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Cornbread Hemp Co-Founder Talks CBD and CBD Best (and Worst) Practices

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MP recently sat down with Jim Higdon, co-founder of Cornbread Hemp. Higdon started his career as a journalist. In 2012, he published a book on The Cornbread Mafia, the story of how his Kentucky hometown became the headquarters for the biggest marijuana syndicate in American history. Following the book’s success, Higdon covered cannabis policy for POLITICO and breaking news in Kentucky for the Washington Post. Then, in 2018, while reporting a hemp story, Higdon discovered how low the standards were for corporate CBD. In that moment, he discovered an opportunity to create a premium CBD brand that embraced the entire history of Kentucky hemp. With the help of his cousin and co-founder, Eric Zipperle, they are achieving that goal. 

Jim Higdon touching a cannabis plant in a field
Jim Higdon, Cornbread Hemp co-founder (photo courtesy of Jim Higdon)

MP: What is Cornbread Hemp, and why is it unique?

JH: Cornbread Hemp is the only hemp-derived CBD brand in America to offer full-spectrum, Flower-Only™, USDA organic CBD products. That’s a level of quality that CBD consumers can’t find anywhere else. That’s what sets Cornbread Hemp apart as a premium brand.

What was the reasoning behind the name Cornbread Hemp?

We named Cornbread Hemp after the Cornbread Mafia to pay tribute to the men who kept Kentucky’s cannabis traditions alive, even when it wasn’t legal. Kentucky has a rich history in hemp that stretches back 250 years. The word “Cornbread” was once a pejorative term used to describe illegal activity in Kentucky, but now we have reinvented the term to refer to the excellence of Kentucky hemp. 

Cornbread Hemp is the first brand to offer flower-only full-spectrum hemp extract that is also USDA-certified organic. What was the reasoning behind the decision to do so, and how did you think it would help the business succeed long term?

This combination of these three elements—full-spectrum, Flower-Only™, and USDA organic—is what sets us apart in the crowded CBD marketplace. Our customers are CBD consumers looking for the best full spectrum CBD products on the market, and there’s no better full-spectrum product than Flower-Only™ and USDA organic. In the long term, this is why we are succeeding. 

What are the top five issues with other CBD producers’ products without naming competitors, and why should consumers care about the difference? 

THC-Free Products

These are lower-quality products with less benefit to consumers. But because of remaining concerns about THC with some consumers, these products have found traction in the market. However, the trend is moving away from these THC-free products as consumers learn the value of full-spectrum products as we offer at Cornbread Hemp. 

Whole Plant Products

The greatest trick the CBD industry ever pulled was to convince consumers that “whole plant” was a good thing. Consumers don’t need the whole plant to receive the wellness benefits of CBD, and certainly not the stems and leaves. Instead, consumers looking for quality CBD want products made from hemp flowers. That’s why Cornbread Hemp is Flower-Only™.

Non-Organic Farming Practices

Hemp farmers using pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, and other non-sustainable farming practices can lead to potentially dangerous products. That’s why Cornbread Hemp is USDA certified organic to ensure that our products meet a very high standard: no pesticides, no synthetic fertilizers, no GMO, no irradiation, and no sewage sludge in any of our ingredients.

No Lab Tests

Many leading CBD brands don’t offer third-party lab tests before purchase, meaning consumers don’t know what’s in that CBD product until they pay for it. We don’t think that’s right. That’s why every Cornbread Hemp product is third-party lab tested for a range of potential contaminants, and those lab results are available for review before consumers purchase the product. 

All Style, No Substance

Some brands bottle their CBD oil in clear glass bottles because they think it looks good, but UV light can degrade cannabinoids, rendering them useless. That’s why consumers should never buy CBD that comes in a clear bottle. Only purchase CBD that comes in an amber glass bottle to protect the contents!

What are three widely accepted nefarious practices in the industry, and how do they decrease the quality consumers receive? 

Hemp Oil

Amazon doesn’t allow products labeled as “CBD.” This is because so many disreputable companies are bottling hemp seed oil with no CBD and marketing it as “hemp oil” on Amazon. This confuses customers into buying overpriced cooking oil instead of CBD oil. Therefore, consumers should be skeptical about products labeled “hemp oil.”

Delta-8 THC

Delta-8 THC products have exploded in popularity in the past year because they aren’t exactly illegal, and they mimic the “high” effects of delta-9 THC. However, delta-8 THC does not exist in nature inhigh concentrations. It is manufactured by putting CBD isolate through a chemical reaction to create delta-8 THC, which can lead to some nasty contamination if not done properly. Consumers should be wary of delta-8 THC because of its potential health risks. 

THC-Free

The CBD industry caters to consumers who are still afraid of THC by making THC-free products. Unfortunately, these THC-free products are less effective than full spectrum CBD products, and they perpetuate the outdated stigma against cannabis. 

Cornbread Hemp co-founders in field
Eric Zipperle (left) and Jim Higdon (right), Cornbread Hemp co-founders (photo courtesy of Jim Higdon)

What are three obstacles you’ve faced while growing Cornbread Hemp, and how have you overcome them?

Underdog

Cornbread Hemp began as a two-person startup competing against massive corporate brands. We knew we could only compete by making a better product. That’s why we aimed for the top instead of racing to the bottom. 

Crowded Market

It wasn’t just bigger competitors, but lots of competitors at every level. That’s where better branding and better customer service comes into play. Cornbread Hemp just doesn’t offer the best product on the market. But, we also have excellent customer service, fast shipping, and a brand that speaks to the authentic nature of Kentucky hemp. Recent reports suggest that as many as 1,000 CBD brands have gone out of business since 2020, and Cornbread Hemp keeps growing. 

Marketing Restrictions

CBD companies face a long list of restrictions that most e-commerce companies don’t worry about. But, from social media restrictions to not being allowed to use SMS text messaging, we must be creative in reaching our customers with marketing efforts. 

What are three pieces of advice you can share with people looking to become influential leaders in their businesses, and why?

Be Authentic

Consumers can sniff out a company that doesn’t feel authentic to them. For example, a company’s “About” page must show pictures of your team, with full names of your founding squad. If you can’t put your name and reputation behind your company, consumers will get suspicious, and rightly so. 

Rely on Past Experiences

In the hemp industry, everyone comes from a different background, and that’s a good thing. Rely on your past experiences to share with consumers that your business is a culmination of life experiences that go beyond the product. The products your company makes are better because of the diverse life experiences of the founding team. Make sure consumers know that. 

Lend Your Platform to Others

As your business grows and your audience becomes larger, you can improve your brand awareness by lending your platform to individuals, nonprofit organizations, or smaller brands that compliment your business. What nonprofit groups would benefit from an introduction to your audience? That’s the sort of leadership that can make you a more influential leader. 

What are your three greatest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage them? 

Government Regulations

Back in 2019, the CBD industry assumed that the FDA would issue regulations that categorized full-spectrum hemp extract as a dietary supplement in a timely manner. Now it’s 2021, and the industry is still waiting. We have managed this issue by growing into the problem, not letting the problem grow into our plans. 

Getting Big-Footed

As we grow as a startup, we always risk getting stomped out by a more prominent player. That’s just a risk you take as a disruptive upstart in a dynamic industry. We welcome the challenge. 

COVID-19

There’s still no clear understanding of how the COVID pandemic will fundamentally change the nature of our society and individual consumer behavior. For CBD brands, COVID shut down retail development and expanded e-commerce opportunities. We look forward to a future without COVID, but until then, we are working to help retailers reset their CBD cases while meeting new customers online. 

How do you market your products, which tactics have been most successful, and why do you think this is the case? 

Full-Spectrum

Cornbread Hemp is a full spectrum company, which means all our products contain a legal amount of THC. Our customers are looking for the most potent THC content allowed by law, and that’s what we offer. 

Flower-Only

We only use the flower instead of the whole plant to make our full-spectrum products more potent and better tasting. 

USDA Organic

Only products that bear the USDA Organic seal can truly be called “organic.” That’s why Cornbread Hemp has gone to great lengths to secure the USDA organic seal on ten products. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Cornbread Hemp has become a nationally recognized brand because of our commitment to offering the best full-spectrum CBD products available in the USA. Many customers have come to us after trying other brands because they recognize the quality in our full-spectrum, Flower-Only™, USDA organic CBD products.

Cover photo courtesy of Jim Higdon.