Interview with Toby Gordon-Smith, Grass & Co.

Toby Gordon-Smith - GCI Content Hub - Global Cannabis Institute

An interview with Toby Gordon-Smith, CEO at CBD brand, Grass & Co.

Could you give our readers an overview of your background and highlight how this professional experience has proven beneficial in growing the brand?

My career history has combined working for consulting firms, such as Bain & Co and Mars & Co, and industry roles, including at Diageo and Glanbia.  Consumer goods and business building have been the common threads through my career.  At Glanbia I joined as Strategy Director for the recently formed Performance Nutrition division and was tasked with internalising a largely US focused business.  What started as 3 people in London is now over 430 people across 13 European markets.  After leaving Glanbia I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to build a business playing into the growing space for health and wellness supplementation – couple this with the emergence of CBD wellness, and Grass & Co was formed.

Ahead of launching the brand and formulating products, did you start with identifying certain illnesses and disorders (and then create products that would serve as a remedy for these), or did you look to create more general CBD products for this fast-growth market? How did you decide on this particular strategy?

As we set up the brand and the product strategy, we took a good look at the more developed markets for CBD products in the US and Canada.  Here you can clearly see in the data that the key reasons people are using CBD products are for pain, anxiety and insomnia.  Obviously we have to be very careful not to make any unsupportable health claims, and particularly avoid and medical claims, but our strategy has been to address these needs by blending our CBD with other botanicals, vitamins and other natural ingredients that are widely recognised for helping in these areas.  This is how we developed our sub ranges of Ease, Calm and Rest.

The products you’ve formulated have a wide range of botanicals. What are the synergistic effects that can be realised by consumers by taking health and wellness products that blend CBD and botanicals?

We’re always looking for botanical and other natural ingredients that will help play a number of roles in our product range.  Firstly, we’re looing to add further health benefits to our products, though not unlike CBD, there aren’t many approved health claims around botanical ingredients.  Secondly, by using ingredients that are well known for their recognised health benefits, we can use these to help consumers navigate our range.  Thirdly, they help us improve the flavour, aromatherapy benefits and overall experience of using our products.

When speaking and meeting with retailers, to what extent do you think it’s important to have a unique story behind your brand (and what it can do for end-users)? What other product/brand USPs do you find are key to progressing these retail conversations along?

I think it’s very important.  The CBD market has quickly become a crowded space, and if you’re doing exactly the same thing as twenty other brands, it is very difficult to stand out to consumers.  If you can’t stand out to consumers, then what have you got to offer a retailer other than trying to beat the competition on margin?  Retailers seem to like a couple of things about our product range.  Firstly, the approach with CBD plus botanicals presents a clear point of difference versus other brands.  Secondly, the way we have constructed our product range allows for a different way of merchandising CBD products that can help introduce people to CBD who might not otherwise find it.  They also like that our products really deliver on quality, taste (in the case of consumables) and scent (in the case of topicals and aromatherapy products).

What can brands do to make their products more accessible to a wider demographic of customers, who perhaps haven’t previously engaged with cannabis/hemp products and/or culture before?

The challenge is, how do you introduce people that can benefit from a product where regulations prevent you from telling them how and why CBD can help them?  It will take time for the science and regulations to catch up, and in the meantime, word of mouth is growing the audience for this category.  I would urge brands in this space to remain true and authentic in the way they develop their products.  At Grass & Co we have developed our ranges by putting a consumer at the heart of a product ritual that can support their lifestyle.  We use CBD where we know it can help, but we also have products that don’t have CBD in them.  If, for instance, you are taking CBD to help with anxiety, then having a relaxing bath at the end of the day with Bath Salts will help you wind down and using a Pillow Spray will help relax at bedtime.  The Bath Salts and Pillow Sprays don’t have CBD in them because we don’t believe that adding CBD to your bath or spraying it onto your pillow is in any way effective.

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure the long-term health of their organisations, what can other CBD brand executives do to adapt to the current business environment?

Firstly, and perhaps it goes without saying, I would hope that businesses don’t use this as an opportunity to prey on vulnerable people at a difficult time.  I imagine most business leaders are more concerned with keeping their businesses alive and healthy whilst keeping their staff safe, and this can be a difficult balancing act.  For us, as for most brands, the shape of our business has changed significantly away from retail customers that have had to shut their doors to online sales.  We are using this as an opportunity to build our online communities and helping our retail customers that have an online capability.  We’ve all had to adapt to home working, and a few key team members are juggling home-schooling as well, but we were already pretty flexible with remote working.

You can hear more from Toby Gordon-Smith at the GCI Europe Virtual Summit.

Check out other interviews on the GCI Content Hub by clicking here.