Regulars at The Birley Group, The Ivy Collection, Chiltern Firehouse, Park Chinois and Aqua Shard are amongst the growing number of premium on-trade customers turning to CBDs and other wellbeing products that offer just a little something more than an average glass of Sauvignon Blanc or gin and tonic. Adam Feldheim is one of a number of new players in the drinks market that are bringing business and finance skills, as well as the ability to create new health and wellness products, to a fast growing community of consumers, as he explains to Richard Siddle.
The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) recently revealed a report that claims the demand for CBD products in the UK soared during lockdown and is now a £690 million category, making it the second largest market in the world after the US. Adam Feldheim hopes his Medahuman range of wellness products can help grow the category even more.
Tell us about your background and how you moved into drinks?
I worked most of my career in investment banking in New York and London at JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. I was used to the high-pressure and fast-paced environments but that came hand-in-hand with burnout and chronic fatigue.
Spending time with my family in California several years ago I first discovered CBD, then functional adaptogens and nootropics soon after. I discovered that many of the supplements that I was buying was helping to improve my wellbeing, although it was initially overwhelming, and I spent a considerable amount of time climbing the learning curve on these products. I ultimately created a drink to simplify and improve the accessibility of these amazing ingredients to the wider market.
With health supplements, you can get the most out them by ingesting them regularly. I therefore decided that an RTD, the ultimate consumable product, would be the easiest way to help people introduce wellness into their everyday routine. These people were also likely to be new to such supplements. Ultimately, I wanted to create a product for like-minded individuals that would be accessible, simple and functional
What is it about the CBD and wellness category that attracted you?
I truly believe in the power of the plant for wellness purposes. What still attracts me to this category is all the ways that I believe it can positively impact people’s lives. I saw real benefits from regularly taking CBD and other supplements, it helped me to take the edge off and to improve productivity. I loved the idea of creating a business that would allow me to make a difference – helping people to live healthier and more mindfully was incredibly exciting to me.
It has already become a very cluttered and busy category – what are you looking to do to stand out and be different?
Yes, the CBD market has become saturated, but for Medahuman, our proposition is fairly differentiated. We see CBD as a baseline ingredient and are more focused on the unique botanical synergy between this hero ingredient and other powerful functional ingredients like functional adaptogens, nootropics, as well as vitamins and minerals to deliver a targeted wellness benefit.
Another important point of difference is our use of product descriptors, the Relax, Recover, Night, etc. Given the unique formulations each one is designed for different purpose. With most drinks, even CBD ones, the primary determinant for purchase is a flavour, but with Medahuman we find that our best-selling SKUs are the need states that people are most interested in solving in their lives, and often the flavour is a secondary factor.
Finally, as a brand we priorities education around CBD and product, and we’ve been very careful to make branding decisions that help to steer consumers into a wellness direction, away from cannabis imagery and problematic brand names that are more associated with the intoxicating parts of the plant.
What do you see as the key factors you have to get right when developing and launching a CBD drink?
The liquid is a challenge to master. Medahuman is not just a carbonated soft drink with some CBD extract thrown in, I would actually say it’s actually more of a nutraceutical than a soft drink. Given the complexity of our ingredients as well as the challenges of working with a technically challenging compound, which in its natural state is hydrophobic, it’s inherently difficult to homogenise and blend all together.
Against this, we are working with lots of ingredients that tend to taste bitter or earthy, and so identifying top flavour houses that also have strong backgrounds in nutrition, to work alongside my in-house nutritionists has been critical in terms of creating a drink that’s not just delivering efficacy but also tastes really good.
Talk us through your range and what the different products do?
Each one of our drinks offers a slightly different offering in terms of functionality. We have five different drinks – Relax, Recover, Energy, Night and Glow. Each has a very specific taste profile.
Night – A still functional wellness drink with natural ingredients: sour cherry & hibiscus flavour, valerian root and magnesium carefully crafted to work synergistically with the infused 20mg CBD.
Energy- A sparkling functional wellness drink with natural ingredients: Vitamin B & C, natural caffeine and Siberian ginseng, carefully crafted to ensure they work synergistically with the infused 20mg of CBD.
Glow- A sparkling functional wellness drink with natural ingredients: elderflower & lime, aloe vera, vitamin C and biotin, carefully crafted to work synergistically with the infused 20mg of CBD.
Recover – A sparkling functional wellness drink with natural ingredients: blood orange, ginger and turmeric, carefully crafted to work synergistically with the infused 20mg CBD.
Relax – A still functional wellness drink with natural ingredients: chamomile, black tea, ashwagandha and L-theanine, carefully crafted to ensure they work synergistically with the infused 20mg of CBD.
We made the choice for Medahuman’s products to be naming descriptors, for example ‘Relax’, ‘Recover’, ‘Night’, etc to simplify the benefits to the consumer.
How do you make them and where do you source your ingredients from?
We are proudly made in the UK, although given the complexity of our formulations we can’t help but source some of our 25 best-in-class wellness ingredients from outside of the domestic market. The actual product is manufactured in Devon. For a small team we are overweighted in operations and product specialists given our challenging supply chain and the nature of our product. There is certainly a degree of IP in terms of our formulation, both the recipe and also the methodology.
What’s the name about?
Medahuman is derived from the Metahuman, which describes a human with superpower, and the word metamorphosis, as in the biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in body structure through cell growth and differentiation. Sadly, we don’t have superpowers nor go through this type of physical transformation, however, I do think there is something quite inspiring about both in terms of naming a wellness brand. Ultimately, the brand is about helping people unleash their potential and we are dedicated to supporting positive physical and mental health, and the brand name embodies that empowerment.
Which channel of the trade do you think is going to drive real change in CBD drinks – on-trade/ premium bars?
When I launched the brand there were fewer opportunities in retail than hospitality because of regulatory uncertainty. Within hospitality we initially launched into the Annabel’s member club in Mayfair, and there has certainly been a halo effect with subsequent partnerships. We’ve found that guests of prestige and premium bars, restaurants and hotels are the first movers in this emerging category.
Many of them were already incorporating wellness supplements into their daily regimes, and so we recognised that a beverage with these same types of ingredients would see uptake, and this has been confirmed by strong sales performance across the likes of Chiltern Firehouse, The Ivy Brasseries, The Langham Hotel, the Berkeley Hotel and the NoMad Hotel, just to name a few. This summer we also launched a CBD spritzer menu with Isabel Mayfair – four more mindful aperitivos with the added CBD, nootropics and adaptogens, and lower calories and sugar compared to something like an Aperol Spritz.
In terms of driving real change for the category, I think it’s clear that when it does truly go mainstream, the biggest opportunity for turn will be in grocery retail. The overhang of regulatory uncertainty, however, has kept most of organised trade on the side-lines in the early innings of the category development.
What is next in terms of type of products and innovation?
We are planning to introduce some innovative lifestyle products towards the end of 2021. As the market matures people will look for new ways to integrate it into their daily regimens, and so we have some exciting things being developed for launch in early 2022.
You also have a journal on the site and wellness type articles – what is the editorial strategy behind running your own journal and do you have plans to develop that?
We work with a certified London-based nutritionist, Clarissa Lenherr who has a lot of experience in helping people with health optimisation, and she writes a lot of the content in our journal. We want to be transparent with our customers about the products that we used and how to make the most of each drink. We also prioritise product education and want to explain to our consumers both how to incorporate Medahuman into their daily lives but also provide other tips for living well. I think it’s important to state that CBD nor any of my ‘wellness’ ingredients are a panacea. Instead, I see them as tools in the tool box, and with the journal the aim is to provide other tools for living well and more mindfully. I also see it as an important part of our community building.
How are you distributed – work with the trade?
We primarily work with leading wholesalers across both the on and off-trade accounts that we partner with. We are building an internal team as well as working with some excellent advisors and agencies in order to find new routes to market.
You also run your own DTC site – how does that work whilst also selling through the trade?
We haven’t had any issues selling to the trade as well as DTC from our website. Whilst our DTC sales certainly improved during the pandemic, we are looking to do most of our volume with the trade. As a sign of green shoots in the industry, we have also recently been approved as one of the first CBD drinks the UK to be listed on Amazon, which is a strong indication of how this market is now finally opening up.
Where do you want to see the brand two to five years down the line?
Hard to say. Two to five years is a long time. I think wellness drinks are a great intro into the industry and most people’s first foray into the category will likely come from something as accessible as a drink. It has always been my intention, however, to introduce other products to provide people with more options for incorporating wellness into their lives.
Given the complexity of our product, I also think it’s likely that in that timeframe we would look to strategic partnerships to help us optimise the business operationally and maybe even commercially. I’ve realised over the last several years that immense difference between accelerating a new idea and scaling a business globally. I think bringing this brand to as many people as possible will require alignment with other more established brands that would be complementary.
- If you would like to know more about Medahuman go to its website here.