British Columbia

Tilray to acquire hemp foodmaker Manitoba Harvest for up to $419M in U.S. expansion push

The acquisition accelerates the Nanaimo, B.C.-based pot grower's entry into the U.S. market as Manitoba Harvest's products are already sold by retailers such as Walmart, Costco and Whole Foods on both sides of the border, said Tilray's chief executive.

Nanaimo, B.C., pot company to leverage Manitoba manufacturer's facilities and North American supply chain

Tilray chief executive Brendan Kennedy at the company's head office in Nanaimo, B.C. with some of its product line, which includes capsules, oils and dried marijuana. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Cannabis producer Tilray Inc. has signed a deal to acquire Hemp Hearts maker Manitoba Harvest for up to $419 million in cash and stock as the two companies look to launch CBD-infused products where permissible in the U.S.

The acquisition accelerates the Nanaimo, B.C.-based pot grower's entry into the U.S. market as the hemp food manufacturer's products are already on the shelves of retailers such as Walmart, Costco and Whole Foods on both sides of the border, said Tilray chief executive Brendan Kennedy.

Tilray will look to leverage the food maker's manufacturing facilities in Manitoba and its supply chain to roughly 16,000 stores where their products are already sold in North America, he added.

After the recent passage of the U.S. farm bill that legalized hemp-derived CBD products, Kennedy anticipates that retailers will look to source from companies they have existing relationships with.

"They're going to want to go with suppliers that they know and trust. … And so we think that gives us an advantage in pursuing that opportunity in the U.S.," he said.

Seeking U.S. opportunities

Manitoba Harvest plans to launch a branded line of tinctures, sprays and soft-gels containing broad spectrum hemp extracts containing CBD — a compound derived from cannabis that doesn't get people high — in the U.S. where permitted this summer, said its chief executive Bill Chiasson.

Hemp extract containing CBD is a "very important growth vehicle for us," Chiasson said.

The foodmaker — whose portfolio of products include Hemp Hearts, Hemp Oil and granola — hopes the transaction will fuel expansion of its existing business, but it is also in discussions with retailers to stock its CBD-containing products.

A selection of Manitoba Harvest foods photographed in 2015. (Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods/Facebook)

"Being part of Tilray will certainly give us an advantage," Chiasson said.

Canadian pot companies have been eyeing hemp-derived CBD opportunities south of the border after the U.S. farm bill was passed late last year, opening the door for mainstream sales of these products.

Tilray in January announced a deal with Authentic Brands Group, whose brands include Juicy Couture and Nine West, to develop and sell co-branded cannabis products such as CBD-infused foot cream.

Growing market

The market for hemp-derived CBD was estimated at US $591 million in 2018 and is expected to balloon to US $22 billion by 2022, according to the Brightfield Group.

By mid-2019, some 50 per cent of convenience stores may carry a CBD product and potentially 70 per cent of total retail outlets will sell them by 2020, Piper Jaffray & Co analyst Michael Lavery wrote in a recent note.

However, there are still grey areas in U.S. legislation. While hemp-derived CBD is legal in the U.S., the FDA does not allow CBD-infused foods or beverages in interstate commerce or for CBD to be marketed as a dietary supplement, Lavery said.

There are variations between states, with Ohio and Louisiana not allowing CBD products, California only allowing them through dispensaries and New York not allowing them in food, he added.

"There is also debate in the industry around whether or not CBD isolate and CBD in full spectrum hemp extract have different regulatory treatment," Lavery wrote.

Kennedy said he expects that the hazy CBD landscape in the U.S. will clear up by the summer.

"This is moving so, so quickly," he said. "I think by summer you'll see these products, with clarity, in the U.S."

Manitoba Harvest was founded in 1998 and has roughly 155 employees and two manufacturing facilities in its namesake province.

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