How to Formulate More Consistent CBD Products

Part 1. Three places to check your inputs 
A three-part series

If you’re formulating a CPG product with CBD, consistency is one of your biggest targets to crush, and probably the most challenging. But ultimately, it’s essential to guaranteeing a safe, high-quality experience for your consumers, and to maintaining your brand’s equity. 

At Caliper Foods, we tackle consistency challenges by taking a quantitative approach in everything we do. We measure and assess everything we can about every batch, right down to the particle size distribution of the molecules within our mixtures. We aim to stamp out variation wherever we find it, whether it’s in our supply chain, our production procedures, or our testing lab specs.

In this series, we’ll address some of the key factors that influence CBD product consistency and share some lessons we’ve learned along the way. We’ll begin at the beginning — with three ways to manage inputs, the first step in the production chain. In future installments, we’ll tackle issues of variance around manufacturing and labeling as well. 

1. Strain variance

You can’t completely control Mother Nature, so expecting hemp to have exactly the same composition and performance every time is an impossible task. The hemp plant contains hundreds of compounds — including some 113+ known cannabinoids, each with differing molecular structures and bioactive characteristics. Variations between batches, and even among plants grown in the same field, are a given. Potency, flavor, microbiological contamination, and residues such as heavy metals and pesticides also come into play at the plant level, and that’s before you even get to processors and processing methods!

We’ve found that the best way to eliminate these uncertainties is to only work with ingredients that can meet a consistent standard. At Caliper Foods, in order to remove strain variance and extraction variance from the process, we primarily work with isolated CBD. 

If you’re working with a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum product, keep in mind that there are no set standards of identity (SOI) that define the amounts and proportions of bioactives in such formulations. Cannabinoid content (e.g., CBD, THC, CBG, CBC, etc.) will vary by processor and batch. Even if you find a supplier who can meet your standards, that’s only one supplier. A different supplier will offer a different product at a different standard. 

And in such a nascent industry, it’s always good to have a Plan B. If you go with broad- or full-spectrum products, be prepared to to perform even more due diligence with suppliers and testing to ensure your product’s composition is consistent from batch to batch while meeting your scale-up needs.

2. Supplier variance

Unfortunately, because SOIs are lacking in the largely unregulated cannabis marketplace, sourcing consistent cannabinoid-based raw materials can be a huge challenge (especially at scale). Nonetheless it’s vital to demand the highest standards of quality and consistency from suppliers — especially around cannabinoid potency, composition, flavor, testing requirements (i.e. potency, heavy metals, residual solvents, microbiological, and pesticides), and variable testing methodologies.

At Caliper, we source only US-based industrial hemp extracts from a small set of large, carefully vetted suppliers who agree to source their material solely from state-regulated hemp farmers that meet rigorous quality and traceability standards. We then work with these suppliers to ensure consistent, rigorous testing of their extracts covering everything from potency to organoleptic profiles. And when we produce our ingredients, we rely on extensive pre-, in-, and post-process quality controls to ensure our formulations meet our exacting standards for finished product. Nothing goes out the door unless it matches our spec — that is the covenant we keep.

3. Flavor and aroma variance 

Let’s face it, in their unrefined form, cannabinoids smell funky and taste very bitter. CBD especially, is really bitter. Other compounds in a product can bring their own flavors, too, or be affected by the CBD interplay. Particle size also needs to be considered: “nano” is all the rage, but smaller particles, while helpful in terms of promoting emulsion stability, bring with them greater surface area and thus greater bitterness. Stability and bitterness are two sides of the same coin, and managing the balance is a delicate task.

Because of these issues, full sensory evaluations should be baked in throughout the production cycle. At Caliper Foods, we make sensory evaluations part of the acceptance criteria for our raw material and continue sensory testing up through the finished goods stage and following product storage. If you’re not measuring it, you can’t control it.

The takeaway

Taking the time up front to plan and implement processes to control your inputs is time well spent. In the end, you’ll formulate a consistent product that delivers a predictable, positive experience for consumers — and delivers on your brand’s promises time and time again.

About Caliper Foods:

Caliper Foods is making safe and standardized CBD accessible to everyone through both our business-to-business arm, Caliper Commercial Ingredients, and our direct-to-consumer arm, Caliper Consumer Goods, maker of Caliper CBD. Our commitments to credibility, science, and consistency deliver superior cannabinoid experiences for both manufacturers and consumers, because we believe that everyone deserves access to the best CBD has to offer.

Keith Woelfel