Hemp goes from zero to economic hero
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Hemp goes from zero to economic hero

A slew of Thai companies have identified opportunities and are planning to ride the wave

Hemp, a weed that was long regarded as a forbidden plant and included on the country's narcotics list, is taking Thailand by storm.

Ten categories of goods or products ranging from mouth spray, food supplements, skincare products and energy drinks to painkillers and spa products are cashing in on hemp's hype after the government legalised commercial growing in the country last year to promote hemp and cannabis as new cash crops.

From Jan 29, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed individuals, legal entities, government offices, community enterprises and companies to register to use the legal parts of cannabis and hemp for medical purposes, as well as in the textile, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

From Jan 29, the FDA approved the use of the legal parts of cannabis and hemp for medical purposes and in textile, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Pornprom Satrabhaya

In Bangkok applications for registration are processed at the FDA offices, while in other provinces they are sent to provincial public health offices.

Applications for the import and export of hemp must be submitted to the FDA's office.

The FDA is pushing to expedite the listing of cannabis on the National List of Essential Medicines and for use in food products.

The FDA committee on Feb 22 approved a draft from the public health minister that places cannabis on that list, also allowing its use as an ingredient in food products such as oil extracts for breakfast cereals, bakery products, beverages, snacks, butter and food supplements.

Tareetip Wongsaengpaitoon, senior vice-president of Kasikorn Securities Plc, said hemp will definitely be a new powerhouse for the Thai economy, citing products that use hemp as an ingredient as having strong growth potential. Stocks with a connection to hemp-related businesses have seen a persistent uptick in prices this year as investors are bullish on the future of the hemp industry here following its legalisation.

Siam Health Group, the producer and marketer of Dentiste' toothpaste, is likely to offer a range of oral care products with CBD.

Hemp phenomenon

As a consequence, a slew of products with hemp as an ingredient are expected to be introduced by the end of this year.

Some of the companies hoping to make a splash in the hemp market include: Carabao Group Plc, the maker of Carabao Dang energy drink; Osotspa Co, the maker of M150 energy drink; RS Plc, the media and entertainment company; Mudman Plc, the operator of Au Bon Pain bakery chain; Beauty Community Plc, the operator of Beauty Buffet store; Do Day Dream Plc, the maker of Snail White skincare brand; Inter Pharma Plc, a distributor of pharmaceutical products; NR Instant Produce Plc (NRF), a producer of vegetarian and plant-based food for the global market; Ichitan Group Plc, the maker of ready-to-drink green tea; Sappe Plc, the beverage company; and Siam Health Group, the producer of Dentiste' toothpaste.

Mr Peerapong says Beauty Community has prepared several beauty products and food supplements with hemp as an ingredient under the Beauty Buffet brand and some sister brands.

Dan Pathomvanich, chief executive of NRF, said hemp holds vast potential in Thailand. The global market value for products including marijuana and CBD (cannabidiol), a non-psychoactive compound derived from hemp, was worth up to US$17.5 billion in 2019, and is expected to surge to $65 billion in 2027.

"Hemp is likely to be a new cash crop that brings more investment to Thailand," said Mr Dan.

He said although hemp is quite new for NRF, the firm has closely followed trends in the US over the past 5-6 years.

"It is an interesting phenomenon. With hemp, massive money has flowed into the US market," said Mr Dan.

"Hemp is used in various products and formats. It is widely accepted by the market."

Hemp drew the attention of NRF because it is easy to plant, insect-resistant and capable of increasing income for farmers.

"Hemp is also considered a healthy alternative product because it is a plant," he said.

According to Mr Dan, NRF is in talks with a Thai university to study the nutritional value of hemp.

NRF also plans to acquire a company that has knowledge and experience related to hemp.

"We are interested in using hemp seeds and oil as a food ingredient. We want to be in the mid-stream business, not only in Thailand but also abroad," he said.

Mr Sathien says Carabao Group is keen to be a first mover in the Thai market for food and beverage products made with hemp.

Food and beverage

"If Thailand allows use of hemp oil in local food and beverage products, Carabao Dang will be the first brand to launch a product to market," said Sathien Setthasit, chief executive of Carabao Group.

He said the company is interested in making products with hemp because it has various attributes, particularly with regard to relaxation, and the plant possesses cancer cell inhibitors.

"As soon as the FDA comes up with a clear policy on hemp oil in food and beverage products, we will immediately launch a beverage with hemp to the market," said Mr Sathien.

"We are studying 2-3 alternative products with hemp, possibly an energy drink or soft drink with CBD."

Louise Taechaubol, executive chairwoman of Global Consumer Plc (Glocon), said the company is interested in hemp because it is an ingredient for plant-based products, offering it a huge opportunity to expand to various healthy foods.

Cannabis-infused drinks are showcased at the official opening of the Public Health Ministry's Institute of Medical Cannabis. Pornprom Satrabhaya

She said the company initially wants to make products from hemp to serve the domestic market before expanding abroad next year.

Glocon is a producer of dried fruit and frozen food serving both the domestic and export markets.

"We have produced over 100 brands via OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] for several years. Now is the right time to make our own," Ms Louise said.

The company plans to launch six plant-based food products to the market this year, 1-2 of which will include hemp as an ingredient, she said.

Glocon expects to finalise its hemp food items in March and start production in late April.

Ms Louise said Glocon plans to invest about 100 million baht to install a new production line at its factory in Samut Songkhram to produce hemp-based products for its own brand and OEMs.

The firm expects to earn 30 million baht from hemp-based products this year and forecasts 100 million in 2023.

Lalaporn Tiasakul, chief operations officer of Mudman, the authorised operator of Au Bon Pain, said the bakery chain has been studying the idea of using hemp as a food ingredient since the government announced the legalisation of commercial growing.

"Au Bon Pain wants to explore opportunities for hemp because it aligns with our healthy food position," Ms Lalaporn said.

She said the company plans to move cautiously in offering hemp products to ensure they fit with the appropriate customer age profile.

Pun Paniengvate, manager of President Office at Thai President Foods Plc, the manufacturer of Mama instant noodles, said the company has quietly studied the benefits of hemp and considered the possibility of using hemp as an ingredient in its products.

RS enters the fray

Surachai Chetchotisak, chief executive of RS Group, said its subsidiary RS Group by Lifestar Co has partnered with allies in applying to manufacture hemp-based products.

"We're preparing partnerships with allies to manage the upstream-downstream production and distribution of skincare, beverages and supplementary food products with hemp as an ingredient," Mr Surachai said.

"We have been collaborating with top laboratories on these products."

RS Mall, the company's digital platform for health and well-being products, plans to present hemp through live demonstrations of its use or by having experts share opinions and insights.

The company plans to sell hemp products on Channel 8 and with its top digital TV allies, as well as online channels and via Line @rsmall.

Peerapong Kitiveshpokawat, deputy chief executive of Beauty Community, said the company prepared several beauty products and food supplements using hemp under the Beauty Buffet brand and some sister brands.

These products are being tested and are awaiting FDA approval.

"We are likely to be one of the first brands to launch cosmetics with a hemp base to the market this year," he said.

"The popularity of hemp-based products is likely to last for a long time as this ingredient can be used in both beauty products and food supplements."

Pimpicha Ngamchitsuksri, managing director of Siam Hemp Co, a knowledge provider on the subject of hemp and an event organiser for hemp seminars, said almost 100 people took part in its hemp seminar last year.

"About half of the participants were from both big and small companies that are interested in making goods from hemp," said Ms Pimpicha.

"With the momentum for hemp in Thailand, it may be a good time for farmers to produce it as a new cash crop that helps stimulate the economy."

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