Coca-Cannabis? Coke analyzing cannabis in wellness drinks

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In this file photo taken on April 19, 2017 a marijuana plant is seen in a greenhouse in Mendocino County, California. (AFP)
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In this April 24, 2018, file photo, the first rendering from hemp plants extracted from a super critical CO2 extraction device on its' way to becoming fully refined CBD oil spurts into a large beaker at New Earth Biosciences in Salem, Ore. (AP)
Updated 18 September 2018

Coca-Cannabis? Coke analyzing cannabis in wellness drinks

  • Coke’s interest is another indication of the growing acceptance of cannabis by established companies and of the importance of Canada to the development of those businesses
  • Coca Cola’s statement shows the company has learned from its past missteps picking up on new drink trends

WASHINGTON: The Coca-Cola Company said Monday it is “closely watching” the expanding use of a cannabis element in drinks, another sign cannabis and cannabis-infused products are getting more acceptance in mainstream culture and a harder look from long-established pillars of American business.
The statement came after reports the beverage giant was in talks with a Canadian cannabis company to create a health drink infused with cannabidiol, a naturally occurring non-psychoactive compound derived from the cannabis plant. Shares of the company, Aurora Cannabis Inc., closed up nearly 17 percent on the Toronto Stock Exchange after the report.
Spokespeople for the companies declined to comment on the report but acknowledged their interest in that segment of the cannabis market.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, does not produce the high commonly associated with marijuana. It is believed by many to have anti-inflammation and pain-relieving properties, and numerous CBD-infused products have emerged recently.
Aurora spokeswoman Heather MacGregor said her company “has expressed specific interest in the infused-beverage space and we intend to enter that market.”
A Coke spokesman said the beverage giant has made no such decision.
“Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly,” Coke spokesman Kent Landers said.
Coke’s interest is another indication of the growing acceptance of cannabis by established companies and of the importance of Canada to the development of those businesses. Marijuana becomes legal across Canada on Oct. 17. Cannabis companies from the US — where marijuana remains illegal at the federal level — have flocked to Canada to raise funds and establish businesses there.
American companies interested in making a play in the cannabis space can try things out in Canada without risking doing something illegal at home.
Constellation Brands, a giant spirits company that counts Corona beer among its labels, bought a multibillion-dollar minority stake in Canopy Growth, a Canadian medical marijuana producer.
Coca Cola’s statement shows the company has learned from its past missteps picking up on new drink trends, said Ali Dibadj, a senior analyst at AllianceBernstein with an expertise in US beverage and snack food companies.
“The company has been caught flat-footed in the past in not keeping up with trends in beverages. They missed the energy drink phenomenon, they missed — and then had to buy into — the functional waters like Vitamin Water and coffee,” Dibadj said. “I think what they’re saying is what they should be saying on this very new and emerging beverage.”
But testing the waters of cannabis-themed drinks could backfire, he said. Many Americans aren’t intimately familiar with the cannabis plant and might not understand that CBD has no psychoactive properties.
Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, and both contain CBD, which can be extracted as an oil that can be added to everything from dog food to hand lotion to drinks.
“I think you have to be very, very careful with this as a large brand. There are different viewpoints on a product category, and you don’t want to offend too much,” Dibadj said. “You don’t want to be too far ahead on any curve.”


High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

Updated 18 August 2019

High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

  • Reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the ice-farming trade
  • The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores

NIKKO, Japan: In a mountainous area north of Tokyo, a priest blows a conch shell as Yuichiro Yamamoto bows and thanks the nature gods for this year’s “good harvest”: natural ice.
Yamamoto is one of Japan’s few remaining “ice farmers,” eschewing the ease of refrigeration for open-air pools to create a product that is sold to high-end shaved ice shops in trendy Tokyo districts.
His trade had all but disappeared in recent decades, and the shaved ice or kakigori that is popular throughout Japan in summer had been produced with cheap machine-made ice.
But reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the sector and save his firm.
“When I started making natural ice, I wondered how I should market it. I thought I needed to transform kakigori,” Yamamoto says at his ice-making field in the town of Nikko, north of Tokyo.
Yamamoto took over a traditional ice-making business 13 years ago in Nikko, where he also runs a leisure park.
At the time, shaved ice cost just ¥200 ($2) in the local area and Yamamoto, who was fascinated by traditional ice-making, knew he couldn’t make ends meet.
“My predecessor used to sell ice at the same price as the fridge-made one, which can be manufactured easily anytime throughout the year,” the 68-year-old says.
The situation made it “impossible” to compete he explains, as producing natural ice is labor intensive.
Instead he decided to transform cheap kakigori into a luxury dessert, made with his natural ice and high-grade fruit puree rather than artificially flavored syrup.
After months of research, he began producing his own small batches of artisanal kakigori.
“I put the price tag at ¥800 for a bowl of kakigori. I also priced the ice at ¥9,000 per case, which is six times more than my predecessor,” he says.
At first, there were days he threw away tons of ice because he could not find clients.
But one day buyers from the prestigious Mitsukoshi department store discovered his product, and began stocking it, turning around his fortunes.
Kakigori dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185) when aristocratic court culture flourished in the then-capital of Kyoto.
It was a rare delicacy reserved for the rich, with the ice naturally made and stored in mountainside holes covered with silver sheets.
It was only after 1883, when the first ice-making factory was built in Tokyo, that ordinary people could taste the dessert.
With the development of ice-making machines, the number of traditional ice makers dropped to fewer than 10 nationwide.
The story is one familiar to many traditional Japanese crafts and foodstuffs — with expensive and labor-intensive products losing ground as cheaper, machine-driven versions become available.
And making ice naturally is a grueling task.
The season begins in the autumn when workers prepare a swimming-pool-like pit by cultivating the soil and pouring in spring water.
Thin frozen initial layers are scraped away along with dirt and fallen leaves.
The ice-making begins in earnest in the winter, when water is poured in to freeze solid, but it must be carefully protected. Producers regularly scrape off snow that can slow the freezing process.
“I once spent 16 hours non-stop removing snow,” Yamamoto recalls.
And rain too can ruin the product, causing cracks that mean the whole batch has to be discarded.
“I check the weather forecast 10 times a day,” Yamamoto laughs.
Once the ice is 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) thick, which takes at least two weeks, workers begin cutting out rectangular blocks.
Each block, which weighs about 40 kilograms (88 pounds), is glided into an ice room filled with sawdust on a long bamboo slide.
The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores.
In the Yanaka district, more than 1,000 people queue up every day for a taste of kakigori made with natural ice produced by another ice-maker from Nikko.
Owner Koji Morinishi says the naturally made ice has a texture that is different from machine-made products.
“It feels very different when you shave it. It’s harder because it’s frozen over a long period of time,” explains Morinishi.
“It’s easier to shave really thin if the ice is hard. If not hard, it dissolves too quickly.”
Morinishi himself struggled when he first opened the kakigori shop, but has gradually built a cult following for his desserts topped with purees of mango, watermelon, peach or other fruit.
And Yamamoto’s firm has seen demand soar — he now harvests 160 tons a year and knows two new producers who have entered the market.
He says: “This business has become attractive and the ice makers are all busy.”