's line, which already includes: hemp oil, hemp butter, hemp protein powder and shelled hemp seed. Set to compete with dairy milk alternatives, Hemp Bliss is beige in color and is sweetened or flavored with natural and organic sources. Manitoba Harvest is looking to compete with existing players in the $1bn dairy milk alternatives market in North America, which includes products such as soy milk, almond milk and rice milk. "We see hemp growing as big as or bigger than the flax or soy categories in terms of functional food ingredients,"​ Manitoba Harvest co-founder Mike Fata told NutraIngredients-USA. With about 25 percent protein, whole hemp seed is second only to soybean in terms of complete protein content. Hemp Bliss contains 5gm of protein per serving. The drink also stands out among the alternative milk sources because, like flaxseed, it is high in the omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Manitoba Harvest is highlighting the benefits of Hemp Bliss as being that, like dairy milk alternatives such as soy, rice and almond, it has a strong nutritional profile. Over and above this, it claims the product is also better suited to consumers with allergies to nuts, sensitivity to soy nuts, or concerns about soy agriculture. Hemp is suitable for consumers wanting to support environmental issues, because it is a crop that requires little water, no herbicides and is said to stimulate soil. Manitoba Harvest has high hopes for hemp and its market position in the future versus other dairy alternative or GLA-rich products. Traditionally, hemp has been an underdog of the functional ingredient category due in large part to its ostracized kin, the marijuana plant. While hemp belongs to the same species as marijuana, c​annabis sativa L,​ it only has minimal quantities of the active drug compound, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. Manitoba Harvest's co-founders were part of the movement to make hemp legal again in Canada following the ban of the crop in 1938. As a result of this lobbying, the commercial cultivation, processing and sale of the seed in Canada were legalized in 1998. While hemp foods became legal in the US in 2001, production of the seed is still illegal, thereby stimulating Canadian production of the seed. About 90 percent of Canada's hemp products are destined for the US, according to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. But a lot of consumer awareness on hemp still needs to be raised, says Manitoba Harvest. "In the mainstream market, people are a little less educated about it,"​ said Fata. "I think we have to keep going out there and educating them." ​ Canadian production of hemp is largely concentrated in the central and Western regions of the country. With 52 percent of the country's supply, Manitoba is the largest producer of hemp in Canada, followed by Saskatchewan. Manitoba Harvest manufactures its hemp milk by grinding the seeds with water, filtering it, and then adding flavors. The vertically integrated company claims to be the largest hemp foods-only manufacturer in North America. It oversees the product from seed to milk, with its farms spread across the province and its processing facility located in the capital of Winnipeg. Manitoba Harvest's facility is kosher and USDA certified organic. Hemp Bliss is set to make its appearance on retail shelves in natural foods stores or natural food sections of mainstream supermarkets.

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