Australian Primary Hemp – The Whole Story

Australian Primary Hemp is a great example of a vertically integrated cannabis growing, processing and packaging operation. They formed in 2016 and went public not long after; read on to find out what happened when two young men from Victoria went all in!

How did Australian Primary Hemp begin life and who formed it? What milestones brought it to the point it’s at now?

The Australian Primary Hemp journey began with two good mates, a passion for agriculture and an interest in developing a sustainable food source. The company was founded from a garage converted office in the heart of Victoria’s Western District by Charlie Mann and James Hood in August 2016. Since then, this small idea has come to life and we are now one of Australia’s largest producers of Aussie grown hemp! Some of the milestones we have achieved in the past three and a half years include:

  • Successfully establishing the hemp farming industry in Australia
  • Launching a line of exclusively Australian grown hemp pantry products
  • Purchasing a state-of-the-art hemp processing machine to de-hull our hemp seeds
  • Acquiring exclusive rights to the premier hemp seed variety FINOLA for cultivation in Australia
  • Winning a number of awards including the Geelong Small Business Awards “Agriculture” category and Australia’s Food and Beverage “Paddock to Plate” Award
  • Listing on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:APH)

What are your goals for Australian Primary Hemp? Can you conceive of a “finish line” and what does that look like?

To become Australia’s primary hemp health and wellness brand. Making Australian Primary Hemp a household name in pet, human nutrition and supplements categories, all made from 100% Australian locally grown hemp ingredients.

There are many different approaches to business but a huge part of the progression depends on one simple thing: cashflow. How did you guys finance getting started and are you still privately held by the same initial owners? Is the intention to seek external investment or is it all about self-funding?

We listed the company via an RTO (Reverse Take Over) on the ASX (Australian Stock Exchange) for additional funding, the two founders are still the two largest shareholders in Australian Primary Hemp Ltd.

What are the milestones in terms of financial sustainability? When did you figure out that you could make this your “real job” and not keep one eye on the job seekers listing!?

The mission was always to make this a full time job from the beginning. Once we had our first crop ready to harvest alongside our packaging, there was no looking back!

How do you figure out if things are going in the right direction or whether you need to correct the course?

It will always be a trial and error process in order to discover what is going to work best for hemp. Even though it’s an ancient crop, the technology surrounding the industry paused in the early part of last century. The evolution of hemp products paused along with it.

So far, trusting our gut has seemed to pay off. In our eyes, if the Australian Primary Hemp team isn’t passionate and excited about a new product or project, then consumers won’t be either. That has been a great indication as to whether we are going in the right direction.

What’s different about your brand and how you do business?

Australian Primary Hemp offers customers a complete end-to-end hemp service, meaning that we handle everything from seed selection, farming and processing to contract packaging, bulk and retail sales. By controlling all points of contact we can guarantee the quality, origin and freshness of our 100% Australian hemp products. This gives us a unique point of difference to the many other players in the industry.

By providing quality, traceable, Australian-grown products we are challenging the status quo to step up and do better. By redefining the way a product is grown, processed and sold under the one complete roof, we are not only providing a market difference to our customers but an opportunity for the Australian economy.

Millennial consumers are more conscious than any previous generation about who they’re giving their money too; how do you guys feel about transparency and is it something you personally find desirable in the businesses you support?

Absolutely! Transparency has played a big part in the success of our business so far. It has enabled us to build a loyal following of passionate customers. Everybody should be able to clearly understand how and where their food was grown, it’s a basic right. So making that information accessible and simple was an obvious choice in the creation of Australian Primary Hemp.

Some brands try to provide the lowest cost, others try to provide the highest quality. The interaction between both defines where you are on the value scale between budget and luxury. Where do you situate Australian Primary Hemp and why did you choose to set up camp there? 

We do our best to flirt with both sides of the spectrum here! On one side we have a beautifully packaged product, the quality and design of which indicates luxury but at the same time we continue to be competitive and affordable so that our products can be consumed by everyone.

What do you feel is the best thing about your brand? What has the most room for improvement?

The best thing about our brand is that we are paddock to plate. Transparency in the food chain is so important to us. Being in control of all touch points in the hemp process from the growing, to processing and selling is amazing. Hopefully it will encourage more people to do the same and become more aware of the journey our food undergoes before it reaches our table.

There are always things that can be improved, this is something we continue to strive towards. For instance, we are currently doing a lot of research and development around our manufacturing processes and how we can achieve an even higher quality product.

What’s your biggest challenge in terms of making Australian Primary Hemp the best it can be? If you had a magic wand, what barrier would you remove?

Consumer education – the stigma and legal parameters surrounding hemp is a hurdle; if everyone knew how good hemp was for them and the planet we would be on a far faster road to success. Although we have come a long way in allowing hemp to be a consumable food product there are still many hurdles that need to be overcome legally to provide better access to all of the other opportunities that hemp can provide us.

Unfortunately, due to the history of hemp, its association with marijuana and the legal parameters that previously denied access to the consumption of the plant, a strong stigma has formed around it. This stigma was formed over many years, and even though it’s beginning to break down, it will take a lot more time and resources to wash away completely. This is something Australian Primary Hemp is committed to changing.

Who is the community that surrounds Australian Primary Hemp? How involved are they – active, passive, a mix?

We have been so lucky to have such a loyal and supportive community standing behind Australian Primary Hemp. We try to involve our community in every step we take by listening to feedback and asking them for their input.

How would you describe the cultural landscape of the cannabis industry? What are we doing well and what do we need to do better?

As consumers we have become complacent when shopping for food. The recent shift to have the Australian Grown label on all products which indicates what percentage of the ingredients are grown here is a fantastic shift in the food industry. For too long people have been able to skirt around the edges with clever marketing strategies. This finally brings proper accountability and transparency back into the picture. We hope this will make people more aware of where their food and hemp comes from and encourage them to support Australian grown produce.

Every business needs to balance “real world concerns” with “ideal world intentions”. In terms of Economic Factors versus Community Factors, how do you find your balance? Would you say you’re 50/50 or is there a stronger focus towards either side?

It is important to be mindful of both the economic and social responsibilities faced by our company, through economic success we are able to fulfil our desire for community growth and assistance.

Do you think it’s possible to be “all things to all men” – e.g., equally concerned with supporting your community & raising the bottom line? What brands inspire you in terms of ticking both boxes?

We believe it is incredibly important to think of the bigger picture in business and how we are giving back to our community. Bringing hemp into Australia and in particular our agricultural industry has been a real turning point. It has offered farmers the ability to grow hemp in areas that have been hugely affected by the drought and the collapse of other industries. Brands like Thankyou and Who Gives a Crap that inspire us to give back and invest in social impact. 

In terms of community, have you entered into any partnerships or co-promotions with other brands who share similar goals? Are you open to this or do you have plans to do so in the future?

This is something we haven’t yet completed but there are some big things in the works!

Do your suppliers influence operations (beyond simple supply & demand), and how do they fit into your ecosystem?  

Building the value chain from the ground up does help APH reduce suppliers dictating risk, however, agriculture and primary production can be heavily impacted by Mother Nature, so we diversify our grower base with farmers in a number of regions around our beautiful country. Recent events, with CV19, have made us apply the same principles to other areas of the business – it’s important to have more than one option in supply.

Does Australian Primary Hemp give back to the community or planet in any way?

Australian Primary Hemp has given a number of charitable donations supporting our country’s agricultural sector. We have also supported a number of local community events around regional Victoria. The company is working with farmers to better understand how hemp can improve the environment it is grown in as well as taking steps towards creating a more sustainable workplace and processing plant. We are always looking for new ways in which we can give back to community and our planet.

How does cannabis enter and leave your ecosystem? E.g., where is it sourced from and what goes into the process while it’s “under your roof” before hitting the shelves?

Using our FINOLA cultivation seed, we grow our hemp here in Australia working with our fantastic network of forward-thinking farmers. Once it has been harvested, it is dried and cleaned before arriving at our headquarters. It is here that we use state-of-the-art processing equipment to naturally produce our product range before it arrives at your doorstep ready to be eaten!

People are increasingly aware of their footprint in terms of sustainability. Have you been following the potential packaging applications around cannabis and is this something that you could see benefitting your brand?

We are constantly looking at the latest developments in packaging to see how we can better adapt our current process to become more sustainable. The dream would definitely be to pack our product in hemp packaging!

How are you guys currently tracking in terms of sustainability – not just in packaging, but in operations in general?

One area that we are particularly proud of in terms of sustainability is our farming sector. Hemp itself is an extremely sustainable and environmentally friendly plant to grow that has a range of fantastic benefits. For one, it is CO2 hungry and removes more carbon from the air than trees (per hectare). It also requires less water to grow than cotton and almonds, nourishes our soil and can be grown in all different climates and regions.

What’s your biggest challenge in terms of sustainability?

Effective packaging, we need to ensure the freshest product for our customer. This is often hard to achieve without using some type of plastic. It would be great to use hemp plastic but the industry still isn’t quite there yet. That being said, we are always trialling new initiatives and where possible we utilise recycled card and always encourage consumers to recycle our packaging.

Have you got any steps planned to improve your sustainability footprint and when do you expect these to be complete?

Absolutely, considering how sustainable hemp is as a plant, we would love to further our sustainability footprint into our operations as well. As a company, we do our best to be as sustainable as possible with all decisions we make, but there is always room for improvement. Over the next few years we would love to achieve a more sustainable packaging line that doesn’t forgo the freshness of our product – it is a tricky medium to reach!

What’s coming next for Australian Primary Hemp?

Lets just say big things are coming, so you will want to stay tuned → @ausprimaryhemp

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